These three Ps will put you on the path to publishing success

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I get a lot of emails from aspiring authors asking how I got started and what they should do to get their book or idea published. Unfortunately, every path to success is one of paid-off risks or just otherwise blind luck. On the other hand, luck isn’t about winning bets on fair coin tosses — it’s about tipping the odds in your favor and knowing which risks to take.

It’s not possible to follow the exact same path that I did in publishing my books. Or, I don’t think it would be wise for me to recommend it. Not only did I self-publish my books, I literally posted them online. That’s probably considered a no-no by literary agents. And, speaking of agents, I don’t even have an agent! (Also probably considered a no-no by literary agents.) So, no, I’m sorry, I don’t have specific and easily actionable advice to get a book published.

Perhaps we can phrase the problem in a different way, though. You may ask what would you do if you had to do it all over? Good question! Now that puts me on the spot. Assuming I would still know what I know now, I would still do generally the same things — that is, do the things I enjoy and complete the things I would be proud of. If success comes from it, that’s a bonus. Of course, that is only the what — you want to know the how. The how is what I call the 3 Ps. They are practice, persistence, and productivity. You need all three, and that’s what I’ll illustrate below.

I’m sorry — and that’s not just the Canadian in me talking — I’m sorry, but your idea is not that great. It’s just not. Don’t worry though, my first 100 ideas weren’t great either. We hear wild success stories about, for example, J.K. Rowling stubbornly submitting the same manuscript to dozens of publishers. The legend herself even encourages wearing negative criticism as a badge of honor.

Cringe?

Pride in failure, ignorance, and ineptitude is endemic to a narcissistic society. It’s a trap — don’t fall for it. For every J.K. Rowling that got lucky, there are thousands of inspired writers who can’t let go of their first idea.

Practice is more about failing and learning from it than it is about repetition. Repeatedly making the same mistakes and persistently pushing them may appear productive, but it is practice that improves your chances of success. You aren’t leveraging anything by being productive or persistent without the quality that comes from practice.

Oh, and please don’t frame your rejection letters unless you’re sure you’re going to sell a hundred million books and are fuelled by resentment. I don’t remember any of my rejections because they weren’t mine — they were someone else’s, someone with a lot less practice.

This is the path of obscurity. This happens a lot in academic publishing. Academics necessarily have a lot of practice, and some are very productive. But they tend to think their work “speaks for itself.” Of course, it doesn’t. You can write as much as you possibly can, but if it doesn’t end up in front of anyone’s eyes, it won’t be read.

People aren’t out there looking for you and your work. Someone has to get behind the megaphone and shout about it from the rooftops. But, better than you being the champion of your own work is others promoting it. You still need to be the catalyst, but a network of friends, colleagues, and fans amplifies your chances beyond what you can achieve alone. Case in point: I know I can count on you to share this article!

So you have the practice and a great idea. Maybe you even have great execution. Now it is time to be persistent, right? Not quite. Success is more than persistence — it’s statistics. Each idea you produce has its own merits and potential for success. But even the best idea ever can fail due to chance and circumstances.

How do you know which ideas have the best chances to succeed, and hence which to push and be persistent about? You don’t. And that’s why the variety that comes from productivity is necessary. Write. Write your little heart out. Throw all the darts at the board and some will stick.

Have you ever heard the phrase “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket?” Well, with writing, you start with one rotten egg in a single basket. Practice improves the quality of your egg, but you still only have one. Persistence multiplies the baskets you have to put your egg in. But it’s productivity that gives you more eggs.

Next time you feel stuck, ask yourself, “which P am I missing?”

Quantum theorist by day, father by night. Occasionally moonlighting as a author. csferrie.com