What Doesn’t Happen When You Sign a Book Deal

Addie Zierman Guest Blogger: Addie Zierman (@addiezierman)
The contract will come in the mail with the publisher’s name on it, and for a few minutes or hours or days, you’ll feel on top of the world.
Here you are, at the beginning of a dream come true, at the precipice of all you’ve been waiting for.
You’ll sit down at the kitchen table. You’ll lift your pen to sign the papers.
You’ll be trying to have a moment, but your kids will be screaming at you from the living room. “Mom! I don’t want this show!” or “Dad! Get me a granola bar!” Because to them, you’re not an author, you’re their parent, and nothing here has really changed.


Although you’ve always been a writer, the book deal will make you feel legitimized in some ways – like someone else actually sees it too. It will be nice to be able to tell people that you have a book coming out, and for a moment, their eyes will widen, and they’ll give you a look of awe-tinged admiration.
But then. Then they’ll ask what your book is about.
You’ll stumble awkwardly through your memorized synopsis, and it will feel entirely inadequate to get at the heart of the thing you’ve written. It will never feel totally natural to summarize your book in this way, and even though you’ll get plenty of practice, you’ll hem and haw a little bit every time. Because what your book is really about is not the plot that forms its backbone or the life events that make up its context. Really it’s about love and hope and fear and the shared human experience. Really it’s about everything.
But you won’t be able to find a way to communicate any of this in an airplane seat or at a cocktail party, and your inability to do so will make you feel inadequate all over again.
“So anything like 50 Shades of Gray?” The stranger you’re talking to will ask. Or they’ll ask if you’ve read the latest New York Times bestseller and begin to summarize its compelling plot. And you’ll just nod and sip your drink and nod some more.


There will still be only twenty-four hours in the day, and it still won’t feel like enough. Especially now that you have a book deal, which means you have deadlines and accountability and people who can’t do their jobs until you do yours.
You’ll still struggle to put the words together into sentences. You’ll still delete a lot. You’ll cross out entire pages of text in your notebook, throw the thing across the living room, feel absolutely sure that they’ve made a mistake. That you’re not really a writer at all.
At some point, you’ll sit in the dark in front of the blank screen, the cursor mocking you with its steady tapping, and you’ll wish you’d chosen some other work.

when we were on fire by Addie Zierman

Although you have a book deal, you’ll still forget at least one thing at Target every time you go. The laundry will still pile up and so will the dishes. People will cut you off in traffic. You’ll still, inevitably, find yourself waiting in the longest line.
Few people, if anyone, will recognize you in public. Your relationships with bookstores will change ever-so-slightly, and you’ll be a little jealous whenever someone else comes up with a really great book title.
Your publishers will be great, but their world will not revolve around you. There will be other books to promote, other deals to sign, other things to get done, and so you will have to adjust your expectations. You’ll have to learn to do new things, to play different roles in regard to your work. It will feel uncomfortable and new and you’ll hate the sound of your voice promoting your work, but you’ll do it anyway. Because along with the book deal comes a deep, haunting desire to have your book fly far, to have your words find readers who will love them.


At night, the moon will come out, and you’ll lie there, looking up at it. And if you didn’t know who you were before you got the book deal, you definitely won’t know now. Because it doesn’t really change much. It doesn’t catapult you into some higher tier of humanity or toward a better version of yourself. It doesn’t fix whatever was broken inside of you before.
You’re still the same person.
And yes, it’s a dream come true, but when dreams crash into reality, they take the full weight of the mundane. They have to. And so a book deal means paperwork and marketing, promotion and editing, self-depreciation and insecurity…just as much as it means joy, excitement, and hope.
You’ll get the book deal, and don’t get me wrong – it’ll be wonderful. But it won’t beat a summer sunrise, a sloppy toddler kiss, a walk through the apple orchard in the late afternoon light with the people you love. And it will be so hard to remember this sometimes. It’ll be tempting to believe that numbers will make you happy. Endorsements. Great reviews from prestigious sources.
But really, they won’t. As my friend Glennon says, there is no there there. It’s the moments that you walk away from your computer, back into the wild of your own life, that will do it.
It’s these average, precious moments – not the book contract – that keep you rooted to your own heart. They will save you. They will keep you at it – this whole exhausting, beautiful business of publishing your book.
They will give you the courage to continue living the mundane beauty of your dream….one ordinary step at a time.
What are you hoping will change with a book deal? What do you think might change, and what will stay the same?
If you have a book deal—what did you hope would change? What actually did change? What surprised you?
Comment below or by clicking: HERE.


Addie Zierman’s debut book is the memoir, When We Were On Fire (Convergent/Random House, October 2013), named by Publishers Weekly as one of the Top 5 Books of 2013 in the Religion category. Addie has an MFA from Hamline University, terrible taste in TV, and an endless addiction to Diet Coke. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and two young sons. She writes about life and faith at addiezierman.com.

Addie is telling her publishing story in five parts. You can read the previous posts here:
Pt. 1 (The Art of Backwards Book-Writing),
Pt. 2 (Agents, Platforms and Gifts in Disguise)

Pt. 3 (Faith is an Empty Room).


 What Doesn’t Happen When You Sign a Book Deal? From author @AddieZierman. Click to Tweet.
“You’re still the same person” – after the book deal. Click to Tweet.
The book deal won’t beat a summer sunrise, a sloppy toddler kiss… Click to Tweet.
The average moments – not the book contract – keep you rooted. Click to Tweet.


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Sue Coletta on January 20, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    I realize this is an old post. Still, it’s WONDERFUL! I often think about “getting the call”, what will change and what won’t. I’m loving the “dream” of it all. And for me, that’s enough for now. Don’t get me wrong, I WANT that call. But until that day, I’ll be basking in dreamland. Love your words, Addie. So powerful and heartfelt. You truly deserve that book deal, no matter how much you might think otherwise, sometimes. I hope by now you’ve found a huge audience. My very best wishes to your success. In my eyes, you have what it takes to be a star!

  2. Jennifer D. Bushroe on March 3, 2014 at 12:58 AM

    What a great post. I hope I handle my debut with as much grace and insight as you have clearly managed. If only we didn’t have to deal with contracts and taxes and drudgery! Although, I suppose it puts it into context just how lucky we are to be making a living doing what we love. 🙂

  3. Recommended Reading | 12 Books in 12 Months on January 23, 2014 at 4:00 AM

    […] Addie Zierman on all the things that don’t magically happen just because you’ve signed a book deal […]

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    […] What Doesn’t Happen When You Sign a Book Deal Addie Zierman with a reality check about what having a book deal will really do to your life. […]

  5. Kristen Witherspoon on November 24, 2013 at 6:21 PM

    This was so beautiful! My favorite part was, “You’ll get the book deal, and don’t get me wrong – it’ll be wonderful. But it won’t beat a summer sunrise, a sloppy toddler kiss, a walk through the apple orchard in the late afternoon light with the people you love.”

    A very sweet reminder that what really matters is outside the book. Thanks for posting and thanks for writing this Addie!

  6. […] What Doesn’t Happen When You Sign a Book Deal from Addie Zierman at RachellGardner.com […]

  7. augie on November 16, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    I enjoyed this post. Thank you for hitting the needle in the right loop in regards to be legitimized in life, Writing helps each of us legitimize who we are in the world we create on paper (computer), but when it comes to family and love none of it matters. Being published helps with our role in the writers world, but it shouldn’t change who we are. I enjoyed reading the other comments and especially the one from Dr. Rawlins in regards to arriving daily by living another day moment by moment. There is still work to be done. We hold on to those moments when everything is quiet (or disarrayed). Cherish each moment as they arrive. augie

  8. […] the traditional publishing world, Addie Zierman tells us what DOESN’T happen when you sign a book deal, and Jordan Hamessley London gives us a peek at an editor’s to-do […]

  9. Meg on November 13, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    I loved this post but i must admit that I am pushing away from the computer, frustrated. I read this post and then “faith is an empty room” and thats when the sense of dispair set it. While your story is gleamingly hopeful and ends with a happy book deal, I have exhausted my listed of agents to query. Including Rachelle and every agent at Books and Such. I can’t get anyone to speak to me.
    But thank you for this perspective of life beyond book deals.

  10. Julie Musil on November 12, 2013 at 5:45 PM

    This post brought tears to my eyes. Yes, it’s about living life with the people we love. That will always come first.

  11. David Rupert on November 12, 2013 at 2:34 PM

    I learned that the big book deal isn’t that big of a deal after all. It’s hard to beat the drum and the self- absorption/ self-promotion is tiresome and embarrassing. I’ve met some great young writers who are doing really silly things to ‘build a platform.’ Barf. Just write, do what you are supposed to do the right way and let God use you. If that means you teach a bible study for six people and no one else sees it — then love that smallness and bless the simplicity.

  12. richard pierce on November 11, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    Excellent. Especially “It’s the moments that you walk away from your computer, back into the wild of your own life, that will do it.” I often wish I could go back entirely to my normal life before the book deal. R

  13. Daniel Melbye on November 10, 2013 at 9:16 PM

    Great post.

  14. Sharon Rawlette on November 10, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    Great post! Its central message–“It’s these average, precious moments – not the book contract – that keep you rooted to your own heart.”–is a crucial one for both aspiring and accomplished writers. Thanks for sharing!

  15. […] What Doesn’t Happen When You Sign a Book Deal–Addie Zierman, Rachelle Gardner […]

  16. Laurence King on November 10, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    What a wonderful post! Thank you for that; it was just what I needed to read.

  17. LynnRodz on November 9, 2013 at 7:21 AM

    Beautifully written! Thanks Addie.

  18. Lynda Lee on November 9, 2013 at 2:14 AM

    This post is wonderful! Addie Zierman, you can WRITE. I’m checking out your memoir right now…

  19. Ernie Zelinski on November 8, 2013 at 5:50 PM

    There is no one-big-deal in life that will change your life dramatically, not even a major lottery win. Having had several book deals, including over 100 with foreign publishers, I can say that there is great satisfaction to be experienced if your book makes a big difference in people’s lives and they write to you about it.

    It may take many years, however, to hear from your readers. As an example, here is an email that I recently received:

    —– Original Message —–
    From: Rob W.
    To: vipbooks
    Sent: Saturday, November 02, 2013 1:10 AM
    Subject: Many thanks

    Dear Ernie,

    I’ve been meaning to write to you for about 12 years.

    Back in the late 90s when I was a post-post graduate student and flat broke, I took The Joy of Not Working out of the Vancouver Public Library. It was an inspiring read and struck a chord and confirmed that there
    were in fact other people out there who saw 9-5 work as a straight jacket, not something to covet and pursue, but rather something to spend considerable effort to avoid. Time is our most valuable asset and should use in the pursuit of interesting, engaging and life enhancing experiences. Wasting your life in an office or the equivalent isn’t one of them.

    In the early 2000s, despite lots of student and other debt, I refused to
    take a life wasting job, buy a condo and take that easy path of least resistance to retirement where I’d wake up and wonder where youth and my life had gone. Instead I left Vancouver, moved to London, England and spent ten years in publishing [ok, 6.5 years was 9-5 BUT it was an amazing place to work, brilliant colleagues and authors and international travel] as well as running my own business, pubbing, seeing gigs, mountain climbing, having the experiences of a lifetime and meeting friends who are now strewn across the globe. In the ten years I was based in London, I visited 42 countries, travelling for over 700 days, including one stint of 14 months on a round the world trip and 2 months living in Mexico one winter studying Spanish and immersing myself in the food
    and culture.

    In April 2013, I returned to Canada and noticed how obsessed everyone is
    with house prices, working to maintain expensive lifestyles etc. The meme here is quite unjolly compared to other places I’ve lived.

    In August I bought an acreage on Gabriola Island, BC, which is filled with unconventional thinkers. Next spring I’ll be building a house using natural building methods and establishing a permaculture-based micro-farm and eventually a craft cider operation.

    Life is all grand and very exciting and I’ve not had a ‘real job’ since
    July 2009. Future goals include, honing my Spanish, travelling the breadth of South America [the only continent besides Antarctica I’ve not visitied], getting a sailboat to improve my skills so I can sail in the Victoria-Maui yacht race in 2020 for my 50th birthday and then spinning that into a multi-year world-wide voyage. So much still to do.

    After all these years, The Joy of Not Working is still in my active reading pile – I like to dip into it when I start thinking about taking the easy path and getting a 9-5. So Many thanks for penning it in the first place and letting people know there are like minds about.

    Best regards,
    Rob W.

  20. Kim Kircher on November 8, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    I love this post. From the very first word, I read it slowly, digesting each word, like I would a novel rather than a blog post. The writing, the emotion, the images are all beautiful. You’re so right. Getting a book deal isn’t going to change that much. Of course this insight only comes after the book deal. But still. It’s brilliant.

  21. […] amazing agent, Rachelle Gardner, reposted my “What Doesn’t Happen When You Sign a Book Deal” post today. If you missed it the first time, head over and check it […]

  22. Pamela Hawkins on November 8, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    This is an absolutely wonderful post. Your post gave me a lot to reflect upon as a new writer. Each day is a day for self evaluation of my true values and what is truly important. The hope to touch another persons life positively by the words I share is my ultimate desire however, when you look at what is truly important, a book deal would be great financially but it can never replace the life experiences we each encounter from day to day. These are the things of substance that make it all worth while. Thank you for posting this!

  23. LifeTrax on November 8, 2013 at 10:41 AM


    This post made me laugh and punched me in the gut at the same time! I loved it! Especially the part about the children screaming at you from the other room. Don’t they realize we are writing the best book in the history of the world?

    I often wonder what it would be like to be content with normal. But for those of us who thrive on the emotional roller coaster, normal is the most unfulfilled state we could live in. Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be nice if just one day wasn’t completely filled with chaos. Nah, on second thought, that would be boring.

    Stop the roller coaster, I want to get on!

    Thanks for the great post!


  24. Susan on November 8, 2013 at 9:25 AM

    The precept of Addie’s post can apply to most achievements that the human race pursues. Achievement is usually the means to another end. That “end” should be just as valuable as the means. The entire process should be a time of enlightenment and growth.

    WHAT I THINK WILL CHANGE IF MY NONFICTION BOOK IS PUBLISHED: Publication will solidify my platform and strengthen my influence. It might enable me to retire so my writing can be more prolific…so I can get further out into the world and find new perspective on some never-changing truth.

    WHAT WILL STAY THE SAME: I will still struggle to find words worthy of my subjects.
    Susan – http://www.intothedeep.net

  25. AshleeW on November 8, 2013 at 9:25 AM

    What a wonderfully beautiful way to describe something so completely true! Thanks for making me smile this morning! Loved it.

  26. Sondra Krantz Kraak on November 8, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    Addie, these thoughts are beautiful. As I finish up my mss and look to the future, I so relate to your descriptions of family life and identity. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  27. Susan Cottrell on November 8, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    Addie, LOVE your writing. I did publish a book on parenting teens (by backing off and trusting God a LOT instead of micromanaging them) and then Marriage Renovation (which speaks for itself). And it was nice! I loved the work I did! But it did NOT change my life. (In fact our marriage was turned upside-down and shaken out to write that book). Now I blog to LGBTQ about Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance. I’m about to publish a book to Christian parents of LGBTQ teens (to embrace them not seek to change them), which I wrote to make an impact! But how do you measure that, with the laundry piles and endless dishes and kids’ needs? Thx always for great work. 🙂 Freedhearts.com

  28. Terry Shames on November 8, 2013 at 8:48 AM

    Yes, many things are still the same–except that I have a lot more details to wade through. But things changed dramatically for me when my first book came out in July. I’ve had many, many total strangers write me emails to tell me how much they love my book and my main character. I’ve had fantastic reviews. People I know call me, email me, stop me on the street beaming as they tell me they love my book. I feel as if my confidence has soared. I found that I love speaking in public and have found a whole new me hidden in the person who slogs at the computer each day. I’m now writing #3, and although I still have those moments when I have to noodle around before I figure out exactly how something happens, I’m much more able to trust the process. Like everyone else, I find setting up blogs and readings and finding promotion opportunities is annoying–but it’s an exciting new world and I’m loving it. I loved this blog post because it reminds me that life is more than a book contract, but the contract is still pretty darn nice.

  29. Signing the Book Contract | Denise Bossert on November 8, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    […] You think everything will change when you have a contract. Literary agent Rachel Gardner sums it up well here.http://rachellegardner.flywheelsites.com/2013/11/when-you-sign-a-book-deal/ […]

  30. Lisa-Jo Baker on November 8, 2013 at 8:19 AM

    Beautiful wisdom here. Thank you.

  31. JosephPote on November 8, 2013 at 8:00 AM

    What a greast post!

    This part especially resonated with me:

    “…along with the book deal comes a deep, haunting desire to have your book fly far, to have your words find readers who will love them.”
    So true!

  32. Lori Benton on November 8, 2013 at 7:39 AM

    Yep. I still have a mild phone phobia since I signed my first book deal, and saw my first novel on the shelf. I just have to overcome it more often now.

    Lori Benton

  33. Margaret-Dawn Thacker on November 8, 2013 at 7:07 AM

    Thank you for this. I may never be sitting at that table, staring into the pages of a contract, but your post helped me remember the important parts of life, the living part.

  34. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on November 8, 2013 at 6:58 AM

    The necessary changes in life are just part of the job, for me. I’ve had several careers, and most of the requirements of writing are familiar to me.

    I’ve thought about what writing success might change in my life, and what I would change, and the answer surprised me.

    Almost nothing.

    I like our house, and love the 26 rescued dogs with which we share it. (Yes, the cats too! And the turtle.)

    I would make sure my wife got back to Indiana more often, and make sure she had a new car.

    For me…well, my clothes come from Wal-mart, and books from Barnes and Noble. Not much too change, there.

    Well, okay, there is ONE little thing I’d do.

    I’m gonna buy a MiG-21 and be the dude who shows up to do interviews in an old Russian jet.


  35. kathryn magendie on November 8, 2013 at 6:29 AM

    This is absolutely beautifully written – and expressed – and ever so much true.

  36. Timbones on November 8, 2013 at 6:28 AM

    Well, it tells you a lot about what it’s not. How about telling us what it’s actually like?

  37. Micky Wolf on November 8, 2013 at 6:20 AM

    Beautiful post! You have caught the essence of mundane, it seems, and imbued it with a bit of inspiration in a way that has brought a special glow and sense of peace to an ordinary morning. Thank you!

  38. Beth K. Vogt on November 8, 2013 at 6:17 AM

    What did I hope would change once I landed a book deal? Me. What changed? Me. But whereas I was thinking external change (an award, maybe?) what I experienced was internal change — a shaking down of who I was. I’m stronger. More confident than I was before the book deal — but that’s because I’ve chosen to wade through the times of doubt, not wallow in ’em.

  39. Richard Mabry on November 8, 2013 at 6:12 AM

    Addie, You’ve captured the feelings and the reality. Thanks so much for sharing this post. And Rachelle, thanks for letting us get to know Addie a bit better.

  40. Debbie on November 8, 2013 at 6:12 AM

    That was an amazing post. I read it, then reread it to let it really sink in. Thank you.

  41. Neil Ansell on November 8, 2013 at 6:11 AM

    A very lovely post, and very true. It’s easy to think of publication as an end, when it is really more of a beginning. In fact writing is a journey which has no destination, and first publication is just one stepping stone along the way.

  42. Cindy C Garrett on November 8, 2013 at 6:01 AM

    Love this post!

  43. Linda Rawlins on November 8, 2013 at 5:19 AM

    This is a great post! As a physician, I was often approached by patients over the years asking for referrals for plastic surgery, gastric bypass or just “pills” to change their lives. I would take the time to discuss their anticipated results. One gentlemen told me he was tired of waiting and wanted to “arrive.” I’ve often wondered how does one know when one has “arrived.” Is it a measure of fame, fortune, external validation, respect from your kids, envy(jealousy) from your “friends”, peaceful living or self-satisfaction? How does one know the exact time and method by which they’ve “arrived?” I have author friends who are upset because they’ve written a book, they’ve been published and yet no one seems to care. I imagine “arriving” could be different for each person and most likely not the perceived image of a beach with an umbrella laden drink in your hand while you watch the sunset. Most likely, having “arrived” means more stress and difficulties that take you further away from your perceived utopia by keeping up appearances. Now I work in hospice. My patients “arrive” by living another day, dealing with life and loss. Spreading and receiving love and God’s word and fulfilling the mission they were sent here to accomplish. Cheers to you Addie! I’ve always loved the saying – “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” Cherish your precious moments and take the rest in stride!

    • Cindy C Garrett on November 8, 2013 at 6:06 AM

      Thanks for being there for them patients! This reminds me of the song, Trip around the Sun with Martina Mcbride and Jimmy Buffett..

      • Linda Rawlins on November 8, 2013 at 7:24 AM

        Thanks Cindy – Jimmy Buffett happens to be one of my favorites!

  44. Virginia Munoz on November 8, 2013 at 12:04 AM

    Beautiful post, which led me to your blog, which led me to your book, which I purchased. I didn’t grow up evangelical, but as a woman who is walking that long road back from the dead-end of absolutism, I know this book will speak to me on the journey.