Wanting to be a motorcycle racer will not make you a motorcycle racer. Wanting to be a concert pianist will not make you a concert pianist. Wanting to lose weight will not make you thinner. Trust me. I try this every January, and it never works.
Desire will not win the struggle.
Passion and spiritual emotion are important qualities, because creating is a foot marathon, not a rally car race. But desire is not the primary ingredient of being a great writer. Your desire must be driven by wisdom.
Know Where You Fit in the Publishing Cosmos
Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, says a leader’s vision is best served by the following model:
Happy employees make for happy customers. Happy customers make for happy investors. And happy investors make for happy CEOs.
Where does that leave writers? You are not an employee. You’re not the customer. And odds are you are not an investor.
Writers are contractors. Contractors place bids to provide the specialized services and products that companies need to execute their business plans. This means two things:
1. Wanting a contract will not get you it. Desire will not make a dent on the industry. But wisdom will. You must be an effective contractor, not only a passionate writer.
2. You want to avoid seeking publication with companies who do not have knowledgeable, happy employees, who do not know who their customers are, or who lack sufficient investment for whatever level on which they’re operating. That includes yourself as a self-publisher. Being your own boss is great, but only if you’re the right kind of boss.
Know What’s Involved in the Options Before You
Being a Commercial Writer
To be a good contractor, you have got to know who you’re dealing with. You’ve got to know the needs of the company to whom you want to provide your product. You’ve got to know at least something about their approach and their plans for the future. Too often, too constantly, writers make the mistake of trying to tell the publisher what they should publish.
This goes for starting out with magazine articles and short stories as much as it does for books.
Myth: Publishing is a conspiracy. Gatekeeping is designed to cull out true creativity. The forces of commercialism are against the truly original/artistic/etc.
Truth: For beginning writers, it’s important to understand that you come in at the bottom of the bidding heap. It takes years to build your literary business, and you’ll need to think of it as exactly that. New writers come in with the least amount of value-added assets, from professionalism to prose to platform. And there are way more bidders than needs. It’s a buyer’s market, not a seller’s.
But high quality product can take the day. The catch is, you can’t stagnate in a lack of skill, mislabel those lacks as artistic creativity, and then blame the publishing world for not fulfilling your desires. Some friends in acquisitions specifically asked me to tell you that it’s been done, and it’s gotten really old. So…let’s do other things.
Being a Small Press Writer
Here, our myths and truths arrive as business models or the lack thereof. Let’s consider whether they will merely tempt your ego, or actually fulfill your desires.
The No-Fly Zone
In the digital age, everyone can be a publisher. That doesn’t mean everybody should, or that you should jump on their bandwagon. Even if they treat you like a Hollywood starlet.
The Self-Appointed Vigilante
Some small presses are started by embittered writers who have had enough of the commercial submissions process, and have decided to “fight the conspiracy” and be “for the writer” by ostensibly putting an end to the writer’s vilest enemy, Evil Rejection. There are two key problems with this:
1) In order to do writers any good, a publisher must be for the reader. That means knowing who the readers are, where to find them, what they want, and how to effectively communicate that one has what they want. It means acting as an advocate for the reader by filtering out the writers they don’t want to read. The unready ones. The off-topic ones. The ones with a style that doesn’t click for that audience.
2) Rejection is not the writer’s vilest enemy. Rejection is a good thing. We all get tired of rejection, but those who rebel against it to the point of starting a personal crusade are usually tired of learning.
And ceasing to learn is the creative person’s true enemy.
Beware the dissatisfied creative ego seeking self-justification at the expense of good sense and expertise. As my writing partner says, embitterment is a destroyer wherever it’s found. It is contagious and can cripple the growth of your muse or even cause permanent stunting. There’s nothing “for the writer” in that.
The Naive Idealist
Some ventures are started by idealists who think publishing looks like great fun (or an extra source of income–ha)…but they have no experience at connecting with likeminded readers or creating a business profile that will earn the trust of buyers. These are good people with great dreams, and they may treat you like long-lost family, but they are not necessarily the people to whom you should entrust your first rights.
Besides lacking readership, they may not have the planning, the budget or the employees (whether paid or volunteer) to attain their hopes. Give them time, watch what they’re doing, and measure whether they’re headed up, down or for a steady flatline.
The Fly Zone
There are companies out there who are for the reader, but who also take very good care of the writers they accept. Unready or ill-informed writers may be held at arm’s length, but for writers who fit the company, great working relationships and growth experiences await.
The Niche Guru
There are bona fide independent presses that are true niche publishers, serving a specific corner of the market with high quality, highly-targeted output. Some of them are well-established and respected, such as Turnstone here in my home province, or Twelve in the USA. Working with this kind of company, you are still a contractor, not a Hollywood starlet or the long-lost family member they’ve been praying to find and rescue, because they are still a real publisher.
The Entrepreneurial Whiz-Kid
And some ventures are started by realistic, experienced idealists who are not out to change everything–certainly not the good things that make writers better, like rejection (sigh, I know)–but who are out to change what’s available, because they know there are readers seeking it. They’ve had experience talking to those readers, and have decided to serve them. These are the up-and-comers to look for.
Being a Self-Publisher
As with every other form of publishing, self-publishing is not just about the writing. It’s about connecting effectively, writer to reader, on a variety of levels.
Like the highly targeted approach of niche presses, successful self-publishing involves knowing your readership. That success may be measured by just having your family and friends buy your book. It may be measured by going out and being an entrepreneur, connecting directly to build your readership. The measure of success is your own to take.
However, the costs are yours to assume as well, and self-publishing doesn’t mean there are shortcuts to learning what your destiny has given you to learn. If you write a mediocre book, you may be satisfied, but others will simply learn to dread your enthusiasm.
Embrace Your Place
A few garage bands become phenomena. Ninety-nine percent involve more noise and beer than raw talent or skill. If you’re hanging out here, know that I’m going to tell you an artistic career is much harder than noise and beer, but the hangovers are way more worth it.
But mostly, I’m going to tell you not to lie to yourself or others to justify your choices. (Remember, last time I said self-deception is a major impediment to creating art. It’s very, very bad for you.) Embrace your decisions. Your desire must be driven by wisdom…and that requires no small amount of courage and honesty.
So. Your heart’s desire is to be a published writer?
Be more specific. Get closer to your core. What do you really desire from writing?
Measure yourself accurately. Stay true to yourself.
Image: Martin Luther King Jr Once Said by LaurenHolloway on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Categories: Articles on Writing