I was recently asked (again) for words of wisdom regarding being a writer and seeking publication. So I thought I would just blog it.
I have some strong opinions about writing and publishing, springing from my own experience over 20-25 years of pursuing it, and numerous blogs, articles, essays, and having written and rewritten 33 books; added to this is also webmastering, book cover design, typography, editing, and publishing. I wanted to learn all the aspects of completing a book.
My most commonly offered caveat is this: don’t fall in love with your words; fall in love with your craft. That’s when you will begin the process of being a quality writer.
This subject is voluminous, and I can’t do it justice in just a few paragraphs, but the other words of wisdom I will offer are these:
The competition to be a published writer is fierce. The dream of getting published has been overly-romanticized in the media so that many beginning writers think not only that writing is easy, but that they have a good chance of getting a contract from a major house. The odds are, realistically, one in a million–maybe worse than that. We hear about the success stories, not the ones who spend their lives toiling for that dream, to the exclusion of everything else, only to wind up poor, alone, lacking in social skills, and profoundly jaded that life has passed them by. There are so many unpublished writers who pursue this dream, and publishers and agents have had to crack down on the criteria to even LOOK at work sent. And it is very expensive for a writer to submit manuscripts, what with an ink cartridge costing around $30 and then adding the paper cost and the mailing costs, and that’s just PER MANUSCRIPT. Common advice tells us that we must do this hundreds of times, and continually if we ever hope to get traditionally published. You have to pour lots of money into the endeavor over a period of many years, sometimes. And more often than not, this investment does not return.
Often, then, self-publishing is the only option if a writer wants to get her work out there. There’s little point in spending your entire life hoping, while your words stay in a drawer. I believe as writers we are meant to honor that talent, and share it, otherwise, what’s the point of having it? Fortunately, we live in an era where technology allows us some autonomy and some tools to make this happen. So, do whatever you have to do to get your work out there. If it’s good, it might eventually get noticed and picked up by a major house or agent–that frequently has more to do with who you know, than how much you submit your work. So cultivate connections. And also try to go small or medium press. If you get a contract from one of them, you can use those books to woo larger fish.
Additionally, a writer who aspires to be published traditionally, needs to make sure she has a dependable source of income other than writing. And she needs to have other things and people in her life that bring her joy and satisfaction. This makes the journey pleasing, rather than a chore. And anyway, without a vibrant social life, you run out of things to write about. You must feed the well with people and events and experiences in order to keep your writing vibrant.
Changes are desperately needed in the publishing industry. Old School is just not working in our modern society. Publishers should be more open to self-published submissions. There is still, however, a haughtiness and arrogance among the Industry Insiders, and this does nothing to advance the cause of bringing great writing to the reading public. The process has been politicized by the Bottom Line.
Also, while there’s a pretension in the publishing community, this is also true of the writing community, which is that if you self-publish, you must not be a good writer. This is not always accurate (though, admittedly, there ARE writers who self-publish but have not mastered their craft in any way). Still, there are many quality writers who self publish–they are among all the other writers who strive to see their work in print and available to the reading consumer. You might have to dig a little, but they can be found. And you can be among them if you really want to share your work.
You have to ask yourself what’s more important: The prestige of major-house publication, or honoring the talent and sharing it? I take a more humanistic view of all this, as you might guess by now. I think it’s more important to get the work out there, than cling to it against overwhelming odds. Writers usually are good at living inside their own fiction. This is fine on the page, but doesn’t work so well in the real world.