I Almost Gave Up On My Dream


A few months ago, I almost gave up on my dream of becoming a New York Times Best Selling author. But, in coming so close to giving up, I realized that I will never truly give up on my dream because, when I want something so badly, I just can’t let it go. 

Acknowledging this dream, saying it out loud or even writing about it in this post, feels as if I am going to jinx it. Like a birthday wish or wishing upon a shooting star, I fear that if I say it out loud, it won’t come true. 

Of course, I’m not actually that superstitious. But I am still reluctant to discuss my dream, perhaps because I’m afraid of the embarrassment of announcing my goal and then never achieving it. But that’s silly, right?

There have been lots of dreams that I haven’t achieved and don’t feel any embarrassment about. My aspirations of being a professional baseball player and a celebrity fitness instructor have disappeared with aging and illness. But unlike those dreams, I can still write books. 

I began writing my first book in 2011–a self-help fitness book full of corny, new-age wisdom, such as: “Focus on everything positive about yourself. Think about how far you’ve come on your journey—this is the time to be selfish.”

Cringey, I know! 

I thought it would appeal to the masses, or at least a literary agent who would help me get the book published. It didn’t. I struck out with literary agents and eventually moved on to writing a memoir. This was before I became bedridden, when I had more energy to query literary agents, many of whom told me that I needed a strong author platform—tens of thousands of social media followers—before a publisher would consider buying my memoir. They told me that I needed to write for The New York Times or have some sort of prestigious bylines. 

So I built my author platform, got my writing credits, and I landed my first agent. I was naive, but I wasn’t naive enough to think that building a robust author platform and signing with a literary agent would automatically get me on the NYT Best Sellers list. I did, however, think that it essentially guaranteed that my memoir would be published. 

I was wrong. 

I soon learned that landing a literary agent doesn’t guarantee anything except a chance at getting a book deal, which is still something. Unfortunately that something didn’t pan out for me. My agent took my memoir on submission twice, and it got rejected both times.

It was hard for me to accept that my memoir, the story that I had spent the better part of a decade working on, was not going to be a NYT Bestseller. Part of me still hoped that it had a chance. Maybe I could self-publish it and hire a publicist to give it enough exposure to get on the coveted list. I decided to give it a shot, even if it was a long shot, because I needed to get the weight of the book off my shoulders. I wanted people to read what I wrote and relate to my experiences. 

I wasn’t surprised when my memoir didn’t make the New York Times Best Sellers list, but I was surprised to learn that, really, I never had a chance. Because the list is more of a curated group of books than a list of the best selling books at any given time, indie books almost never make it on the list. In other words, even if my book had sold a million copies in the first week, it probably still wouldn’t have made the list because it wasn’t published by one of the “Big 5” publishers.

I’ll admit that this realization was quite soul-crushing. I was essentially playing a rigged game, trying to achieve a goal that very well could have required more luck than skill. 

And yet, I kept trying. 

I wrote a young adult novel about two teens struggling to live with their disabilities, finding love and solace in each other. My agent submitted the manuscript to editors at publishing houses. One of my favorite young adult authors, David Levithan, who is also an editor at a big publisher, agreed to read my manuscript. I was sure that meant I was in. Finally, I was going to get my foot in the door of the book world and then onto the NYT Best Sellers list. 

Unfortunately we never heard back from many of the editors, and the others rejected the manuscript. I struck out again. I was, and still am, devastated. 

In the year since I last went on submission to publishers, I have not stopped trying to write my best seller. I’ve often prioritized this dream of mine over my health. I’ve spent countless nights writing instead of sleeping, crafting outlines instead of relaxing and watching a movie. I did this because I love writing, but I also did it because I’m obsessed with achieving things. Just as I was obsessed with exercising before I got sick, I am now obsessed with writing. I don’t mean to sound like the typical suffering artist, who needs to bleed to make good art. Because I’m not that delusional (or masochistic). I know when my priorities are out of order. I just have a difficult time changing them.

On the verge of giving up on my dream, I pitched an essay about it to Catapult’s “I Give Up” column. I did, after all, think I was in fact giving up. I planned to write a depressing essay about how my dream was crushed, how I would never achieve my goal of becoming a best selling author. In writing the pitch, I realized that perhaps I could just put my dream aside. I could focus more on my health and self-care, more on my life than the lives of my fictional characters. 

And so, for the last several months, that’s what I’ve been doing. I still write. In fact, I probably write more than I did when I was looking for a publisher, likely because I’m not sending out a million query emails every day. 

For a while, I wondered if I made the right decision. Maybe I should’ve given up on my dream. Maybe I’m not a good enough writer. Maybe I’m just wasting my time. Why keep torturing myself with all of the rejections from agents and publishers?

While I was pondering this, I received an email from the editor of the “I Give Up” column, rejecting my pitch. And there it was—if my pitch for giving up on my dream of becoming a best selling author wasn’t good enough for a column about writers giving up, then I had to keep going. As much as I wanted to quit, giving up just wasn’t meant to be.


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5 thoughts on “I Almost Gave Up On My Dream”

  1. Hello Jamison,

    I am 73, 40+ years with this damn disease. I have plenty of time to write, to submit to small literary magazines and other markets. I am not giving up. My brain is not reliable and is getting worse. I think if you have something useful to say, and your whole being is saying WRITE, you stay the damn course. It is hard every day. Typing is hard now. I am weak and wobbly, yet I do not want to turn up my toes with a stack of poetry, two collections of short stories, one YA historical fiction, and another WWII nonfiction. None of my work is about disability. Most have been sitting on a shelf for 2 – 3 decades, but I still like my stories, and the people who live in them, so I will persevere. You will too.

  2. Hi Jamison!
    I’m a self-published author on a topic that can help a lot of people (if they find my book on amazon). I didn’t bother going the ‘professional publisher’ route. Why bother? That’s an old fashioned way of reaching people. And I really respect and love some of the self-published authors I read and admire them more than “professionally published” writers, because I know what it takes to go that route. Who cares if some publisher likes your stuff or not? The only people that matter are the people that you help – and you can reach a LOT of people and help a LOT of people through self publishing. I’ve made some pretty decent money on amazon and did it all by myself but the biggest reward to me is the reviews I get on amazon from readers who say that I made a difference in their lives. I spend money on amazon advertising but always make sure I am making more than I am spending. It works out really well and at this point it is very passive income for me. I’m now in Paramedic school at age 51! and am looking forward to helping more people. I published my book about 6 years ago and I still net about $600 a month on it without any promotion or work aside from the set it and forget it amazon ads.
    Some authors don’t want to pay amazon but they are the biggest platform in the world for publishers (a lot bigger than the new york times thats for sure) and they make it easy. And the more books you publish, the more you’ll make, and those books will bring attention and money for your previous books. I think you can help people and make some good income out of it Jamison – I always read your stuff and others will want to too and you are tech savy and smart!! best of luck! Linda

    1. JamisonWrites.com

      Hi Linda! Wow that is so impressive that you generate that kind of income from your book. I might end up going that route. I have self published before but haven’t been very successful at it. And a big part of me is tied to the prestige of a big publisher, even though I know self publishing can reach just as many people. If I do self publish again maybe I will reach out to you for some tips on advertising. Have you ever done a BookBub promotion?

      1. Linda Burlison

        Hi Jamison! Thanks so much for the reply!
        Absolutely – I don’t think how i have set up my ads is too special but it has made a huge difference to my sales – i turned them off for a while and the sales dropped significantly. Happy to help in any way i can!
        I do get the prestige thing but think about who you are looking for external approval from.
        I grew up doing gymnastics, being judged and marked and when i stopped to think about WHO these judges were (mostly crooked biased ladies with their own agenda’s) i realized i was placing too much focus on an external source of approval that I didn’t respect anyways. I started just focusing on how much I loved doing the sport and that made me happy. Now in any endeavor I think about whether I value that external judge and whether I want to pay attention to it or not.
        For me the only judge I care about with my books is the people whose reviews I read who I have helped – that is what brings happiness to my heart. How can any person sitting behind a computer in a publishers office understand or value what you have gone through and how your words will resonate with other sufferers? They cannot, and therefore are not a judge worth thinking much of. (That’s the mindset i would try to have anyways! Looking for external approval is usually a losing game IMHO). Don’t underestimate how much you mean to thousands of people who are suffering out there and how your writing and life bring them inspiration, hope, help and guidance – write for them and feel how good you will feel in your heart from those folks – not some harried business person who only cares about her profit and loss sheet and the commute home and whether she has the right shoes and gave a good presentation to her boss this morning. Don’t give away your respect to someone is isn’t even qualified to deserve it.

        1. Hey Linda,

          I hope you’re doing well. Can I get your input on running Amazon ads? I want to start using them but I don’t really know where to begin. Do you have any advice? Did you watch a tutorial or just learn as you go? Thanks!

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