The Long Winding Road to Publishing a Novel

Ross Barkan
4 min readOct 10, 2018


From the ages of 18 to 27, I wrote fiction compulsively. I did this while holding down part and full-time jobs, while going to college, while daydreaming on the subway about being the next Fitzgerald/Roth/Mailer/Great White Writer of Yore. This doesn’t make me unique. It makes me another writer. Maybe I was unusually obsessive and ambitious in my late teens and early 20's — that spirit lives on today, though thankfully with much less attendant anxiety.

Writing is the great animating force of my life. Now that I am not running for office, I can write again. This is a wonderful thing to say.

I don’t actually talk to a lot of people about my love of writing fiction. For a while, I was slightly embarassed by it. As one of the idols of my late teens and early 20’s, Henry Miller, would say (with an expletive), America isn’t too friendly to artists. Novelists and poets aren’t held in high esteem here like they are in Europe and elsewhere. Sometimes I feel can talk more freely about my softball “career,” or my weird interest in Dragon Ball Z.

I used to have a running count of the unpublished novels I’ve written. They’re scattered among various back-up hardrives and MS word documents, some lost to history. There are close to ten, I can say that much. Some are better than others. Some should never see the light of day.

The first was finished in 2008. I definitely don’t want that one to see the light of day.

For several years, I was utterly consumed by the need to get one of them published. I would ride the B train from my home in Sheepshead Bay to Manhattan thinking of nothing but the book I was writing. It was going to be Great. I had to be. Philip Roth won a National Book Award at 27. Thomas Norman Mailer was a best-seller at 25. Ken Kesey published a Great American Novel when he was 26, and another book, quite overlooked and remarkable, when he was 28. Thomas Pynchon had his own entrant for Great American Novel at 26. I was running out of time!

I landed an agent in 2014 for the manuscript of a novel I wrote. It was called DEVLIN DUNAIR and it concerned the exploits of a brainy, megalomaniac baseball player-turned-politician who is assasinated by an Oswald-like woman. It was a messy book, with occasional moments. I went back and forth with the agent, heavily revising it. None of the revisions seemed to make the novel better. At the end of 2014, we parted ways.

In 2015, I landed an agent for another manuscript of a novel that I wrote. This novel, which had several names, was a stronger effort, a dystopian work about New York City under the rule of a powerful religious cult. It was dark, lacking in humor, and tracked the evolution of an alienated Brooklyn man who would attempt to become a terrorist. The agent seemed to love the work, and then didn’t. We revised again. The summer turned to fall, the fall turned to winter, and I heard from him less and less. We parted ways in 2016. He never tried to sell the manuscript.

I grew more bitter about the publishing world. I also became more determined than ever to write The Book that would launch me to niche literary stardom. (There is arguably no real literary stardom anymore.) During the summer of 2016, taking the advice of another agent — who would never sign me — to “write what I know,” I wrote a novelization of an Anthony Weiner-like political figure. I did this in several weeks during the most intense bouts of writing of my life. Writing stopped being fun because I longed like hell to finish the book before the end of August. Why? I don’t really remember. I wrote 80,000 some-odd words in two months.

I learned mostly that this was an insane pace at which to work and live. And that Anthony Weiner’s life will always, always outpace fiction.

Meanwhile, there was another novel I had written in the last six months of 2015. I called it DEMOLITION NIGHT. This was always my favorite title. While trying to shop the novel about the religious cult, I even slapped on DEMOLITION NIGHT as a title. But that book was never DEMOLITION NIGHT.

I had more fun writing DEMOLITION NIGHT than any other novel. I hopped between the past and the future. I wrote about baseball, the 70’s, tech hegemony, time travel, S&M, politics, and death. Written while I was finishing up Pynchon’s V, it was a novel that owed a debt to that work, but was proudly its own creature.

I didn’t always believe in it.

Luckily, I found a independent publisher who did, Tough Poets Press. There was no agent involved this time. I am not anti-agent at all, and I look forward to having one again. But it was nice to slice through a bit of publishing bureaucracy and get a work that thrilled me, in its own way, into the public.

I even got to choose the cover photo.

Now the novel arrives. It’s even got a blurb from one of my favorite contemporary writers, Eugene Lim. I’ll be promoting it more very soon with the publication moved up from its original December date.

I hope you all buy it and read it. It’s a shaggy, strange book, and should be worth your time. Right now, I’m working on something else that I can, just maybe, finish sometime next year. It’s set (where else?) in Brooklyn and (gasp!) draws on the deep, peculiar well of local politics.

Stay tuned here for more updates.



Ross Barkan

Writer and journalist. Read DEMOLITION NIGHT, my debut novel.