From Heartbreak to Redemption

On the occasion of my new book’s launch, I’d like to tell you a story about something that happened to me nearly 13 years ago; it will help to explain why today means so much to me and why I’m experiencing the publication of this book as a kind of “corrective emotional experience” for an old trauma.

We had only recently moved to Chapel Hill at the time; my daughter wasn’t yet two years old. After a lot of hard work, I’d finished a work of fiction, a literary suspense novel set within the milieu of a psychoanalytic training institute, based loosely on my experience training and then teaching at my own institute back in Los Angeles. It’s called White Lies. Although it involves a murder and a mystery, its theme is the longing to create an ideal self to disguise internal damage and shame. Sound familiar?

As chance would have it, the woman who had been my editor on my second novel had recently left her publishing house and opened her own literary agency. Liza took me on as a client and we worked closely together on revising the manuscript. On the day she began submissions to publishing houses, she hand-delivered 16 copies to editors she knew well and thought would like the book. One of those editors was a woman who came into Manhattan only one day each week — the day Liza had chosen to deliver copies — and had a 3-hour train ride home to upstate New York at the end of it.

Early the following morning, my agent called to inform me that this particular editor had read a big chunk of my book on that train ride and was very interested. Liza said that after she and I got off the phone, she’d be calling all the other editors who had a copy of my novel, to let them know that another house was interested. Those calls had the desired effect. That week, editors all over New York City read my novel and six of them expressed interest in acquiring the book. Movie studios were calling Liza, asking for a copy. It was thrilling.

I recall one night that week, sitting out on the front porch of our house, full of excitement but also deeply moved. I felt overjoyed and tearful that after so many years of writing and rejection, I had finally realized my dream. I would be a successful writer. I might eventually find a way to support myself by writing. On Friday of that week, Liza called to tell me that Doubleday would be bringing in a two-book offer the following Monday. I remember hearing the news just before attending our neighborhood block party. I was elated.

The offer from Doubleday never came through. The reason: at the editorial committee meeting on Monday, the editor-in-chief decided the book fit no clear category, straddling the line between literary fiction and suspense. They felt the main character wasn’t likable enough. One by one, all the other interested publishing houses backed away. It was one of the most devastating experiences of my life. I fell into a depression akin to mourning. Liza and I undertook another revision to address those problems; fourteen more editors turned it down.

I don’t think I fully recovered from that experience for many years, although I continued to write. I eventually brought White Lies to my writer’s group and undertook yet another revision. This time through, I could see exactly why the book hadn’t sold before and felt confident that I’d fixed it. But when it came time to look for a new agent and start the whole process all over again, it felt almost unbearable to me. Liza said she couldn’t represent me (that experience had been deeply disappointing for her, as well) and after a couple of very good agents turned me down, I gave up looking.

We are now in the summer of 2010. My son William came out to Colorado during his break from college; during one of our hikes, he brought up the idea of blogging. He said that he’d made a couple hundred bucks through affiliate marketing himself — Why don’t you build a psychology-related website and see if you could earn money from it in the same way? The earning-money part didn’t seem likely to me, but Will’s suggestion came together with something I’d been hearing a lot lately in regard to the publishing industry: authors with a “platform” and an internet presence appealed much more to publishers, and they even expected authors to be able to market their own books. What if I built a successful platform as a psychotherapy blogger? Might that make me more appealing to agents and publishers?

Thus was After Psychotherapy born. But what started out as a means to some other end turned out to be the most fulfilling experience I’ve had in my professional life. Rather than merely a marketing tool, this website gave me the means of bringing together my two great loves: writing and psychotherapy. After a while, once I found my voice, it seemed that I’d been born to do this very thing. In October of last year, it also led to the opening of my practice to Skype therapy, which has allowed me to work with people in different countries and from foreign cultures — people I would never have had a chance to know were it not for my blog.

In addition, it led to a non-fiction book deal with New Harbinger Publications, which I wrote about in this post about precocity and impatience. Eventually, I withdrew from that contract, finding that I couldn’t live with NH’s editorial restrictions, and then wrote about my decision in another post about contempt. I elected to self-publish: the book available for purchase today is the result.

I spent a year writing and revising the book based on the criticism and suggestions of the members of my writer’s group. I engaged good friends, experienced graphic designers, to help with layout and book design. I wrote the book that I wanted, word for word, gave it the exact title I had chosen and, with the help of friends, came up with a cover design I absolutely love. I didn’t compromise my values or beliefs in any way. Not only am I proud, but I feel that I have now left behind the heartbreak of not selling White Lies. It feels like a kind of redemption, the corrective emotional experience for that trauma from 13 years ago.

For my generation of writers, the validation that comes with a publisher’s approval still feels precious, but I’m finding I can live without it. The experience of creating and writing this blog, and now launching my book about psychological defenses, feels deeply validating. One day last week as I sat thinking about the book’s upcoming launch, I felt tears comes to my eyes; they made me recall that evening 13 years ago when I wept on the screen porch, thinking White Lies was about to sell. As that memory came back to me, my tears dried up. I didn’t want to feel that vulnerable, didn’t want to hope for too much. After all, the book could do poorly and nobody would read it.

I honestly don’t believe that will be the outcome. I suppose I’ll soon have a much clearer idea of what to expect. But whatever happens, it won’t change these past two years, the fulfillment I’ve experienced in creating this blog and the pride I feel about my new book, Why Do I Do That?

Thanks to all of you for being a part of that experience, for telling me so often that you value my work and appreciate my writing. I hope you’ll support me again and help me make this book’s launch a success (and if you don’t know what you can do, read this post).

And maybe now that I’ve had the experience of self-publishing, I’ll turn my attention back to White Lies and bring it out myself!

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Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.
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54 Responses to From Heartbreak to Redemption

  1. Gordon says:

    Just ordered the book. My expectations are high but after a few months reading this blog and knowing that you spent all this time writing it exactly as you wanted it, I find those expectations to be quite realistic.

    Best of luck!

  2. Warren says:

    I know very well about the road to publication. Never let fear of failure moderate your next project. You can’t lose what you don’t already own. Your future books must always be brimming with passion, heart and soul. Those are big stakes not to have someone validate, but as you have shown here, despite the scars, you have validated yourself. I know the terrain. For a week you have the best idea in the world, within a month it’s ok, about average. By the time you have a completed draft you feel a fraud waiting to be denounced and shot down. There is much to learn from investing heavily in something that stands only to fail. An interior toughing up, something I look for in any writer as a measure of their competence. I am reminded of Kipling ‘If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same’. Sadly, today, these words sound mawkish, but he did really mean about standing again, either after the party, or after dejection. Pour yourself a scotch, today is a special day !!!

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks, Warren. I think I’ll save the Scotch till after I’m finished with clients!

      One thing I’ve realized lately is that my writing has always been influenced by my thoughts about what publishers wanted; I think that even the last version of White Lies suffered a bit from that distortion. After I withdrew from my contract with NH, I felt completely liberated to say exactly what I wanted without reference to anyone else or their expectations. I think you’d agree it makes for better writing. I love that quote from Kipling!

      A few weeks ago, I began to make one more pass through White Lies. Already I can feel the difference, knowing that I’ll be the editor-in-chief.

  3. I’m so pleased I can do a small thing to help – both because I think it’s an excellent book, and because of how giving you have been over the past couple of years of your time and expertise to all us readers.

    A review will be going up on my blog this afternoon. I really wish you every success with this (and future) books.

    As a side-note – I too have been shocked at how much I enjoy blogging, just for blogging’s sake. I was always worried it would become a chore; thankfully, for me, it hasn’t as yet.

  4. julie says:

    I loved this post because it talks about perserverance. Life is not just about the “end result” but the journey. Your soul has been greatly enriched by this process and you have learned things that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Success is always a PERSONAL triumph, not necessarily a PUBLIC triumph. Your blog has inspired many, including ME. This is just what I needed to hear on a Monday morning…..May you continue to stay blessed on your journey.

  5. Hermes says:

    Wishing you every success with the book, Joseph. You utterly deserve it. I echo what the other posters have said.
    I shall get a copy.
    Hermes

  6. GT says:

    As they say “The journey is the destination” – great to hear your story and a big Congrats today! I’m glad you blog & have been grateful that I stumbled upon your blog over a year or so ago…. All the best! I look fwd to ordering today!

  7. I just bought my copy and am anxious to read it. If they don’t know already, your readers may be interested to learn that they can download a Kindle app on Amazon that allows them to read the book on their computers or other devices, even if they don’t have a Kindle. I use a MacBook Air and just downloaded the application. It works perfectly.

    Congratulations on a major accomplishment! Best of luck with it.

    Elaine

  8. Jehane says:

    Congratulations Dr Joe. I look forward to reading your blog with it’s wisdom and personal stories. Very inspiring . So glad you didn’t compromise your values .I have ordered your book today.

  9. CL says:

    I have been a lurker on your blog for a few months and have read all of youe posts & comments. Thank you very much for all the work you have done & continue to do. It has been very helpful to me and many others based on all the positive comments. I have your book on order and can’t wait to read it. I wish you every success.

  10. Amanda says:

    Having just read your book and reviewed it on Amazon, I’m definitely interested in reading “White Lies.” Please keep us posted here if you plan on pursing getting it published. Thank you, Amanda

  11. AuntieCrash says:

    SUCCESS! I was finally able to order your book online! It was a li’l confusing in that when I first logged into Amazon.com, it stated there was only limited availability and it wasn’t in print yet…do you want to put in on your “wish list”. Not sure exactly what was going on, but after I tried one last time, I was able to order the paperback. Looking forward to reading it!

  12. Greg says:

    Just ordered the Kindle version :)

    Just FYI, the paper book on Amazon did not seem to be linked to the Kindle version at all. In fact, it had the link where you can ask the publisher to make it available on Kindle. So I didn’t think I could even get it on Kindle until I saw the ad box on your site!

  13. Jul says:

    Hi Dr. Burgo,

    just de-lurked to let you know that I ordered your book from Amazon Germany. I hope this will help improve the ranking, too.

  14. Today I bought your book from Amazon, although I normally buy Amazon books used and
    under $1.01 (for a total $5.00 with shipping). Even that is rich for my teeny fixed income, though I buy psychotherapy books for continuing my self-education – about myself! As a SENIOR senior citizen, I’m trying to break the tortuous self sacrificing and self punishing mode of my first 3/4 century and more.

    I found your blog over a year ago, and I think I had the same mother, who resurfaced
    in another generation just for you. Your thoughts have been very helpful, unleashing thoughts of my own. Therefore I am celebrating your publication and my liberation with your BRAND NEW BOOK, without any yellow markings and sticky fingerprints. YEA!

    I particularly zone in on your writings about shame, guilt, narcissism and resistance
    and plan to park myself in a cozy corner for whatever time it takes to crack open my mind and absorb some of your wisdom (no matter HOW old I am)! It’s really never too late.

    Thanks once again.

  15. Grace says:

    Just ordered the book:) I’m excited for you and your success, it’s well deserved.

  16. Evan says:

    Hope it does well Joseph

  17. Sarah says:

    Im looking forward to buying the book once its available in print on amazon.co.uk. As a recently qualified clinical psychologist, working in a busy, extremely underresourced mental health team, I read your blog regularly and find it insightful, clearly explained, helpful and very interesting-reading it is quite a treat. Well done on continuing on and acheiving despite past rejection-its something we are always trying to encourage our clients to do but sometimes forget how hard it is to do ourselves.
    Enjoy your success!!
    Sarah

  18. J says:

    To think that you have a double book deal and then if falls through, what a blow! It sounds like so many factors are at play at getting published including a domino effect one where influential person likes it and takes off and another doesn’t and it falls.

    Thinking about what makes a likeable main character this is interesting, especially if they do have a darker or unpalateable side. A few months back I was watching a film where I thought I can’t watch this, the main character was obnoxious and it was a bit of a grainy documentary style. This character had been given some authority to oversee an alien encampment and threw his weight about in a kind of ignorant arrogance. I stayed with it and as the film progressed, I was more and more with him. Towards the end he started to change, but not just simplistic bad guy to good guy. He was still that person but as if those earlier qualities that were off putting worked for him in his new circumstances ( being on the run himself, needing to be foolhardy and arrogant to survive). I felt more connection with this character, that he was ‘human’ just like all of us with faults.

    I have just ordered your new book and I am looking forward to reading it. Lots of good luck with that and White lies.

  19. Valentina says:

    I bought the kindle edition and I gave a quick look at it. It’s very interesting but I’ll write my reviev after doing the exercises. thaks for writing something so useful!

  20. Alannah says:

    Congrats! I am very excited to read it.

  21. PJ says:

    I bought your book yesterday, Oct. 29, off of Amazon. Got free two-day shipping so it is due to arrive tomorrow!

  22. Orange says:

    I just read the first 30% of the book last night (til right after the second exercise). Holy #%^p!!
    I was up most of the night crying, completely overwhelmed with anger. It literally felt like I was being pressed down into the bed by anger. What have you done to me??

    You are a very powerful writer.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Well, I’m glad to hear that I’m a “powerful writer” but I sure don’t like hearing that you were overwhelmed with anger. I hope you’re feeling calmer now!

      • Orange says:

        Yes, much calmer. Thank you. It was not the book that made me angry.

      • Orange says:

        I am much calmer now. Thank you. I was not angry at the book, or its author. It brought up a lot of feelings that I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge at the time of the actual events. Now I suppose I have a low level anger, mixed with disbelief, at the tropes thrown at me by the world of marketing, media, and culture that all say I shouldn’t have those feelings listed there in that second exercise. Those feelings are an indication of failure and since failure is not an option, then neither are those feelings. This is not the first time I’ve ever been skeptical about these messages, but you truly throw a bright light on it. Today, I feel much better about being a human being.
        Your story of the first book is a real inspiration! Congratulations on this book.

        • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

          Thank you! And what you’re saying about all the messages concerning the feelings we’re not supposed to have — that is one of my major themes, and the subject of an entire book I’d like to write.

  23. KT says:

    Hello Dr. Burgo,

    Just ordered your book. Very exciting! I really can’t wait to read it. Thanks for having this site and I am so happy to be able to give a little back to you. The story of your journey towards publishing your work is inspiring because of your perseverance through such a long period of struggle and let down and coming back and trying again and not giving up. I have this constant struggle about refining and getting out a little book of poetry of my own…..

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Keep at it! The opportunities for self-publishing are extensive now, and the quality of the books is indistinguishable from what you’d find in a bookstore. Let me know when yours comes out and I’ll buy a copy!

  24. Dragonflymind says:

    Hi Dr. Burgo,
    Just ordered your book and can hardly wait for it to arrive. The reviews so far on Amazon.com are great; even the one who “only” gave you a 4 admitting perfectionism.

  25. PJ says:

    I am so tired today after staying up to read the book last night, when I should’ve been sleeping. I’m not done yet, though.

    It was so interesting to read the parts about infancy & emotions, while my baby screamed in the background. Fear, anger, frustration – yep, yep, yep. I’m hoping we can be a “good enough” household!

    I think I have a lot of repressed anger, just because it surfaces at WEIRD times and I end up screaming at people and shocking them. It only happens once every several years though, but always around the same topic. Hmmm!

  26. Stephanie says:

    I wish you every success with the book Joseph- truly earned and well deserved.
    I have just purchased a copy and shall be following it up with a review on Amazon. In the meantime I have shared your book and my comments with friends on facebook.
    best wishes
    Stephanie

  27. Rachael says:

    Could you please put up a UK Amazon link for your British readers? I’ve been reading your blog all morning , getting a lot of useful information and validation by the way (for which, thanks!) and hope to pick the book up next payday, at the end of the month.

  28. Mas says:

    Dear Dr. Burgo,

    I am very happy that I finally got to pay you back for the benefits I’ve enjoyed from your blog. Yesterday I bought two copies of your book, one for myself and another for friend….not only because I was paying, because I admire your work. At first when I discovered your blog I never wanted to say how much I was benefiting from it for fear that you would restrict access to it:-)
    What I like most about some of your post is that they give me permission to be human, your willingness to share frankly about yourself and your feelings makes it easy for me to accept my own struggles as part of the human condition, not something to be ashamed of but something to overcome as I go along, to the best of my ability….not looking to be triumphant…but to be human!

    One of the posts which have meant a lot to me is “The Development of Mind and Meaning (Part I)”, I have been hoping for part II, I hope you’ll still get to it someday. From that post, and a couple others, I was able to understand how I communicate in primitive terms at times and I was able to see where that came from. I was then able to take corrective measures because I understood the problem, and I must mention that that way of communicating had been a very big struggled of my life for a very long time, and I never knew how to overcome it. While there are still remnants of it, I have made a huge progress in managing it, thanks to your writing.

    Well done on your book!

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      You may have noticed that the post you liked so much has very few comments on it. After I posted it, I felt like I had missed the mark or that no one was terribly interested in the subject, so I guess I moved onto other things. I’ll go back and read it again and see what more I have to say.

      And thank you so much for your purchase. I’m very grateful to every person who buys my book as a gesture of support. But I hope it will turn out to be more than just that — I mean, that the book itself will feel worth the money.

      • Mas says:

        Yes, I did notice that it had no comments for a long time. I’ll also go back to it and try to say how I saw it relating to me.

        You are welcome. And your book is worth every cent I spent on it. It has come to me at the right time when I am very much willing (though with sadness and fear at times) to turn to ME for solutions-“when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” – and it makes so much sense to me!

  29. q3dm17 says:

    Just ordered through Amazon. I tried searching Amazon.ca to get a Canadian currency link but it doesn’t seem to be up. Anyway I’ve benefited so much from your posts and videos. I wish I had the money to be a Skype client. I bet by the time I can afford it, you’ll be totally booked up because the word will get out!
    Thanks for your effort and I look forward to the book.

  30. Susannah says:

    Hi Dr. Burgo. I received your book a few days ago and have read it entirely (without doing the exercises, except in my head. I ask myself why!) I can’t afford a therapist, but would sincerely like to understand the repeated difficulties I have in my personal relationships, etc, etc.
    Anyway, after many, many self-help books I think I finally begin to see some of my favourite defenses at work in myself. These are defenses that I have read about in other books, but have never thought applied to me. Maybe the lay-out of your book or the examples made a difference. All I can say is, I’m very grateful to have found your book, and to have received so much of a head-start (literally!) in getting to know my own psyche.
    Thank-you for your generosity in sharing your knowledge and experience.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Susannah, you are SO welcome. And I’m so glad to hear the book is helping shed some light. I think that fully engaging in the exercises would be worthwhile. At least what I’m seeing with people in the discussion group, those exercises seem to stir up a lot of feeling.

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