In Which I Choose My Life Over A Book Deal

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this is me, being contemplative

I devoted most of May and June to the sort of indulgent, naval gazing self-analysis usually reserved for early 2000’s emo music.

As I drove across the country, I wondered (aloud, to my empty car) what I should do about The Book Thing. In Idaho, I thought I had it figured out. In California, I reconsidered. In New Mexico and New York and Kitchener, I bored every friend I saw with my concerns about The Book Thing.

See, over two years ago, I signed with a literary agent. After a year of half-hearted attempts on both our parts, I politely suggested that we see other people and promptly signed with another – significantly more impressive – literary agent.

There were big ideas and big plans and a lush, professionally designed proposal. We planned to turn the True Story series into a gorgeous gift book filled with all my best, unpublished interviews and beautiful photos.

You know, the kind of thing they sell at Urban Outfitters and museum gift stores.
The kind of book you proudly display on the coffee table or give to your Cool Aunt.

I was totally aware of all the reasons I should want to publish a book.  
It would introduce my work and this blog to a whole new audience. It would open doors that I didn’t know existed. I could charge more for my services and get booked as a speaker. I’d get to live out my childhood dream of being a published author.

But all I could think of were the reasons I didn’t want to.
I’ve watched multiple friends write and publish books. I’ve seen the book-writing process totally consume their lives – frequently at the cost of their health and their relationships. I’ve ghost-written books for major publishers and worked through those merciless edits.

I don’t want to shuttle around the country on a book tour or appear on morning television in Spanx and heavy makeup. I don’t want Yes & Yes to fall apart as I spend all my time on another project. I don’t want to give up the client work I love doing or the new things that I love trying.

Rather greedily, I want to publish the best interviews myself. I want the instant gratification of your comments telling me how the story resonated with you or how it introduced you to something new.

For me, pursuing a book deal felt like exchanging money for the next two years of life.
Instead of poking around the back roads of Ontario, I’d be chained to my laptop. Instead of roller skating date nights or cabin weekends or weird new recipes, I’d live in my inbox.  Instead of writing posts about how to trick people into thinking you’ve made an effort with your appearance, I’d be chasing down photo release forms.

I didn’t want that. I don’t want that.

Which is, perhaps, not a particularly inspirational conclusion. Maybe I’m taking the easy way out or I’m afraid of failure. Maybe in a few years I’ll regret this decision. Maybe my eighth grade English teacher is shaking her head right now; I’m sure my former agent is rolling his eyes.

But instead of the childhood dream I thought I wanted, I’m choosing to pursue the day-to-day reality I know I want right now.  It’s equal parts scary and anti-climatic but – at least for now – it’s the right choice for me.

35 Comments

Rachelia

Oh, Sarah. That sounds like the hardest decision and a double edged sword all wrapped up in one giant confusing package. I think it’s amazing though that you know what you want AND what you need (most of us only know what we want). It’s incredibly brave to look your dream in the eye and say “this isn’t going to work”. It also doesn’t have to be an all or nothing kind of decision. Perhaps the opportunity will present itself later down the road. But if not, at least you know that you did what is right for YOU! Personally, while a book would have been oh so cool (and I would have *gasp* pre-ordered!), I’m pretty happy we won’t be losing you to the book world and all the promotions Thanks for sharing and being vulnerable!

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Sarah Von Bargen

Also? I’VE BEEN STOCKPILING ALL THE BEST TRUE STORIES!!! So, so many good ones to come.

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Brittany Deal

This automatically makes me think of your post “In Praise of Non-traditional Adulthood”. The next “traditional” step in your career would be to write a book. But instead of following tradition you are doing what is best for you! I am 26 years old and a stay-at-home mom which might seem incredibly traditional but now-in-days it really isn’t. I am the only one of my friends married and the only one with a child. I have decided to buck tradition and stay home with my daughter until she goes to elementary school and then go back to get my master’s degree. We all have to find what works best for us even if society doesn’t consider it the smartest move or most traditional.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Yes! Really and truly, my screensaver says “Do what’s right for you.”

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Katie

YOU ARE MY FAVORITE PERSON ON THE INTERNET!! Really. Your wisdom always comes at the right time, just as I am choosing to NOT look for jobs, enjoy my life now. I am a career counselor by day, do I really want to be writing my own resumes and cover letters at night?? No! I want to hang with my husband, plan dinner parties, go bike riding.

I think the theme of your post, in addition to “Do what’s right for you” is also that sometimes your dream job/boy/whatever isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes you need to recognize that you are already living your dream, and you don’t need to keep looking for it.

Congrats on your life decision! Let’s celebrate!! Cake and bacon for everyone!!!

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Sarah Von Bargen

Yes! As a wise Instagram friend said today “You’re already where you want to be! What luck!”

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Stephanie

Oh, thank you for this!! I (like many others, I’m sure) often feel so pressured to accrue those external indicators of “success”–money, titles, stuff. Yet that’s never what’s truly satisfying. I’m always so inspired to see people who are committed to building a life based on their own meanings of success and fulfillment, and you exemplify that, Sarah. Seeing your example helps me stay focused on building a fulfilling life instead of just a busy life or an empty life with an impressive resume.

Congratulations on having the wisdom and the courage to know what’s best for you and to do it! And thank you for sharing yourself and your process with the world!

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Sarah Von Bargen

Oh, thank you so much for the kind words, Stephanie. Where’s my “weepy with appreciation” emoji?!

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Kelsi

Sooooooo many hugs and U-RAH-RAHs for you, Sarah! The success you have now that brings you joy and new friendships and travel adventures is because you’re being true to who you are. Props to you for having the foresight to see why something very exciting and tempting may not be the right fit for you. There will always be someone telling you you’ve made the “wrong” choice (sometimes because they’re concerned for you, but most of the time it’s because your actions are bringing up their own insecurities), so shine brightly in your truest and most favorite way. This decision is still super hard, I am sure, so just be kind to yourself. Thanks for sharing with us!

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ardith

You are a wise woman, Sarah. If/when book writing inspiration comes to you, so be it. If not, your blog is entirely unique and a societal breath of fresh air. Thank you for broaching a diverse range of topics with respect and grace.

On a related note: As an observer, it seems to me there is creeping peer pressure for bloggers to turn themselves into book authors—not unlike that for scientists to publish articles—in order to establish and maintain their credibility. As the pressure grows, the efforts feel increasingly false to me. Additionally, and as a blog follower, the rise of “How To” books (especially within the realm of interior decorating/design) smacks of an unconscious condescension.

Cheers, Ardith

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Sarah Von Bargen

Yes! Also, I sort of feel like the niche my book was attempting to fill was already pretty full with the new Human of New York Book and This American Life and StoryCorps. I can share more stories with a different audience right here on this blog.

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Sarah Alves

I applaud your honesty, Sarah! Thank you, thank you. Being a published author is a childhood dream of mine also, and something that I always “go back to.” Kind of like an unchecked item on a to-do list… I really want to do it, but also, do I really need to do it? That last part always makes me take pause. I assume it’s not time yet. I’ve not experienced enough yet. One day, if it’s meant to be. The great thing about being alive in 2015 is that there are so many different avenues to meander down when trying to make a dream come true. I remind myself of that also – that it’s just not going to look the way I think it should.

All that being said, I would definitely be a customer/reader of yours. Whether that means a hard bound book or an e-book or whatever YOU want to publish the way YOU want to publish it… I am already a fan.

-Sarah Alves

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Kristy

Thank You! Thank You! for sharing your honesty (as always) with us.

I’ve been struggling with one big ticking-clock thing for at least five years now…did the “clock” reference give it away 😉
Some days I can totally see myself leaning one way; but then the next I’m doing my own independent thing and couldn’t be happier. It’s not that I’m feeling pressured as much as I wonder if I am missing out on this big secret.

You have certainly given me some things to think about. Keep doing what you do!!

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Whitney

Today, on my Yes and Yes app, the theme is “encouragement”. I think maybe I should take your advice and encourage YOU! I’m excited for you that you know what you want and you’re going for it! *electronic hugs*

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Sarah M

But maybe the no you said will leave room in the margin for a different and more life-fitting yes? I have never regretted trusting my gut. Have you?
Sarah M

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ebonie

Way to go, Sarah! You ARE living the life you love. So why trade down?

Everything you do here inspires your readers to say a Big, Resounding “YES” to Life! And that’s a waaay bigger “Yes” than going with the book deal.

Cheers to a choice well-made! *clink*

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shanna

Sweet Sarah–what a wonderful thing to do–to choose you!

Your life, as you want to live it, now. You can always change your mind later. Or not. I, too, have ghost-written and edited books (and wrote my own little vegan & gluten-free cookbook), and it’s a time-suck, albeit a worthy one, IF it’s what you want to do. Otherwise, there are plenty of other worthy pursuits–like being honest with yourself each day. You’ve got this, woman–and I’m cheering you on!

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Rachelle

Wow Sarah, I just have to comment because this is too amazing.
Lately I’ve been considering how a major source of stress in our times is the sheer abundance of awesome, amazing opportunities. They out-strip our abilities to have them! It takes a lot of courage to draw your line in the sand and not overfill your life! Kudos to you, I’m still really struggling with this one, your choice is inspirational.

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Court

I was just telling someone how the “next logical step” isn’t right for everyone all the time. I’ll forward this to them.

Besides writing a book is a huge thing, I’ve watched a friend of mine write (and do super well with) one and another is in process. It’s like birthing a child and your heart has to be in it or it won’t go well for anyone.

High-five for doing what’s right for you!

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Michelle

This was such an awesome post to read because I made the same, agonizing decision last year. I was offered a large advance for writing a cookbook and the legal mumbo jumbo ended up taking longer than anticipated to sort through, and before the deal was signed, my husband and I learned we were expecting our first child. We were so excited, but my mindset about the book completely changed. I could have gotten the book written before he was born, but like you, I could not envision a book tour, commitments to do morning shows, etc etc. I was told, “but you can bring him along!” or “he can stay home with daddy!”. I just knew deep down in my gut I would regret it, so I never signed on the dotted line and backed out. It was such a hard decision and on days when I wonder if I did the right thing (the book would be coming out in a couple of months from now), I just stare at that those big, curious 6-month-old eyes and know that getting to enjoy every single day with that little guy without being pulled in a million different directions was absolutely the right decision.

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Rachel A

Thank goodness! BLOGS > BOOKS!!!

I mean, no, but kinda… I can ready blogs anywhere and get the marvelous treat of new little bits of content all the time, vs a book I’d binge-read (and then what would I read when I need my 5-min-an-hour fun internet break at work?!?!?

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Elle Griffin

I’m so obsessed with this post. I have a book in me that I’m so desperate to write, but I don’t want to give up everything else to write it. For me right now that means writing the entire book pre-publisher (no dead lines, no rush, just me writing the book at my leisure). I want the writing the book process to be fun and beautiful and magical. A reflection of the way my life is being lived. And if that means taking five years to write a book instead of two, at least it will be symbolic of my actual life. And not the life I dreamed of living!

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Friday Footnotes

[…] see the book deal as the pinnacle of writerdom. (I made that word up.) But in this blog post, Sarah Von Bargen shares how she recently passed on a book deal, choosing the daily freelance work […]

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Alison

I so, so hear you with this one. While it’s tempting to check a box that you always thought you wanted to check, life happens and your desires and priorities change. Sounds like you made the best choice for you!

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Rachael

This is embarrassingly late, but sometimes in order to keep saying, “Yes!” you have to say one big, firm “No.” 🙂

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Shannon

I’m the one who mentioned writing a book on your Facebook live post and I’ve been thinking about if it’s really the right thing. The thing that I get hung up on is “What is the point of my writing and does writing a book fulfill that purpose?” For me, it’s to inspire people to take action to reduce their carbon footprint, especially in the context of being parents. Did that question of purpose come into your calculations? How did it affect your decision?

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Sarah Von Bargen

That’s a great question, Shannon. The purpose of my writing (at least the topic of the book I’d signed on to write) was to share other people’s stories and for other people to feel less alone in their struggles. And that’s something I can 100% do on my blog. I don’t need to publish a book to do that.

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Shannon

Cool. I’m realizing that if I put my ego aside, that there may be more interactive, effective ways for me to meet the mission of my potential book too. If a book deal comes out of it, that’s awesome, but I can do a lot without one.

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