When It’s Time To Stop Dreaming

I’m a dreamin’ man, yes, that’s my problem;
I can’t tell when I’m not being real.
Neil Young

The world is divided between people who dream big, people who dream little, and people who don’t dream at all.
Those who dream big are often disappointed. Those who dream little sometimes catch that brass ring, but they’ll never get the gold. Those who don’t dream at all, well, they probably lead fairly boring lives.
Like the songwriter Neil Young, I’m as susceptible as any guy to Walter Mitty-like dreams — the kind of dreams we indulge ourselves with when the lives we actually lead tend to lean on the hum-drum side.
Over the past several years I’ve written four books —short stories mostly, some of them based on my own life and others pure fiction — that I’ve self-published on lulu.com with the help of my daughters, who happen to be gifted graphic artists. Friends and family (and even a few strangers) have purchased the books and have given good reviews.
Recently, one of my very best friends strongly encouraged me to submit my latest story, a 160-page novellette called “The Genuine One,” to an authentic publishing company just in case it might be judged good enough for national distribution. “What have you got to lose?” he said.
Up to that point, I hadn’t gone that far for several reasons. No. 1, I don’t care for rejection. I’d heard about all those authors whose entire writing lives consist of rejection letters (the lucky ones, that is; the ones who aren’t ignored completely). No. 2, I don’t want to work too hard to become rich and famous. I want to just snap my fingers and sit in my easy chair as the world beckons at my door.
But after about a week, I submitted it anyway. I found what looks to be a reputable publishing company on the Internet (some of more established ones, I learned, don’t even accept new manuscripts unless you’re already rich and famous) and uploaded the complete story.
Two days later, I received a reply. “Congratulations!” it began.
Yes, indeed. There in my email file was a letter. It said my story was very well written and very marketable. All I needed to do was sign the contract and pay $4,000 to get access to an excellent design and marketing staff. The company promised to spend thousands of dollars on my behalf, to provide for me my own web site and to initiate book signings. Before long, my story would be seen by millions on Amazon.com and show up in book stores everywhere.
I had to sell a certain amount of books to get my money back, of course.
I ignored the contract. There was no way I was going to scrounge up $4,000.
The next day, my man in charge of book acquisitions called me on my cell phone. He dropped the price to $1,990 and threw in a few sweeteners like free social media and hard-cover binding. I asked a lot of questions. I wondered how many unknown authors actually sell enough books to earn back their buy-in money. I didn’t get a suitable answer.
I also asked him how, in two days, he could digest the entire book to ascertain whether it was really good enough to be successfully mass-marketed. He said he didn’t actually read all of it, but gleaned enough of it to know that it was as good as he said.
Wow. I didn’t know it was THAT good!
He also told me that his company accepts less than four percent of the manuscripts they receive.
“I’m not sure I believe that,” I told my wife.
I was trying very hard not to be skeptical. I suspect this company gets many signed contracts from people trying not to be skeptical, and succeeding.
When a dreamer allows the dreaming process to proceed full throttle, he ignores those little bells going off in his head. I was dreaming about all those television shows I’d appear on, about being invited to colleges to inspire aspiring writers that, with a little luck and persistence, they might even wind up as successful as me. At first, I’d only hoped I might make enough money to get my investment back, but then I allowed myself to wonder … you know, I’ve heard news reports of obscure authors hitting it big with their novels. Sometimes, all it takes is to get your name out there.
My kids were on board. They believe in me. My wife believes in me. She was on board, too. “I’ll spin the wheel with you,” she said. “It’s only money.”
A day later, I was already getting over it. The seed money. The feeling — the feeling that I couldn’t shake — that I was being set up. Also the thought of going to a book signing somewhere and looking at a sea of empty chairs.
Suddenly, I stopped dreaming altogether. When all you can think about is standing in the middle of an empty book store feeling foolish, it is time to wake up.