Columns > Published on April 4th, 2012

Path to Publication Part 4: Mea Culpa

Photo by Rob Hart

Recap: This is a monthly column about trying to publish my crime/noir/literary novel, New Yorked. Click here for previous installments.

I just got back from Shake Shack. If you don't live in New York City (or one of the other random cities where it's popped up, like Dubai), Shake Shack is a gourmet burger joint. It's a wonderful, albeit crowded, place to eat.

Halfway through lunch I was hit by an odd juxtaposition of feelings, which I keep coming back to while writing this: Being so satisfied by an amazing burger, and being so profoundly depressed in the same moment.

I was getting lunch with a prestigious author (don't ask who, not telling) who offered to read my book and give me feedback. We talked for an hour. The Author called the book promising and even assuaged my fears over one of the more divisive aspects of the story.  

We also talked about the problems, with the protagonist and the plot. The Author encouraged me to do a page-one rewrite, explaining that the book had potential, which it hadn't quite reached. Which was a wonderful, encouraging thing to hear from someone I admire.

Of course, what I wanted to hear was: The book was publishable. Even though I spent nearly 24 hours tempering my hopes and keeping my expectations in check, I still felt, as we crossed the West Side Highway, that this day might be the start of something big.

But the more we talked about the book, the more I realized that I knew these problem existed, and I had chosen to remain blind in the interest of finishing.

I've come back to this several times, here and elsewhere: Amy Hempel once told me that young writers often make the mistake of wanting to publish more than wanting to write well. I want to write well. If it means waiting another year or two to be finished, so be it.

I'm not angry, because the feedback I got was generous and sensible without being sugarcoated. Some of it was interesting, but I won't pursue it. Some of it was dead-on accurate, and I'm ashamed I didn't make these connections--or that I did, and was so able to deny them.  

I thought I was done. I moved on to a novella and was getting excited about that. But it's time to go back to New Yorked. Halfway through the conversation, I think I understood where the story needs to go, for it to work. 

I keep trying to come up with some clever analogy for how I feel, but I can't. This is how I feel: That I worked my ass off to get to the summit of Mount Everest, and when I got there, I realized my perspective was completely skewed, and there was still a whole lot more mountain to climb. So I'm going to sit on a rock and feel sorry for myself, for a couple of minutes at least, and then get back to climbing. 

I've never climbed Mount Everest--or any mountain--so this might be a terrible analogy. I don't know. It's the only one I've got right now. 

Anyway, I'm sorry. I've talked a lot of shit about this process and got way ahead of myself, on a few avenues. Worst, I feel like I've let you down, because I've gotten a great deal of kindness and support in writing this column.

Thanks again for that.

About the author

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. His latest novel, The Paradox Hotel, will be released on Feb. 22 by Ballantine. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, and Scott Free with James Patterson. Find more at

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