Why Getting a Novel Published is the Exact Opposite of Shaving a Corn: My Path to Becoming A Published Author, Part I
I have this patient, let's call her Opal. That's not her name, but you get the point, she was born a long time ago. Opal is a mighty healthy lady despite her many years; she just has this one problem, a troublesome corn on the bottom of her right big toe that makes every step painful. But she's a tough lady, and she hobbles around for a few weeks until she can't stand it another minute, and comes in to see me. She's also a little forgetful, so she doesn't remember she's come in for the same problem at least two dozen times over the years. She bursts into tears when she starts explaining the problem to me, and I assure her I can fix it.
The tears slow down; her mouth curls into a hesitant smile.
The smile becomes more confident; the tears stop.
"Ohhh, you don't know how much I would appreciate it."
I do know, because this exact scenario has transpired so many times I feel like I'm on the set of Groundhog Day. I get her situated on the table and grab my supplies, a #11 scalpel blade and a handful of alcohol wipes, which I use to clean the bottom of her foot. Her corn comes into focus, a nasty little bugger which has grown deep into her flesh. Distracting her with a few lines of the latest song running through my head--in this case, Patsy Cline's Crazy--I wield the scalpel, using short, flat strokes to pare away the thick layers of keratin that have made Opal so unhappy.
"Crazy for feeling so lonely."
In five minutes, it's done. The corn has been reduced to a pile of dead skin shavings on the floor--which reminds me I forgot to put a chuck down to catch the debris--and Opal has tolerated the procedure well, except for the singing.
"Crazy for feeling so blue."
She puts the foot down on the floor, tentatively at first, because the one thing she does remember is how much that usually hurts. But the corn is gone, and the pressure of her step is painless. She starts prancing around the room in unadulterated joy, which makes me so happy I don't even mind that her insurance company refuses to pay me for the procedure. I remind her she needs to see the podiatrist (she'll never go) and that's it; a beaming Opal walks out of the office telling anyone and everyone what a great doctor I am.
"I'm crazy for trying and crazy for crying."
Do you know what goes through my head as I sit there, shaving Opal's corn for the nth time? (Besides the lyrics of Crazy?) Yup, you guessed it, that publishing a book is the exact opposite of shaving a corn. It's possible that this particular thought has never popped into your head--in fact, it's probable, if not certain--but as a physican and an author, it occurs to me every time I shave a corn, which I do two or so times a month. Here's why.
- Fewer than 1 in every 100 manuscripts submitted to a publisher ultimately gets published, that's less than 1%. In contrast, I have attempted to shave off more than 1,000 corns, and have been successful every time.
- I started my first manuscript more than 15 years ago (landed neither an agent nor a publisher). I finished my second manuscript 7 years ago (I signed with an agent but, despite much interest, it never sold). I signed a publishing contract in November 2018 for my third mansucript, which I had begun six years earlier. It takes me approximately 5 minutes to shave off a corn, 10 for the really stubborn ones that are as hard as iron.
- When a publisher requests my manuscipt (which they only do after reviewing the first one to three chapters and synopsis previously sent) I am not at all confident they are going to offer publication. Why am I so fatalistic, even though I have re-written and edited the manuscript several times? Why am I so pessimistic, even though they have already seen part of the book and clearly liked it? It's a numbers game: My agent and I have sent my three manuscripts off to more than 120 publishers; I have signed just one publishing contract. When a patient calls and asks me to shave off a corn, I am dead certain the patient will leave corn-free and happy.
- When I get a response back from a publisher after submitting a manuscript, my stomach flip-flops like I'm on a rusty rollercoaster, sweat beads on my brow, my hands shake. When I take a razor-sharp scalpel and cut into a corn, my heart doesn't race, air doesn't stick in my throat.
- I have been writing, as I mentioned above, for more than fifteen years. In that time, I have made a total of zero dollars (my book comes out summer/fall 2019, so that will change, but still); the insurance company reimbursed me 60$ or so for the ten minutes I spent shaving Opal's corn.
Okay, so there they are, the five reasons getting a novel published is the exact opposite of shaving a corn. I thought it would make a good introduction to my blog series, My Path to Becoming a Published Author. The premise is simple; I waged a long and ultimately successful battle to get published, and, in the process, learned a lot about the publishing industry and what it takes it get over the hump. I'm looking forward to sharing it with anyone who wants to know how a guy with no platform, no MFA, and no previous publishing credits is expecting a box of books--that he wrote--to arrive in the mail.
Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include The Intern, TouchPoint Press, 4/2020; The Vatican Conspiracy, the first book in the Marco Venetti thriller series, October 2020, Bookouture/HachetteUK; Doubt, Marco Venetti #2, April 2021; and THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of The Book Stops Here, the literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets. Peter is the creator, producer and host of Your Health Matters, a health information program, which airs on cable television, streams on YouTube and sounds off on podcast. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his Facebook Page.