You’re in charge of selling your book — All of my books have been traditionally published. But even though these publishers have teams of publicists working on selling and promoting my books, in the end it’s been up to me to come up with ideas to get my books sold.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Anthony Youn, a holistic anti-aging, health and wellness expert and thought leader who specializes in using dietary changes, revolutionary products, non-surgical cosmetic treatments and more to improve overall health and appearance. He is considered one of the world’s best-known experts in looking younger with or without surgery. He is also a best-selling author and his newest book, of Playing God: The Evolution of a Modern Surgeon (September 17, Post Hill Press), shares a seldom-seen look at the formative post-medical school years of residency training and early practice, providing an eye-opening look at the challenging road he traveled to success, detailing the setbacks and struggles he faced along the way with rare, unexpected candor.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I grew up a nerdy kid in the only Asian family in a small town in Michigan. My dad grew up on a rice farm in Korea, became a physician, and basically lived the American dream, pulling his family out of poverty in the process. Because all he knew was that “doctor = success,” he decided the day I was born that I was going to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor, too.
He dreamed that I would become a highly paid, highly respected neurosurgeon, cardiac surgeon, or transplant surgeon. But the day I helped a plastic surgeon care for a tiny baby girl who had her face eaten off by a raccoon, I was hooked. I knew that plastic surgery was the best field for me.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
A woman, call her Betsy, comes to see me. Betsy is in her early sixties and horribly unhealthy. She walks with a cane, each step she takes slow and painful. Betsy has undergone a quadruple bypass, survived renal cancer, and weighs 240 pounds, even though she has lost 150 pounds after a recent gastric bypass surgery. She also has a history of diabetes, depression, and anxiety disorder. She currently takes twenty different medications a day. She is, what we call in the medical profession, a train wreck.
Huffing, her face pulsing red, she lowers herself into a chair and then takes a count of twenty to catch her breath. She looks me over. Her lips tremble. I think she is about to cry.
“You’re my last hope,” Betsy says. “I’ve seen a dozen other plastic surgeons. Everybody else has turned me down. Will you help me?”
She sniffs. I hand her a tissue and slide the box next to her elbow.
“So,” I say, “tell me what’s going on.”
Betsy clears her throat, sighs, and lets it all out, whoosh, in one frantic breath. “I had the surgery and lost all this weight and then I had a tummy tuck and it went wrong, everything fell apart, like, everything, fell, apart. I developed a terrible infection and I was in the hospital on IV antibiotics for like two months. I went to rehab afterwards but it didn’t really help. Now my tummy is completely destroyed. I have constant, chronic, terrible pain. I can barely walk. I have this horrible, disgusting scar tissue. I’m disabled, see? I can’t do anything.”
Betsy snatches a tissue from the box, blows her nose, honks, fights to keep from bursting into tears.
“At first I thought the tummy tuck was OK, but two days after the surgery, I got an infection and huge parts of my stomach turned black.”
“Turned black?” I say and feel myself frown.
“I kept going back to have the plastic surgeon cut out the dead tissue. And that’s when I got some kind of staph infection or flesh-eating bacteria.”
“Holy cow,” I say, amazed she’s still alive.
“It’s been like five months now and there’s a huge chunk gone from my tummy and the whole area just hurts constantly.”
I nod at her stomach. “Do you mind if I take a look?”
She changes into a gown, returns, and I examine her abdomen. To begin with, her stomach protrudes, hangs over her waist like a massive beer belly. The stomach area itself is both horribly scarred and socked in. I look further and see a kind of trench as well as charred skin, almost as if Betsy is a burn patient. It’s basically a mess.
Betsy grips the tip of her cane. “I know. It’s disgusting. I can barely walk. I’m in constant pain. I can’t play with my grandkids. My husband won’t even look at me.”
Betsy begins sobbing uncontrollably.
“I’m…deformed,” she sputters between sobs. “I have no life.”
“Please, Doctor Youn,” Betsy says, her eyes soaked with tears. “You’re my last hope. I have nowhere else to go. Please help me.”
“Oh my God, thank you.”
Betsy lowers her head and cries even harder.
I take her hands.
And now the strange part.
I know I’m not alone.
I actually feel God telling me to help her.
I just do.
I know that I have to help this woman and that it will be OK, despite her litany of woes and illnesses and messed-up surgeries and the sheer odds stacked against her, almost guaranteeing some kind of deadly complication. A complication that I’ll be held responsible for. But I’m no longer worried about me. This is bigger than me.
It feels like more than the right thing.
It feels like the only thing.
I know I have to do it.
God is telling me that this woman needs my help.
“My insurance,” Betsy mumbles. “I don’t know how much, if anything, it will cover…”
“We’ll submit it,” I say. “Whatever it covers, great. But even if it doesn’t cover anything, don’t worry. It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. I’m not gonna charge you.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Betsy says, and she cries louder, her sobs rising to an unprecedented level of volume and intensity.
Finally, she’s able to calm herself and I say, “No promises, OK?”
“I know,” she says. “No promises.”
The night before Betsy’s surgery, I pray.
I ask God to please help me to help Betsy. I thank Him for my experience and my training and my skill as a surgeon and I pray for Him to watch over Betsy during the operation and to please, please, keep any complications to a minimum.
Feeling at peace, I drift off to sleep.
During Betsy’s surgery, which takes four hours, I not only feel God’s presence the whole time, I feel His hands guiding me. I complete the procedure, correcting Betsy’s tummy tuck, cleaning it up, smoothing it out, without a hitch. She recovers without a hint of a complication. I follow up with her three weeks later–everything looks good–and a month after that, she arrives in my office, walking without a cane, holding a carrot cake she’s baked for me.
“So nice of you,” I say. “Thank you.”
“Kind of the least I could do for saving my life.”
Her bottom lip trembles.
“Yesterday I played with my granddaughter and for the first time in two years, I could hold her in my lap.”
Her eyes well up.
“What made you do it?”
I look at her. “I don’t know what you mean. Do what?”
“Take a chance on me. Take the risk that nobody else would.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I just knew I had to. I had faith that I was meant to do it and everything would be alright.”
“Well, I’ll never be able to adequately thank you,” she says, shaking her head at the carrot cake, full payment for the procedure since her insurance company turned her down. It doesn’t matter. I’m sure the carrot cake is delicious, although I have a policy to never eat anything baked by patients.
“Some doctors,” Betsy says, removing the wrapping from the carrot cake and cutting herself a piece. She offers me a slice.
I smile, shake my head, and mouth “Later.”
“Especially these surgeons,” Betsy says again, her cheeks puffed out with carrot cake, “are so high and mighty. They think they’re God. Not you.”
“No,” I say. “I don’t think I’m God. Far from it.”
What the hell.
I reach over and grab a slice of that carrot cake.
It is delicious.
“I’m just a doctor,” I say.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It was July 2. One day after second-year orientation.
Literally, my first night on call as a resident.
I have been assigned my own intern named Tariq who clings to me like my shadow. Completing medical school in his native Pakistan, Tariq is a little tentative, sort of quiet, and extremely nervous.
Ten p.m. We’re walking down the hospital corridor when a few feet in front of us a nurse bursts out of a patient’s room.
“Call a code!” she yells to the receptionist sitting at the nurse’s station, then she looks in my direction. “My patient’s coding! I need you to run this code! You’re a resident, right?”
I look left, right, and behind me.
She’s talking to me.
“Let’s go,” I say, hoping she hasn’t noticed that my voice sounded like Elmo from Sesame Street, after sucking on helium.
I run after the nurse into the room. The patient, a woman in her seventies, lies like a corpse in her hospital bed. Her face has gone pale as an albino ghost. Her breathing, intermittent, slow, and raspy, revs once and then stops. I don’t know much, but I have seen enough to know that she is about to die. Right now, my job–my only job–is to stop her from dying.
Panic grips me. Holy crap, I don’t remember my advanced lifesaving!
Our second-year orientation included a course in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), but I have not spent a minute reviewing the manual. Bottom line. I’m not feeling all that confident about running this code.
“What do we do?”
Looking at me, imploring me, her eyes wide as quarters.
“Well,” I say, “We really should…” I pause and then scream as if we’re in the middle of a huge crowd, “start CPR and hook her up to a cardiac monitor!”
To this day I have no idea why I shout this. But it does get everyone moving. Fast. One nurse starts chest compressions while another nurse exits briefly and returns rolling in a boxy monitor on a stand. She scrambles to untangle a bunch of wires, and then the two of them start hooking up the patient.
“Ventricular fibrillation,” Tariq whispers, tilting his head toward the heart monitor. I follow his eyes and on the monitor I see that the patient is indeed in ventricular fibrillation.
This is the heart rhythm that immediately precedes death.
The first nurse resumes chest compressions while the second nurse starts running medications into an IV. And then I say as dramatically as a Broadway actor, “Get me the paddles!”
The first nurse rummages beneath the monitor, shoves the paddles into my hands.
“One hundred twenty joules!”
The nurse adjusts the power setting.
“Clear!” I yell, channeling Doctor McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy.
I place the paddles on the patient’s chest.
“STOP!” the nurse screams.
I yank the paddles off the patient and hold them in midair above her chest.
The nurse grabs my hands and moves the paddles to a different spot on the patient’s body.
One more second and I would have shocked her liver.
“Clear!” I yell again, softer, my voice starting to wobble. I press the defibrillation button.
The patient jerks slightly and for an instant the heart monitor goes wild. Then it completely stops. The nurses, Tariq, and I stand side by side in a line like backup singers waiting for the chorus, staring at the monitor for what seems like minutes, praying she gets a new cardiac rhythm.
Normal sinus rhythm.
We saved her.
I whistle out a breath of relief.
Within seconds, two internal medicine residents enter the room and take over for me. I step aside and nod to them as cool as James Dean, but feeling as if I’m about to faint. I slip out of the room, Tariq by my side.
An hour later Tariq has turned in for the night and I stagger into the call room. I’d promised myself earlier that I would try to get at least some sleep. But I abandon that idea. All I can see in my mind’s eye is me shocking that poor woman’s liver. Thank God that nurse moved my hands…
I fish my dog-eared ACLS manual out of my overnight bag.
I study it cover-to-cover until dawn, knowing that I let my patient down. Prior to starting the night, I should have known my lifesaving forward and backwards. I still thank God for the nurse who saved me and my patient.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have a popular podcast called “The Holistic Plastic Surgery Show.” This is the most listened to plastic surgery podcast in the country. Each week I share the latest information on how you can turn back the clock and love what you see in the mirror again. I’m joined by the most prominent leaders in plastic surgery, dermatology, and holistic health.
I have teamed up with a Hollywood screenwriter to pitch “Playing God: The Evolution of a Modern Surgeon” for a television series. I’m really excited about this one!
I’m also really active on my YouTube Channel. I’m constantly sharing videos from the office and OR, revealing the newest treatments and procedures, sometimes in graphic detail. I also share which procedures have gotten my holistic stamp of approval and which ones are on my Holistic Beauty Blacklist.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
Perseverance. I spent over two years writing the initial manuscript for my first book, “In Stitches.” I sent the manuscript to forty different agents and every single one turned me down. It wasn’t until I sent it to my eventual agent Wendy Sherman that I learned what it was lacking. I teamed up with famed writer Alan Eisenstock, and we spent the next year turning my manuscript into the one that was sold at auction, earned rave reviews and writing awards, and became a best-seller. Anybody who knows me knows that I never give up.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
I performed a corrective facelift on a woman whom we’ll call Madame X. Although the surgery went perfectly, she appeared to be healing well, and looked great to anyone who saw her, she was profoundly unhappy. This story starts on the day of her six week postoperative appointment.
Madame X bursts through the waiting room, a human tornado. “I need to see Doctor Youn! I need to see him now!”
She charges into my office, her face aflame with rage. She grips herself across her midsection and screams, zero to sixty in a millisecond, roaring, “You messed me up! You botched everything!”
I try to calm her, go into my most soothing bedside-manner voice. “I really think you look fine.’”
Madame X doesn’t hear me. She’s too deep into diva screeching mode. “You botched it! I have so much searing pain in my cheeks from where you took that knife and dug it all through the inside of my face.”
She narrows her eyes to slits and drops her voice an octave, speaking now with horror movie menace. “You should know this pain. I should let you know how this feels. You want to know how I feel, Doctor Youn? I feel like my face went through a windshield. Yeah. That’s what I should do. I should slam your face through a windshield.”
I lose control of my eyelids and blink at her rapidly. “Are you threatening to hit me with your car?”
Madame X growls. “I’m in a lot of pain.”
“OK, I understand. Now, let’s please settle down. I get that you’re in pain…”
“You don’t get it. You don’t get it at all. You have no idea how I feel. My face is on fire. You took that massive knife and you just kept stabbing me in my face, stabbing me, stabbing me, stabbing me. And now look at me. What kind of doctor are you? Are you even licensed? Look. At. Me. I’m hideous! You made me look Oriental. You made me look like you.”
“I really don’t know what to say to that,” I say. “But for the record, I promise, you don’t look Asian.”
Then Madame X reaches a whole new level of intensity. She starts crying, blubbering uncontrollably, her deafening wails cutting like foghorns through the building.
“You’ve ruined me, you’ve ruined my life, you’ve cost me two job promotions, and now I have to get all of this fixed and I can’t afford any of it. Look at me!”
“I see you, I really do. You’re swollen, still, but that’s it. Please listen to me.”
“I’m hideous. And I’m going to destroy you.”
Her weeping skids to a stop. She looks at me as if noticing me for the first time.
“I want a million dollars,” she says.
“A mil…OK, listen…”
“If you don’t pay me one million dollars, I will sue you for everything you have. I will destroy your life and your career. I will make destroying you my mission, my entire goal in life. I will make it the air I breathe. I’m going to make you crawl all the way back to Beverly Hills on your knees. I will make it so that the only people who will ever allow you to operate on them are the whores!”
“The whores! The whores! The whores!”
She sprints out of my office, arms flailing, high heels clopping. I dash after her. She’s staring into the full-length mirror mounted on the wall in the waiting room.
“Look at me!” she bellows at the top of her lungs. I’m afraid the sonic waves blasting out of her mouth will shatter the mirror into a million shards. “I’m a hideous monster!!!”
“Please,” I say, my voice calm, cool, measured. “Come back into my office and let’s talk this out.”
Madame X pivots toward me and I swear I see smoke pouring out of her nostrils. “You’re all talk, aren’t you? The smug Beverly Hills doctor is all talk. I want one million dollars, Doctor Smug. One million dollars and not a penny less or I will bury you.”
I take a deep breath and exhale slowly. “You’re not getting a million dollars. I don’t have that kind of money. I don’t have anything close to a million dollars.”
She draws herself up and locks herself into a frozen tableau. “Give me a hundred fifty thousand. I’ll take a hundred fifty thousand.”
“I don’t have that kind of money either.”
Madame X punches her hands against her hips and gives me the once-over like I’m a car she’s about to buy. “Then give me carte blanche. For the next two years, you pay for anything I want done by any other surgeon I choose, anywhere in the world. I want carte blanche for two years.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t do that. It’s not possible.” I take a step closer to her and finding my most reasonable tone, I tell her, “I have a check here for more than what you paid me for your surgery.” I sidestep to the front desk and grab the release form lying on the blotter. I offer it to her. “If you sign this release form, the check is yours. But that’s it. We’re done. Sign the release form and I’ll give you the check. You’ll make a nice profit off of everything that has happened between us. In essence, I will have paid you to perform your surgery.”
Her bottom lip trembles. She raises her index finger to the ceiling, then points it at the floor, and then jabs it in my face. “Do you think you can buy me off for less than a hundred and fifty grand? Are you insane? I’m not one of your whores. I’m going to destroy you. I’m very connected in this town and I will drag your reputation through the dirt and mud and you will never have another patient and you will run away from here, run away, like the disgusting little smug maggot you are. More than what I paid you? You insult me. I will never take that money.”
Her head thrown back, she stomps out of the office and slams the door behind her.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
You don’t have to do this alone. There is a higher power looking over all of us. Whether you’re having financial difficulty, relationship issues, or even being threatened by a woman who’s unhappy with her facelift, there is someone watching over you and cheering for you. Things will get better.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
When my first book came out, the expectations for its sales were sky high. Unfortunately, “In Stitches” didn’t get reviewed in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or most of the other prestigious publications. So my first book didn’t come out of the gates with massive sales numbers.
Undaunted, I put in place a several year plan to get my book in the hands of as many people as I could. I did readings at local libraries and bookstores, visited book clubs, wrote articles and op-eds for online and print magazines, submitted the book to smaller local and regional publications for review, discussed it at dozens of radio interviews, and basically busted my butt for years to get people to read it. It worked. Eventually it sold over 15,000 copies and won the Michigan Notable Book Award. It also led to my newest book, “Playing God: The Evolution of a Modern Surgeon.”
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I draw inspiration from a variety of literature, ranging from David Sedaris to Jen Lancaster to Wade Rouse to Robert Fulghum to even Rob Bell. I enjoy a wide variety of books, but my favorites are memoirs.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
We’ve had so many books which claim to show what it’s like to be a doctor, or surgeon, or even a plastic surgeon. But there aren’t many that show what it’s like to go from being a new doctor, fresh out of medical school who basically knows absolutely nothing about how to treat patients, to becoming a competent and even successful surgeon.
The ones that have attempted to do this usually present the doctor as one of two extremes: as a holier-than-thou saint or the exact opposite, especially in the case of surgery, as an arrogant jerk who thinks he or she is playing God.
But the reality of medicine is much, much different.
So I set out to write a book that lifts the veil on what it’s really like to go from being a clueless new doctor to becoming a successful surgeon. And this journey is unfortunately littered with dead bodies, heartbreak, and sleepless nights. But amidst all of that, and making it all worthwhile, are the lives who’ve been touched and saved. And although “Playing God” is my story, I know that it has similarities to the stories for most doctors, especially surgeons.
My hope is that everyone who reads it will be inspired to realize what it takes to become a successful physician and have new respect and appreciation for their doctors and the patients whom they treat.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Write. Even if you don’t have a platform, an agent, or a fleshed-out idea. Just write. And once you’re done writing, look it over and see how you can make it better. Most writers don’t get their manuscript completed on the first, second, or even third try. Like any true skill, you have to keep working at writing to get better. So keep writing, and when you think you have something that everyone needs to read, everyone MUST read, then look at ways to get it published.
But start by just plain writing.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Not everyone will love your work — The first bad review of “In Stitches” on Amazon devastated me. Since then I’ve learned to put it all in context. Even Hemingway and Shakespeare have bad reviews on Amazon.
2. You’re in charge of selling your book — All of my books have been traditionally published. But even though these publishers have teams of publicists working on selling and promoting my books, in the end it’s been up to me to come up with ideas to get my books sold.
3. Selling books is not a path to riches — I write books because I love to write and touch people’s lives with my writing. There is a misconception that writing books is a way to make a lot of money. Unless your name is J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, you probably aren’t going to make a ton of money writing books.
4. Relax, there will be another one — For the first six months after my first book was published, I was stressed that it wasn’t meeting the sales expectations of the publisher and that I would never get another book deal again. Now I know that even if your last book doesn’t sell well (although happily mine have done very well), if the idea is the right one, then a new deal will come. I’ve learned this from some author friends of mine who have gone through the book sales roller coaster.
5. Enjoy the ride — It’s such a huge accomplishment to write and publish a book. Bask in the knowledge that you’ve done something the vast majority of the population won’t have the privilege to do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My movement is a movement towards a holistic approach to health and beauty. As a board-certified plastic surgeon, I know the risks that people take when they go under the knife. These risks start with death. So several years ago I took it upon myself to create a movement based on approaching plastic surgery from a holistic perspective. This involves a whole-body approach to anti-aging which hasn’t really been done before. It combines the right diet, clean skin care, the latest in effective non-invasive and minimally invasive treatments, and mindfulness and stress reduction to create a revolutionary approach to turning back the clock.
There is a better way.
I share all the aspects of holistic plastic surgery on my podcast, website, and social media.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m very active on Instagram www.instagram.com/tonyyounmd and YouTube www.youtube.com/user/tonyyounmd . I also have a private Facebook group for anyone interested in learning about how to turn back the clock holistically. It’s called True Beauty is Holistic and can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/955980024564194/ My podcast, The Holistic Plastic Surgery Show, can be found on iTunes at www.dryoun.com/audio.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.