Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Publishing Question

Should you be trying to publish your work? A friend of mine recently wrote to me about her hesitancy to send out her work. “It’s the being picked apart by trying to write for something/someone to get published that I’m not so keen on yet,” she wrote. She’s far from alone. In my writing group, I’d say more members are writing without the goal of eventual publication than are writing with a byline in mind.

Your desire to wade into the waters of publishing should be determined by one thing: Do you want other people to read your work? If the answer is yes, then you have to figure out how many people you’d like to reach, if getting paid is important to you, how much you will compromise your artistic visions, and a host of other things. Getting published is not the same as writing – it’s more of a business venture – but the myth that they’re the same thing persists. Here are the some other myths I’ve found that people associate with writing and publishing:

Writing a book is a quick way to make money. Those of you who have written books are laughing at that sentence. Nothing about books and money belongs in the same sentence with quick and writing. Yes, I know there are plenty of stories out there about first time authors who get six-figure deals, and yes, you could be one of those people. You could also win the lottery and find a Sasquatch in your living room, but your chances are slim. Don’t let the odds discourage you, but do understand that this isn’t a get-rich-quick opportunity.

Getting published will make people respect you. Fat chance. The people who don’t respect you for being a writer will not respect you unless you’re on Oprah, and maybe not even then.

Getting published is really hard. Getting published is easy. Getting published in a national magazine for a big check is hard, although not impossible. Getting a book published is a completely different experience.

You have to be published to be a real writer. This one irks me the most. I meet people all the time who are writing family histories, poetry, short stories – you name it – and publication is the last thing on their minds. They’re writing because they enjoy putting the words on paper, and they are every bit as much a writer as someone getting paid the big bucks. Writing makes you a writer.

Only people who know someone get published. Knowing someone in any business makes success more likely, but it seems that for writers, persistence combined with some degree of talent and business acumen is the best combination.

My work doesn’t matter if it isn’t published. Take this moldy old belief and run it through your shredder. The pieces of paper that mean the most to us are not the ones we buy at Barnes and Noble. It’s the letters, the notes, the handwritten thank-yous that we save. I have a good friend who has a tattered, yellowed copy of his grandfather’s account of a cougar attack in the turn-of-the-century logging camp where he worked. A buddy typed it up on what I’m sure was an old Underwood typewriter and folded the story into a booklet. It’s close to a hundred years old. When my friend showed it to me, I felt privileged to hold it. I can think of several friends with similar written artifacts, and none of them care that these works were never published.

Publication is a worthy goal, but it should never be the only goal.


Linda Austin said...

I did write and publish my mother's memoir (with her help) of growing up in Japan during WWII. It is easy to self-publish for family and friends, but you're right, publishing to sell the book is entirely a business venture and you must know your audience and write to them from the moment you set pen to paper. It is an entirely different beast.


seniorwriter said...

This is so true. I have published two books, but I'm not really interested in the business side. Writing and publishing my books has brought me much more joy than any financial bonanza might have. I'm glad I chose to self-publish, but most of my personal benefits would have come without formal publication as well. By the way, is a good compromise.
That's what I used for "Remembering Violet," a tribute to my late mother that will interest few outside of family and friends. It's a good-looking book that was inexpensive to produce.

TH Meeks said...

What's exciting now is that we have so many good options for self-publishers. You can get a professional-looking product that you retain control over, and that you can proudly give to family and friends. It's a wonderful option for many.