The Myth of Foolproof Publishing

To be honest, it is a myth. There is no such thing as foolproof book publishing. In fact, publishing content of any type—books, Bibles, audiobooks, music, magazines, Gospel tracts or anything else—contains a level of risk, both financial and response wise.

While there is no guarantee of publishing success, there is an absolute ironclad guarantee an author will not meet expectations if they don’t put forth effort in at least some areas of the publishing process.

If you don’t focus on quality creative writing, bring original insight to your work, proceed without any inspiration or energy, pay no attention to an author marketing platform, and don’t spend any time learning how publishing works, the results will speak for themselves.

The fast lane to disappointment.

But, again, even if you try to do everything right, there is still no guarantee of success.

It is why book publishing is so frustrating. When it doesn’t turn out the way you want, it’s almost like you didn’t do anything right at all when, in fact, you did.

Every agent who met with an author at a writers conference, gave some advice, then met with the same author a year or two later, has heard, “I did everything you said.” (Of course, I want to be reminded what I told them!) The author is greatly disillusioned when it still wasn’t enough or, worse yet, there’s another list of things to do for the next year.

Publishing is like so many other things in life: We never totally “arrive.”

All the things that make for a successful author need to be continually pursued and developed but are never fully accomplished. You never achieve complete perfection and readiness for publishing success.

Every competitive-performance profession has the same issue. Those who are part of it continually hone their craft, and the profession is filled to the brim with people desiring to compete and perform. Sports, creative arts, education, medicine, and business are overflowing with talent and eager people.

But there are people who do everything right and still do not succeed.

The athlete who is thoroughly prepared physically and mentally just doesn’t hit the ball as well or run as fast as another.

The singer who had a head cold the day of the big audition.

The actor completely prepared for the reading but “wasn’t quite right” for the part.

The person who has multiple advanced degrees and still can’t get a job teaching.

The business person who does everything they can to succeed and yet still fails.

And, writers, it’s a tough road. All the variables that go into getting a book published, from quality of writing to a substantial-enough platform, are subjective and immune from foolproof measurement. No magic wand and no formula.

Except for the formula to failure: not putting forth the requisite effort.

So how do you keep going, knowing all the hard work might never pay off?

You do the one thing that allows anyone to do anything challenging. You keep your eye on the goal. The finish line. The mission to be accomplished.

For Christian authors, because the goal is often quite audacious and part of our service to the Creator God, not meeting an expectation is often more disappointing as they might feel like they somehow let God down.

Like that could ever happen.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39, NIV).


17 Responses to The Myth of Foolproof Publishing

  1. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson September 18, 2018 at 4:50 am #

    That’s the problem with labeling authors who have made a lot of money, “successful.” No formula? So what did they do better than everyone else? Sometimes nothing. Every financially successful author who’s honest will tell you they got lucky. So other authors chase, “successful,” and feel less-than when they don’t achieve the same results. Don’t chase “successful,” chase “faithfulness.” (I think that’s what you’re saying in this post, Dan–correct me if I’m wrong.) Faithfully write the best book you can write. Faithfully continue to learn how to write and market and publish better. Faithfully continue to build your platform and reach people better. Faithfully hit your deadlines and exceed personal performance expectations. The rest is up to God. Our job isn’t to make sure we are successful. Our job is to make sure we honor Christ by fulfilling our duties to the best of our ability.

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow September 18, 2018 at 6:47 am #

      I think we all at times forget who it is that brings about the “increase” in anything we do. At the point we start taking credit for things only God does, we enter dangerous territory.

      I’ve done it myself and quickly became aware how pointless it is.

      I envision a heavenly sigh and rolled eyes…

  2. Avatar
    Terry Whalin September 18, 2018 at 5:58 am #


    Thanks for these great insights and reminders. If there were a guarantee or formula, every book would be a bestseller (and we know that is not happening). From my view, one of the keys is persistence and moving forward no matter what happens.

    Straight Talk From the Editor

  3. Avatar
    Ginny September 18, 2018 at 6:42 am #

    Thank you for the inspiration of your post and your advise to focus on fine craftsmanship adding to that the business side of writing. I’m curious, what is the advice, the list of things to do you would give to the writer? If you were sitting across from me at a writers conference what would you say to me, a novice writer of a Christian novel? This may have been covered in past post, forgive me, I’m a newbie.

  4. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 18, 2018 at 6:52 am #

    Our wealth is not found at the rainbow’s end; the rainbow itself, God’s promise, is all we could ever need, and we already have it.

    The road is the reward, the journey is the destination.

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan September 18, 2018 at 10:59 am #


      a lot of writers, even Christian writers want to be famous and making money. OK so do I, money is always helpful. But Jesus said lay up treasure in heaven. It took me a long time as a Christian to get back to recognizing that HE is our treasure.

  5. Dan Balow
    Dan Balow September 18, 2018 at 6:55 am #

    First, write. A lot. Regularly.

    For novels, study how they are constructed, how characters are developed, point of view. story arc, etc. There are classes in this stuff which take years to grasp.

    Know that of which you write. If your story is set in Colorado, then spend time in Colorado. If it is in Myanmar, then spend time there. Google and a public library are not substitutes for first hand knowledge, which takes years to grow.

  6. Avatar
    Sarah Hamaker September 18, 2018 at 7:31 am #

    A good reminder! As I often tell my parent coach clients: “You can do everything right in raising your child, but that child can still choose to do the wrong thing. That doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing.”

    For writers, we can do everything right and the book still doesn’t sell well. I had that happen with a nonfiction book that a publisher had approached me to write. I turned in a good manuscript on time, lined up awesome blurbs, book had a nice, bright cover, layout inside was great, no issues with weird typos, etc. Then two weeks before the book was set to debut, the imprint imploded and my editor and publicist (along with dozens of others) lost their jobs overnight. My book was sent out with nary a flutter from the publishing house to help it on its way. Of course, I’ve done everything I can to promote it, but it’s not been even a modest seller.

    I’m not sorry I wrote it, and I’m not overly disappointed with the sales. It is what it is. It’s hard to be upset about a book when so many at the imprint lost their livelihoods–talk about putting things in perspective! And it has been good for me to remember that even when opportunities literally land in our laps, it doesn’t guarantee things will turn out swimmingly.

  7. Avatar
    Rebekah Love Dorris September 18, 2018 at 7:37 am #

    Great message.

    Is it ever a good idea for a writer to go ahead and share their book via podcast series before it’s published?

    I’m years from being able to market a book like I’d need to, as my youngest is two and all eight of them need a mother unfettered from Facebook. Yet my message is needed NOW.

    Should I sacrifice the book for the audience’s sake, even if my audience is small? Thanks in advance for your time and advice.

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow September 18, 2018 at 9:28 am #

      If by “share your book” you mean to post sections of the book in the podcast, I’d say you shouldn’t.

      However, if you define sharing as creating podcasts using the themes of the content in unique sections, then it is fine. You should be able to discuss themes of your book in various ways and keep the book as a distinctly different media for the message.

      If you want to approach a traditional publisher eventually, they will want original words never before published.

      However, if you want to author-manage your publishing, then do whatever you like.

      Remember, you asked an agent to traditional publishers this question! Traditional publishers want original, not re-purposed words.

      • Avatar
        Rebekah Love Dorris September 18, 2018 at 9:55 am #

        Thank you! That’s exactly what I was wondering. I appreciate it!

  8. Avatar
    Lillian September 18, 2018 at 9:17 am #

    If you’re a writer, it’s difficult to define success because the definition depends largely on someone other than yourself; the agent, the publisher, the market, the reader, etc. I try to to keep learning, honing, writing, and believing in myself. One can achieve success in THAT effort, if none other. I know that’s the first step up the ladder. Who knows? Someday, I just might grab the attention of one of the above. 🙂

    Learn. Learn. Learn. Hone. Hone. Hone. Write. Write. Write.

  9. Avatar
    Kay DiBianca September 18, 2018 at 9:35 am #

    What a great message for us all. Can I add a simple analogy?

    My husband and I compete in the Senior Olympics where I run track events. Even as a “senior”, I am highly competitive and I love to race and I want to win. If I showed up on race day without having trained for it, I wouldn’t expect to do well, so I put plenty of time preparing. Same with writing — I know I have to put in the work in order to improve.

    There are a lot of women who are more naturally talented as runners than I am, and I have lost plenty of races. But I am stronger and more disciplined now than I have ever been, and I run smarter races now than I have before. Same with writing — studying the works of other authors, reading books on the craft of writing, and participating in blogs like this have made me a better writer.

    Finally, I notice the apostle Paul didn’t mention winning when he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” And he never gave up.

  10. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D September 18, 2018 at 10:17 am #

    Dan, I guess we should throw a lot of mud against the wall and hope some of it sticks (that is, write a lot, pray a lot, and trust God for the increase).

  11. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan September 18, 2018 at 11:13 am #

    Hi Dan,

    Always a great message. As I read and read (and read) fiction along with writing, I note just how many writers and books there are. I have a good 16 more to read before I can justify buying more books…

    Realizing that there are many writers are far better than me and yet they struggle with success as well.

    When I remember Who I am writing for, the message becomes clear. Am I writing to glorify God or to achieve my treasure on earth? This is a constant struggle as I would be a big, fat liar if I said I don’t hope that I become a great success. That is why we pray and praise and stick to the Word.

    When we stop our constant contact with the Lord, we lose our way.

  12. Avatar
    Debra Torres September 19, 2018 at 6:46 am #

    Love this. Thank you.

  13. Avatar
    Joey Rudder September 19, 2018 at 10:55 am #

    The closing of this post and the Scripture…really hit home. Thank you, Dan. Blessings to you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get New Posts by Email

Get New Posts by Email

Each article is packed with helpful info and encouragement for writers. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!