What Did You Expect?

Eeyore's in the Alps, Chamonix, France
Eeyores in the Alps...not sure why they're there! Image by nikoretro via Flickr

Our expectations can be our worst enemy.

Here’s a recent blog post by Tim Egan, a former New York Times reporter:

What we talk about when we talk about tomorrow is the great fear that our kids will never find their way, now that opportunity is just another word for no. By we, I mean parents of a certain age.

I fell into one of these conversations a few weeks ago with a mother of two grown children, both boys, both graduates from terrific universities, both shackled to college loans as heavy as a ship’s anchor.

Her sons jumped from commencement to the real world full of springy confidence. But now, two years after graduation, after hundreds of rejections, after their resumes bounced back like boomerangs to the head, they were living at home, and every day brought another dent to their self-confidence.

“What do I tell them?” she asked. You can’t lie. You can’t remind them how special there are, because that was part of the problem. The hope reflex seems phony. I was at a loss to say anything beyond an expression of sympathy.

Later, though, I thought of something obvious: self-worth should never be tied to net worth.

I grew up in a family whose unspoken rules included:

Don’t ask for help. We won’t lend you a dime. Don’t show weakness. Or fear. Or doubt.

i.e. Don’t expect much (of us)!

I also learned, age eight, in boarding school and summer camp, (the isolation wards of privilege), to keep most of my feelings, certainly the darker bits, to myself.

I’m not an Eeeyore, who thinks everything is all going to turn out really badly.  But I do, given this lousy economy that just won’t get better any time soon, expect the wolf to appear at the door, metaphorically speaking. My husband and I are 54, have no advanced degrees and still both work in a field — print journalism — in total chaos.

If we don’t expect some ugly moments ahead, we’re not paying attention!

I didn’t used to think like this.

I moved to the United States from my native Canada in 1988, filled with optimism and excitement at this most excellent new adventure. I was blessed with relative youth and a good education, smart, skilled, healthy and hardworking.

My expectations, then reasonable enough, included: my career would, as it had, continue to thrive, I’d quickly and easily make good new friends, I’d build a supportive professional network and my fiance and I would marry and enjoy a long life together. Without those, would I have left everything I knew behind?

How tough could it be?


I arrived just in time for the first — of three within 20 years — recessions, the first then the worst-ever in my field. The New York Times then offered two full pages every single Sunday of classified ads under my heading, “editorial.” Within a few short years, that shrank to a dozen at most, usually three or four. So I cold-called more than 150 people, trying to win my first local job.

I finally found one after six months; today that would be quick. Then, it was a soul-searing eternity, one that deeply dinged my initial self-confidence. It was not a fun job or workplace, and paid $5,000 a less a year than I had earned in Montreal two years earlier.

That vaunted American upward mobility? Not so much.

I married a physician in 1992, legitimately expecting a long, shared life of material ease: travel, a larger home, comforts we’d both worked hard for. Instead, he was out the door within two years, re-married within another year to a woman whose salary was four times mine.

Thanks to a pre-nup I’d demanded, (after examining New York’s medieval family law provisions for a woman with a college degree and no kids – i.e. nothing!), I was able to remain in my home.

The guillotine speed and brutality of New York’s labor laws — employment at will — left me stunned. Workers were, and are, utterly vulnerable to the tiniest whims of their bosses, who fire anyone they please as quickly and often as they order a deli sandwich, and with about as much consequence.

It’s all been…highly instructive.

Now, I’ve significantly lowered my expectations, and focus on keeping the wolf at bay. He’s not, thank God, howling and scratching at the door, as he is now for millions of scared, angry, broke Americans, bewildered by their ill fortune.

Maybe I can keep him at the elevator…

Here’s Seth Godin, from a recent blog post:

Perhaps it’s worth considering no expectations. Intense effort followed by an acceptance of what you get in return. It doesn’t make good TV, but it’s a discipline that can turn you into a professional.

What do you expect from your life?

Has it changed over time?

The View From One PercentLand

View of the Upper East Side, New York, from 96...
The Upper East Side of Manhattan. Image via Wikipedia

On the Upper East Side of Manhattan — an enclave of almost unimaginable wealth — it’s One Percent Central. The streets are clean, swept, silent, the wrought-iron-covered apartment doors — owned, not rented — always guarded by wary, watchful doormen.

Elegant townhouses with silk balloon shades, Met-worthy art and exterior security cameras sell at the price of some small nations’ GDP — this one is offered at $23 million — often in  all-cash deals.

Local hotels include the Carlyle, The Plaza Athenee and the Mark; room rates start about $700 a night. (New York State’s highest unemployment benefit, taxable of course, is $405 a week.)

Discreet private art galleries dot the side streets, $50,000 drawings locked behind elegant double doors. Shoppers, if they carry any bags, tote those marked Chanel, Ferragamo, Prada. They sleep on monogrammed linens from Leron, Frette and Pratesi.

Gleaming, spotless black Escalades, chauffeurs at the wheel, glide through the streets. Thin blond women skitter by in Louboutins. Private school boys, shouting, run down Fifth Avenue, their ties flying.

One building even has its own book, 740 Park Avenue, home to some of the world’s wealthiest people. One of its residents, a journalist married to a billionaire, allows peeks into her gilded world from time to time. But many One Percenters only appear in print on the Forbes or Fortune lists of the world’s wealthiest — or Bill Cunningham’s weekly round-up of society parties in The New York Times.

Summer and winter are verbs to this set — summer in the Hamptons, Nantucket, Maine, Newport, Martha’s Vineyard, winter in Aspen, Vail or St. Bart’s.

To the people inhabiting this world, the rest of us are barely a blip on the radar.

They are all privately educated from infancy, as are their parents, grand-parents, husbands and wives, their children prepped by SAT tutors costing thousands a month beyond the $35,000+ a year it costs to educate each child.

Their world is cocooned by nannies — likely three, one for each eight hour shift — au pairs, staff, multiple homes, private jets.

This divide is perhaps more obvious when you live in a major city split neatly by zip code by race, class and wealth: New York, London, Paris, Sao Paulo, Mexico City. Living in New York, all you have to do is exchange one subway line for another to visit a wholly different world, from one filled with the exhausted working class traveling home to Queens or Brooklyn, to another snuggled deeply in triple-ply cashmere, oblivious to mundane worries like finding or keeping a job, educating one’s children or even paying the rent or mortgage.


I know something of this world. My first husband was a physician, who, with his second wife, earns a combined income of $500,000. Even with a few kids to support, that’s pocket change to the real One PerCenters — if an impossible fortune to most of us.

Some of my mother’s family were also members of it.

Unless you’ve been exposed to the people living in this charming snow-globe, and their ferocious determination to acquire their fifth home or the 20th Birkin handbag or the Monet coming up at Sotheby’s, it’s a reassuring fantasy to think they care about the rest of us. They’re too busy out-ranking one another to even notice people whose annual income barely covers their shoe budget.

Don’t ever underestimate their determination to retain their privileges and the sources of their economic and political power.

The mayor, a billionaire, lives in the nabe, in two townhouses (only a few of his residences), on East 79th. Street. His long-time live-in partner, Diana Taylor, sits on the board of Zuccotti Park, the privately-owned Manhattan park where the Occupy Wall Street crowd has pitched its tents.

Meanwhile, reports Bloomberg BusinessWeek, median household income in the U.S. has fallen to $49,445, the lowest in more than a decade, while poverty has jumped to 15. 1 percent, a 17-year high.

Read this  smart column by Times’ writer David Brooks on how the media, much of it [guilty!] based in Manhattan is still over-focusing on this obviously uber-wealthy one percent — rather than the deeply growing divide between those who are well-educated and those who are not, more visible in rural areas and smaller cities nationwide.

And yet…here’s a glimmer of hope — Resource Generation, an organization of younger Americans who have inherited or earned wealth dedicated to re-distributing it more equitably.

Do you see an economic divide where you live?

How’s it playing out?

Action — Meet Consequence! Why Our Decisions Matter

"View in Wall Street from Corner of Broad...
Wall Street...Image via Wikipedia

There is a profound disconnect between what some people understand as their ability or right to take action (or fail to, equally powerful in many cases) — and the very real, direct, life-altering consequences of those choices on others.

Doctors know it. Teachers live it. Mechanics see it. Builders create it.

But for too many people, their actions are invisible, while their consequences wreak utter, public havoc.

Two U.S. national news stories make this (again) clear, the ongoing recession (partly caused by much greed and recklessness of Wall Street professionals) and the Penn State abuse scandal now making headlines:

This is not a case about football, it’s not a case about universities, it’s a case about children who’ve had their innocence stolen from them and a culture that did nothing to stop it or prevent it from happening to others,” Frank Noonan said.

“What happened here was ‘grooming,’ where these predators identify a child, become mentors … then give them gifts, establish trust, initiate physical contact, which eventually leads to sexual contact,” Noonan said.

Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator on the college’s storied football team, faces charges that he abused eight boys. A grand jury’s report details his alleged sexual assaults of children as young as 10 in his home and in the team’s locker room showers.

In a recent issue of The New York Times, economist Nassim Taleb argues that bankers should not receive bonuses, as they reward excessive risk-taking — whose consequences the actors never directly feel:

The promise of “no more bailouts,” enshrined in last year’s Wall Street reform law, is just that — a promise. The financiers (and their lawyers) will always stay one step ahead of the regulators. No one really knows what will happen the next time a giant bank goes bust because of its misunderstanding of risk.

Instead, it’s time for a fundamental reform: Any person who works for a company that, regardless of its current financial health, would require a taxpayer-financed bailout if it failed, should not get a bonus, ever. In fact, all pay at systemically important financial institutions — big banks, but also some insurance companies and even huge hedge funds — should be strictly regulated.

Critics like the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators decry the bonus system for its lack of fairness and its contribution to widening inequality. But the greater problem is that it provides an incentive to take risks. The asymmetric nature of the bonus (an incentive for success without a corresponding disincentive for failure) causes hidden risks to accumulate in the financial system and become a catalyst for disaster. This violates the fundamental rules of capitalism; Adam Smith himself was wary of the effect of limiting liability, a bedrock principle of the modern corporation.

Bonuses are particularly dangerous because they invite bankers to game the system by hiding the risks of rare and hard-to-predict but consequential blow-ups.

I’m exquisitely aware of the effects of my actions as a journalist and author of two non-fiction books.  I know that every single time I turn in an article or a book manuscript, I hold other people’s lives, words and reputations — both personal and professional — in my hands. This is serious stuff! (In the 20 years I’ve been writing for The New York Times, freelance, I’ve never had a correction published.)

When “Malled ” was completed, two lawyers read it over carefully. We excised certain elements, shaded others, and I learned a lot about libel law. I also bought liability insurance in case anyone I wrote about — under the amusing delusion I’m wealthy — decides to come after me.

I recently wrote about a man who runs a wilderness survival program, that I took and described in the Times. I wondered why I hadn’t heard back from him. He was so swamped with new students and interest from across the country that he only wrote this week to thank me. I’m delighted that my skills (and the platform of a major newspaper) have brought his work, skills and passion to a wider audience. This is such a privilege my work affords me!

I’ve known for decades that my actions have consequences, for good (yay!) and for ill.

I wish more people really understood this.

Tossing Old Books And Looking For Something New To Read

Love 'em --- who can ever have enough? Image via Wikipedia

It feels good to cull the herd once in a while.

Last weekend I managed to fill three cardboard boxes with outgoing books — soft covers, coffee table books, (we don’t even have a coffee table), books by friends and acquaintances and review copies Jose and I have snagged, free, over the years from the Niagara of copies that pours into every newsroom.

I’ll take them into Manhattan to The Strand, a legendary store that I hope will buy them. If get $100 for them all, I’ll be happy.

Then I can buy some new ones!

I sorted the remaining books into sections: Canadian history and politics, American history and politics, French history and politics, art, music, antiques, auction catalogs, photography, business, design, dictionaries, (of economics, foreign terms, French, Spanish), cookbooks, travel, and a dozen essentials — books on how to sell and promote my own books.

I lined up, on one shelf, the 20 or so books that aren’t reference (or just too heavy to delve into for fun) as a reminder to actually, you know, read them. I tend to return to non-fiction, memoir, essays and history. I rarely find fiction I enjoy. 

I don’t read sci-fi, romance, chick lit or anything about vampires or werewolves. Some of my favorite writers include Grahame Greene, Thomas Hardy, Gerald Durrell, Amy Bloom, Alexandra Fuller, Peter Godwin, Balzac, Jan Morris. Yes, they’re almost all British men. Not sure why.

One of my recent favorites was this delightful, quirky tale by a woman from St. John’s Newfoundland, “Come, Thou Tortoise” which I found — of course! — in the bus station bookshop in Vancouver, B.C.

My second-favorite of recent years was The Ten Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet, by David Mitchell. Oh, what a beautiful, moody book! As a huge fan of ukiyo e Japanese woodcuts, reading this book, set in 18th century Japan, was like sliding into a delicious fever dream.

And this, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a French book I adored; it’s also now out as a film, “The Hedgehog.” It tells the story of the secret life of a Paris concierge.

I liked Cat’s Eye, by fellow Canadian Margaret Atwood; she became my first celebrity interview when I was editor of my high school newspaper. Since she also attended my high school, she agreed to the interview. I liked Cat’s Eye a lot because it reminded me so powerfully of my hometown, Toronto.

In The Skin of A Lion, by Michael Ondaatje, is a gorgeous little thing, also set in Toronto. I recently read Divisadero, also by him. I love his poetic style.

So my favorite authors seem to be Canadian, a New Zealander, British and French. I need to find a few American writers! (I do like Richard Ford and Richard Russo and lovelovelove John Cheever.)

I’d love to hear some of your recommendations!

What are the best three books you’ve read, and why?

Aaaaah! Seven Soothing Things

Lake Ontario at Sunnyside, Toronto, Canada.
Lake Ontario...Image via Wikipedia

Half an hour before I walked down the aisle to re-marry, after 19 years as a divorcee, I was sitting in a church pew, barefoot, my legs stretched out before me, savoring the moment.

“You’re calm, cool and collected,” the minister, said, surprised. No hyper-ventilating, no last-minute panic, no wardrobe malfunction. A bride just…happy and calm.

I realized that day why I was so calm, because I had included, without consciously thinking about them all, seven things that always soothe my soul. Enjoyed in combination, bliss!


I’m always happiest when I can easily escape into nature, and the church we chose for our wedding is set in a public park on an island. The little white building, from 1888, stands beneath ancient weeping willows, shaded by maples and oaks, a carpet of green grass all around. Ten minutes before the ceremony, the minister walked outside and began gathering huge armfuls of goldenrod, which he put into two tall metal buckets at the church door. I loved his spontaneity and this powerful reminder we were as much as part of that world as that of the church itself.

To get from the vestry to the church door, I walked, barefoot, through the grass, before slipping into my Manolos, connecting me to the earth.

During the silent moments of the service — which we deliberately built in — we could hear one sound from outside. Crickets.


I’ve been a water-baby forever: sailing, water-skiing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking. I grew up in Toronto, on Lake Ontario, attended summer camp ages 8-17, always on the water, often living in a cabin where the lapping of waves on the shore was the lullaby soothing me to sleep each night. I now live with a clear, year-round view of the Hudson river and take a commuter train into Manhattan along tracks that hug its shoreline. I love being near water.


The photos of my father and I, standing outside the church awaiting the music of my processional, show us laughing so hard we could barely stand up…because the sound we were hearing was that of cows mooing from a nearby field. I’d forgotten that Centre Island also has a petting zoo with cows, sheep and other animals.

I’m much happier and calmer I become when I’m around dogs and horses, especially. (Cats, not so much.) One of my happiest moments anywhere ever was riding on an elephant’s neck (!) in Thailand.


I thrive on physical beauty — in nature, design, color, architecture — and feel its absence keenly. I flee surroundings that are ugly, thoughtless, dirty or poorly maintained. I seek beauty everywhere I go, and am grateful and delighted every time I find it. Our church that day was spectacularly lovely, its stained glass windows glowing with late afternoon sunlight like jewels.


I don’t have many acquaintances and make little time for people unless they become, and want to be part of, my inner circle. Emotional intimacy matters deeply to me, and when I find it, I try to nurture it as the treasure it is. We had only 24 guests at our wedding, every one of them carefully chosen as the dearly beloved to us that they are.


Old places, buildings and landscapes with a long, deep, rich past, move me most deeply: the Grand Canyon, the Arctiche rough, wild,  landscape of Corsica. Shiny, new, sleek modern spaces leave me cold. I want the patina of others’ hands and lives, to know I, too, am a part of their tapestry, a continuum reaching back centuries, even millennia. Our church that day had the smell of sun-heated wood, a scent which shot me back to my 12-year-old self in the hall where we rehearsed our musicals at camp. Heaven!


My wedding processional was, a capella, the lovely round Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Peace) and our processional the joyous and playful “You Are The Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder. Music is a daily pleasure, whether jazz, rock, classical, or big band.

What are some of the things that soothe, calm and satisfy your soul?

Aligning The Tumblers — Why Success Is Like Safe-Cracking

Success never tasted so good
Image by ekai via Flickr

I think “success” — beyond the standard metrics of a particular SAT score or getting into the college or grad school of your choice, or winning the game — is much less linear than we like to think.

My theory? Like opening a safe, it takes a delicate touch and a combination of factors.

It probably won’t happen until the tumblers fall into place.

I think these include:

Physical health

Emotional health


A strong, supportive intimate relationship

Solid and nurturing friendships

Wise mentors

Professional networks you trust

A well-developed reputation

A life that includes regular, non-professional activities you adore

A clear idea of what it is you wish to accomplish, short, medium and long-term

An emergency fund of at least three to six months’ living expenses

Minimal debt




Selling skills

Asking for help

Saying yes before you’re ready

Let’s look at these:

Physical health is an overlooked key to success. Eat carefully, sleep 8+ hours a night, exercise 3+ times every week, drink moderately. I worked myself into a hospital bed with pneumonia after refusing to simply rest when I was ill and run-down in 2007. It took me a full month to regain my strength. Never again!

Emotional health. In the U.S., a nation that disdains weakness and stigmatizes mental illness, it’s easier to admit that you’re fighting arthritis (as I am) or cancer (as several friends are) than depression, or worse. But ignoring your mental health — even “only” anger or frustration — is unwise. You can’t give anyone your best when you’re anxious, distracted, sad, scared or unwilling to deal with these feelings.

Limit access to needy or abusive family.  If your family is filled with strife and conflict,  re-direct your energy and focus to succeed in the areas that matter most to you.

A supportive sweetie. Huge! I’m blessed to have a husband who understands my goals and my drive. It wasn’t always this smooth, but he’s learned that my definition of “success” is not a full-time job or benefits or an office or a title. If your partner is truly supportive, (picking up more of the household costs or taking more care of the kids or letting you go off on a fellowship elsewhere that will build your career), your trip to success has a booster rocket.

Good friends. None of us can make it alone. You need to know you’re loved and valued no matter where you are on the ladder you’re climbing, not just after you’ve reached the top.

Wise mentors. Find a few people you admire and respect who really understand your goal because they’ve achieved it. Check in with them on a regular basis.

Professional networks you trust. None of us will achieve success alone. We need to reality-check our ideas, hear helpful (if critical) feedback and gauge our readiness to go-to-market. Find and join a few networks of people who have already achieved some of your goals. I’ve learned a lot from my membership in the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

A terrific reputation. This takes time to create, which puts fresh grads at a relative disadvantage thanks to a short or non-existent track record. For people to trust you with their budget, reputations and networks, they have to know you’re reliable, ethical, consistent. The more you network, the wider your reputation — and success — will spread. This is where social media are your new best friend. Volunteer work can be hugely helpful in this respect.

Do things, often, that you adore. If all you do is focus on achieving your goal, odds are you’ll burn out before you get there. Spend even 20 to 30 minutes — every day — doing something totally unrelated to your goal for sheer joy. Pat your dog. Hug your kids. Paint a picture. Make banana bread. If you’re truly happy with the rest of your life, your quest for “success” can’t eat you alive along the way.

A clear idea of what it is you wish to accomplish: short, medium and long-term. It’s easy to give up if your goal looks terrifyingly huge. Break it into manageable pieces and get on with each of those. When I decided I wanted to write books, I started by attending a writer’s conference, where I learned what a book proposal is, why it’s necessary and how to write one. The more writers I got to know, the more I understood what it takes. Several introduced me to their agents. And so on…

An emergency fund of at least three to six months’ living expenses. In a recession, this isn’t easy. But if you’re stuck doing work you hate, you’ll never free yourself to achieve real success — which might mean changing industries, fields, careers, even countries or states. Reduce every possible overhead cost and save like a demon until you’ve bought your freedom. Many interesting projects demand some risk: of your time, energy, attention, resources. Until you’re also able to meet your financial commitments, you’ll never take those necessary risks.

Minimal debt. Ditto. You can’t run in any direction while shackled by the chains of debt.

Confidence. I think this is one of the most essential. We all know — or might be! — people who have the whole shebang except the stiffened spine, ready smile and, sometimes, the Kevlar soul success really requires. Pathetic but true, there are days I lack confidence, but I have a tough, smart agent — and she has confidence in me. Every time an editor or client works with me, they’re giving a vote of confidence in my abilities. With the bone-deep confidence you have the requisite goods, you’ll attract people who agree with you. Without it, you’re toast.

Presentation. Do you look and sound terrific? If not, time to up your game. Have a kind-but-stylish friend, male or female, carefully assess how you walk, talk, speak, groom, dress and shake hands. Every detail can cement, or ruin, a potentially fruitful relationship crucial to your success. Unflattering hair color, style or eyewear, unpolished or worn-heeled shoes, shirts with stains or frayed cuffs  — all send a lousy message about your ability to present yourself and your projects persuasively. Is your voice nasal or whispery? Do you say “um” and “uh” constantly?

Timing. How long do you wait to follow up with a potential job lead or mentoring opportunity? An hour? A day? A week? A month? I recently met someone who said they were eager to sell a story…I know two editors hungry for exactly that sort of tale and was willing to make that valuable introduction for him. He never followed up. A recent thank-you email from a “Malled” reader — which I answered within a day (as I always do with such emails), and not with some rote reply — netted me one of the best-paid gigs I’ve ever had when he recommended me as a conference speaker. Strike when the iron is hot!

Selling skills. So under-estimated! I took a part-time retail job, 2007 to 2009, selling for The North Face in an upscale suburban mall, the subject of my new memoir. I had always shriveled from selling myself and my skills. I just found it terribly hard, as many people do. After a few years of highly productive selling ($150 to $500+ of goods per hour), I realized this was madness. I could sell! Now I’m much more relaxed about approaching new clients and it seems to be paying off. No kidding — I think everyone, regardless of age or education, could benefit from a few months on a retail sales floor.

Asking for help. This was perhaps my toughest issue. I come from a family of boot-strappers who made clear that asking for their help, financial or otherwise, wasn’t an option. So it took me a while to realize the world is filled with people who are willing to help you, even in the smallest way, to achieve your goals. Sometimes you have to pay them: I’ve shelled out thousands of dollars to: attorneys, my accountant, my web designer, researchers and interns, a speaking coach and a career coach. Out-sourcing allowed me to stay focused on my goals, while they applied their specialized skills to problems that need solving — that I don’t know how to do. As a self-employed person, these costs are also a business deduction.

Saying yes before you’re ready. Men do this all the time, women not so much. I often accept gigs to which I’ll bring, maybe, 75% of what I already know — I’m a quick study and can (as many of us can) pick up the rest of what I need, or hire someone else to fill in those edges for me. (see above.) If you only aim for a home run each time, only trying for projects or gigs or efforts you’re sure you can do, you’re not aiming high enough. Keep hitting singles and doubles instead of waiting for that home run.

If success keeps eluding you, which tumbler has yet to fall into place?

Lucky? Lucky?! As If!

The interior of the Barnes & Noble located at ...
How badly do you want to join this crowd? Really? Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a recent post by Kristen Lamb, who blogs about writers and social media, asking if successful writers are “just lucky”:

It is estimated that over ¾ of Americans say that they would one day like to write a book. That’s a LOT of people. Ah, but how many do? How many decide to look beyond that day job? How many dare to take that next step?

Statistically? 5%

So only 5% of the millions of people who desire to write will ever even take the notion seriously. This brings us to the hundreds of thousands. But of the hundreds of thousands, how many who start writing a book will actually FINISH a book? How many will be able to take their dream seriously enough to lay boundaries for friends and family and hold themselves to a self-imposed deadline?

Statistically? 5%

I’m a little dubious about this “statistic” that so many Americans want to write a book. Did Gallup take a poll?

But the larger point is true — many people I’ve met over the decades sigh, wistfully, or say, with tremendous conviction, they, too will soon publish their own book.

Do they? Apparently not.

I think “writing a book” is actually proxy for an unexamined stew of more complicated desires — many of which have very little to do with the talent + endless slog it takes to actually publish a book:

— public validation

— media attention aka “fame”

— showing everyone you really are creative

— proving to your high school English teacher/skeptical spouse/Mom you can do it

— seeing your book at Barnes & Noble

— hitting the (cough) best-seller list

— being able to say you’re an author


Luck is about .000006 percent of what it takes to become a published author.

The definition of “successful” also varies widely:

Did you (as some of my colleagues have done) get on the “Today” show?

Did you hit the best-seller list?

Did you sell more than 500 copies? 100? 10?

Was your advance $150,000? $750,000? (Or, more typically, $25,000 or less?)

Was it made into a movie or television series (preferably starring Julia Roberts or Brad Pitt, maybe both)?

Having (so far) published two non-fiction works with two major New York publishers, I’ve been bloodied.

Some of what it took to achieve this:

— Each book was rejected by 25 publishers before selling

— I’ve been through six agents, (i.e. finding them and working with them along the way)

— I’ve been a journalist, i.e. writing for demanding editors for a living, since 1976

— I attend conferences, network almost daily with other accomplished writers, have read a dozen books on how to market and promote my work

— I spend thousands of dollars every year to create and update my writing-related websites

— I’ve paid attorneys to review my contracts and paid $1,500 for liability insurance on “Malled”

And this is still a tiny fraction of the time, energy and skill I– like many other “successful” writers — brought to the party.


I wish!