I received another message from a reader who wanted to know when the third book in the Rain Falls series would be available. And another reader who wanted to know when the 6th on the AKA Investigations series would be out. Though certain delays like my recent relocation to another country and health issues have slowed me down, I sometimes feel like readers think what we do is like making dinner.
Granted, I wrote Rain Falls (my first bestseller!) and the sequel, In Absentia fairly quickly; and the last three in the AKA series were produced faster than usual. But that only happens when a certain set of circumstances align. Mostly it takes a bit of time to write a book and make it available for sale. But I fear that the typical reader doesn’t really understand that. Do they really grasp how many words one has to type? 60,000 to 100,000 usually. And do they really understand that those words have to be crafted in such a way as to result in a cohesive series of events that rises to the challenge of an interesting story populated by interesting people they can care about, solid plotting, character development, point of view, voice, story arc, stylistic concerns, proper grammar, syntax, diction, spelling, punctuation, mechanics and sentence construction? It’s a hell of a lot more like building a whole house from the ground up than it is like cooking dinner.
And this doesn’t even begin to address the research you might have to do for subjects in which you have no expertise, or the emotional aspects of what it means to dig so deep into your own psyche just to authentically portray the human condition. One has to have some understanding of a wide range of subjects to even create a novel convincingly. Sociology and psychology are only two of those subjects.
And that leads me to the other messages I receive.
The ones from readers who say they enjoyed one of my books, and in the same breath, inquire “how easy would it be for me to publish a book myself on Kindle?” The question itself hints at the obliviousness and inexperience of the person asking; and that likelihood necessarily brings up a now recurring sticker-burr in my writerly sock.
The real question here is not CAN a person publish, but SHOULD they? And therein lies the trouble with the writing and publishing craft and trade: it isn’t held in high enough regard; there doesn’t seem to be much respect for it. Any working writer with any degree of success can vouch for this. When someone asks an author who spent 8 years in university pursuing a degree in writing — and with 25 years of writing and publishing under her belt — how easy it is to publish, it’s rather like asking a surgeon how easy it is to perform an appendectomy, because you think you’d like to do one yourself. Or like asking a mechanic how hard it would be to replace a timing chain yourself. Or asking a math teacher how hard it is to teach your children calculus because you’ve always liked numbers. Or like asking an astronaut how hard it would be to fly to the moon because you think you’d like to build a spaceship.
Perhaps I risk belaboring the point but that’s only because the point seems lost on so many people. Why is it that the general public sees writing and publishing as a hobby rather than an authentic profession?
Whatever the reason, the result — in this open-door self-publishing literary environment — is a deluge of poorly crafted books with terrible or nonexistent editing and atrocious covers. This has much the same impact on the profession of writing as any bandwagon mentality–it dilutes the quality of whatever that profession produces.
Do I think that pursuing a degree in writing and practicing the craft for 25 years is always a prerequisite to publishing? No. Not always. Occasionally there will always be that naturally gifted writer. And sometimes there are those people who have an important story to tell, and with the right assistance, they can put that story out in a professional way. But do I see them as authentic writers? No. I’m sorry I don’t. More often than not there is an inherent compulsion to write that doesn’t begin later in life when you’re bored and looking for something new. It’s something that’s in your marrow, in your cells. You’re born with it like you’re born with blue eyes. And it’s something you must do to avoid feeling fractured and incomplete. It is not an afterthought, a whim, or sudden casual interest like knitting. (I expect to hear from outraged knitters, now).
I am all for free enterprise, the entrepreneurial spirit, and blazing new trails. I am, after all, an indie writer and publisher. But the issue here is one of integrity and respect. I have spent many years studying–both as a university student and as an autodidact. I have polished (and continue to buff) my craft and my skillset in the writing business. Why would I welcome such disregard into a profession I take so seriously?
The greatest challenge in recent years is how do you say all this to those who inquire, without sounding snarky and self-possessed? If you speak this truth you are accused of being full of yourself or mean. The fact remains: good writers aren’t good accidentally. They’ve paid their dues, put the time in; studied, learned and created over and over. I entreat all aspiring writers to do the same before asking a veteran how easy it might be to do what they do.