Okay, so I got things a little stirred up with my post on self-publishing.Â In fact,Â the subjectÂ even got a mention (and generated some lively debate) over at Lee Goldberg’s always-entertaining blogsite.Â What all those reader comments did was remind me of just how heartbreaking this business can be.Â We write our stories and we want to be read,Â but there’s thisÂ giant monolithic barrier called “The New York publishingÂ house” standing between us and Getting Published.Â It’s not as if I don’t know theÂ agonies that new writers are going through.Â I’ve been there myself.
And back then, I was every bit as desperate and hopeless.
What makes a new writer todayÂ think he should be immune to that desperation I felt?Â What makes him think this is SUPPOSED to be easy?Â What makes him think his very first book is going to get published — or deserves to get published?
Here’s the truth.Â I wrote three books that didn’t sell.Â And then I sold my fourth — to Harlequin.Â I have a good friend who wrote seven — SEVEN! — manuscripts that didn’t sell.Â Â Think ofÂ her desperation, her hunger, to be published.Â It had to be there, driving her, or she would have just given up.Â Â But sheÂ just kept going and wrote manuscript #8.Â
And it sold.
Think about that — writing seven books that don’t sell.Â Â Would you have the persistence to start writing #8?Â Â Do you accept the fact that, yes, there’s an apprenticeship involved in being a writer, a period of training that you willÂ be forcedÂ to undergo before you finally understand what the craft is all about?Â
No, it isn’t easy to get accepted by a publisher, and get paid for your work.Â Â It’s a lot easier to whip out the checkbook and pay a vanity press to print your manuscript.Â But which one would make you truly feel like a Published Author?
And if you can just pay to get published, where’s the incentive to hone your craft, to study your own work with a critical eye, to polish and polish some more?Â Where’s the incentive to write books number seven and eight and nine if each one is just going to mean you have to whip out that old checkbook again to pay to see yourself in print?
Not everyone can write a publishable book.Â That’s just the hard truth.Â Too many people think: “Hey, I know how to write a sentence.Â I know grammar, and I can come up with a story.Â Â Why don’t I just take a few weeks off a write a novel and get published and get rich?”Â It’s amazing to me that people think this, but they do.Â Â And many of these are otherwise accomplished people, intelligent people, who could probably do very well in any number of fields.Â ButÂ none of them wouldÂ dream of working as an engineer or a doctor or aÂ carpenter withoutÂ first learning their craft.Â They’d expect to put in at least four years before they’d feel competent.
So why do they think that they can write a publishable novelÂ their first time out, without bothering to first learn the craft?
I know I sound like one of those old surgeons we medical students used to groan about, theÂ seasoned veterans who’d tell us “We went through hell to become surgeons, and so should you.Â Â So just suck it up and take it, or you don’t deserve to hold a scalpel.”Â Â I used to think that their “trial by fire” philosophy was B.S.Â Now I’m beginning to think it wasn’t so dumb after all.Â A surgeon who’s on call every other night sees a lot of cases, learns a lot of hard lessons.Â And on the other end of it, he’s a much better doctor.
Maybe that’s true for writers as well.Â
If you really want to be a published novelist, you’ll stick with it.Â You won’t say “I’ll give it a year, maybe two.”Â You’ll say “I’ll keep at it, I’ll keep improving my craft,Â year after year. Â Even if it never happens.”Â
Because it may never happen.Â Â That’s the tough reality.Â Â Â