Annoying Things About Publishing That I’m Thankful For…
Publishing is an odd profession. For anyone involved with it—as a writer, editor, agent, etc.—this is hardly a newsflash. There seems to be an endless stream of irritations, frustrations, annoyances and challenges within an industry that can be crazy-making just because the task itself is so difficult and the bar to succeed, particularly under the traditional publishing model, is set so high.
I’m not above ranting about some of these issues, by the way, but we’re on the verge of Thanksgiving…and sometimes you have to bless the things that are hardest to deal with and find the gifts buried within them. So, here are a few items stashed in my Cornucopia of Publishing Irritations/Blessings:
- The path to publication is long, uncertain and resistant to shortcuts. This is a really big one. Aspiring writers (and, incidentally, published writers, too) don’t enjoy hearing this. But, the truth is that it’s an interminably long road for most of us, not only to get published initially, but then to stay published. If we’re not a celebrity, or in some way intimately connected with one, we’re not going to get a book contract based on “a little idea” we had or how cute we’d look in a back-cover photo. We need to spend years, sometimes decades, honing our craft, and we need to keep proving our writing mastery, our marketability and our sales/promo skills over and over and over again. So, what’s good about this? Well, by the time we’re close to signing a book contract or we’ve got one of our novels in a publisher’s catalogue, we’re no longer novices in any area of the industry. We’ve seen agents and editors live and in person, and we’ve communicated with several of them via mail or email. They are no longer untouchable gods/goddesses in our eyes; they’re real people who make their living by getting our stories to readers. We’ve written hundreds of thousands (in my case, over a million) words and have practiced the craft of fiction so we are comfortable with our own writing voices and styles. We’ve networked at workshops and online, and we’ve made friends who understand what we really do and why we’re passionate about it. These gifts do not come quickly or easily. Not for anyone. Once we have them, though, we can be proud of the fact that we earned them.
- The money, generally speaking, is not plentiful. This problem speaks for itself, but the upside is that it does tend to weed out—and with some alacrity—people who jump into writing for any reason other than pure passion for telling stories. It would be a tremendous blessing for any writer to someday say she was able to support herself and her family on her writing income alone, but even for those published authors who achieve this dream, it very rarely happens within a year or two of selling. A decade is the more likely timeframe, if it happens at all. So, those of us who are in this game, we’re in it for nothing short of LOVE.
- The hours are long. Oh, yeah…very, very long. (I got up today at 7:15am, and I’m typing this at 1:30am.) So, what’s the benefit? Aside from building up our endurance for sitting at the computer, we learn to prioritize. We know that in order to do this thing we love, we have to give up other things—like TV shows that aren’t our absolute faves or time to just veg-out on the couch or, occasionally, sleep. We also learn where we have to draw the line—that time with a loved one is priceless and necessary, and getting in that workout will benefit our health—so we figure out where writing fits in order to honor the passion but not become obsessed with it to the exclusion of everything else that’s important to us. Balancing the intensity and commitment of writing with the rest of our real lives is not for wimps, and we’re trained to master this juggling act.
- Self-doubt stalks at every turn. Even while we develop skills to improve our craft, we encounter writing elsewhere that’s stronger, more thoughtfully constructed and/or more expertly promoted. We wonder if we’re cut out for this profession… But, without these great examples of writing, would we be nearly as motivated to improve and challenge ourselves? I say no. I say that those waves of self-doubt are indications that we dream of being better. I also say that the drive to achieve that gorgeous narrative vision we have for our new novel starts at the point when we realize just how far away from it we are…but we channel the fear of not reaching our ideal and use it as fuel to move forward.
- Criticism is intense and praise is slight. True, true, true. However, this means we must learn to develop thicker skin than babes, trust in the value of our work and have faith in our own stories. We will NOT be universally loved. Just in case you were lucky enough to miss this lesson in high school (I wasn’t), you won’t be able to overlook it now. The gift, though, is that when we’re certain of our own worth, stone-throwing (or negative Amazon reviews) might bruise our egos, but it won’t break our writing spirit.
- The real job is arduous, unrelenting and solitary. Unlike the TV version of “being a writer,” where there are huge book deals, frequent cocktail parties and lots of (very hot) fans clamoring for our attention (I adore the show “Castle,” but c’mon!), most of us work alone, at home, largely anonymously and in sweats. That means that to survive the frustrations of a temperamental industry, we have to reach out to each other in person and online, find those people who are genuinely supportive and give ourselves the opportunity to rise above any leaning toward pettiness and professional jealousy so we can be unified in this grand quest. Sadly, it doesn’t happen that every person saying they’re “happy for you” really is, but when you find the ones who are, you’ve got a treasure in your hands. Cherish it.
So, Happy Thanksgiving, friends! May your cornucopia be overflowing with purely positive things this holiday season. May you see the gifts hidden underneath any challenges you encounter, too. And may you be grateful for each and every blessing.