Wanting It: Necessary but not Sufficient

Publishing is convoluted.

I’m sure this is not news by now. Everyone knows that publishing (self- or traditional) is convoluted. 80% luck, 5% skill and 15% sheer bloodymindedness and all that.

One of the side effects is that every single author I’ve ever seen who has any modicum of success has been asked “How did you do it?”

On one hand, it’s great to have such a wealth of information to turn to. Pretty much every author has taken a different path to being published, even beyond just choosing to either self-publish or go for the traditional route. And not every route will work for every author, for various reasons – some don’t have the money to get to cons to meet agents and publishers in person, some prefer to have more marketing control, some don’t trust their marketing skills or don’t have the time to do that without help. There are a thousand and one reasons why a particular path may or may not work, and having them all out there for people to read and compare is a great boon to the newbie. Being able to say “Well, I can do this, but I can’t do this, so if I try this, maybe it’ll work” is a great thing.

But published authors know that they are only one person, and they know that the advice they give is only the advice of one person, and their readers can easily find at least six other stories that contradict their advice on how to get published without even having to Google for them. They know they’d be doing their readers a disservice if they implied that they were going about it The One True Right Way, and so they generally end up with a heap of disclaimers about “This is what worked for me” and “you do what works for you”. Most of the time, at least, allowing for the occasional author with a more didactic bent.

On the other hand, people don’t like uncertainty. The newbie authors came to the experienced authors usually because they didn’t even have the first clue where to start, and now they’re expected to sort through a whole lot of information and decide what’s best for them when they still don’t actually fully know what their skills are like in the various areas? That’s incredibly daunting.

You then end up 1) with a lot of tl;dr versions, which I think is where a lot of the overly preachy ‘writing advice’ comes from. It’s the complex rules simplified to give newbies a starting place to grow from. I don’t like many of them and I don’t like the way many of them are phrased or presented, but if it’s between that and not having any guidance at all, then yeah, it’s probably better to have the imperfect rules. But 2) you also end up with this idea circulated that ‘you get in how you can, any way you can. What’s important isn’t that you do it quick, it’s important that you do it’.

This often meets with the newbie author’s frustration over the seeming arbitrariness of publishing. You know. “But if [insert book-shaped punching bag of the week] can be published, then why can’t I?” (or in many cases, “then I should  be able to get published, no sweat!”).

It’s true – there is a disconnect in many of the creative industries between skill and success. Yes, skill is important, and you’re much more likely to fail with a subpar product. But there are many, many documented cases of books without much skill being published to acclaim, and equally many but less documentable cases of really great books going without ever seeing the light of day.

Most authors need to go through a rather large publishing gauntlet before they actually get books on the shelves (digital or physical). Stories about of months, sometimes years, of searching for an agent or publisher before finally the book was accepted by someone, are more common than the opposite. Rejection letter counts in the triple digits aren’t far-fetched.

About the only secret of the publishing industry that holds true for most authors is that you need to be ready to be rebuffed, perhaps for years, and not stop. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all you really need is stubbornness, or a willingness to wait till the next trend change.

That’s not a bad perspective to have. I mean, the important thing is remaining willing to continue, however you manage to justify that to yourself.

Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking that all you need to do is want it enough.

As much as I have Problems with the writer culture of “you have to want writing more than you want sleep/breathing/insert physiological necessity here”, I do think that being willing to put in occasionally ill-advised amounts of effort into your writing is something that most authors will have to face. Often the difference between a published author and an unpublished author is that the published author has more resources, and can spend more time at cons, can spend more time revising their sales pitch, can spend more time on their marketing and so forth. They can afford to take time off work to prepare a book launch, or have the energy at the end of the day to maintain an active social media presence, or whatever. The more attention you can squeeze out of your day and into the process of getting published, the better chances you have of drawing enough attention to yourself to actually sell some books.

But that’s all this is in the end. Having a good book raises your chances of being published. Being active in industry circles raises your chances. Having a thriving social media presence and interacting with other authors raises your chances.

But nothing gives you 100% chance.

The publishing industry is extremely glutted at the moment – especially with the opening of self-publishing, you’re competing with more people than ever. Putting in minimal effort isn’t an option anymore, at least, not for someone who intends to make a living wage off their books.

Wanting it is absolutely necessary to succeed – using ‘wanting’ here in that motivational-speech sense of wanting something so much you take actions at the expense of leisure to accomplish something.

But it’s not sufficient. Wanting has to come with a healthy dose of introspection – a willingness to try new things if something’s not yielding results, or keep trying something that seems like it’s hopeless, and an ability to tell which one is the best course. It comes with willingness to rewrite and rework, to take criticism and advice, and to apply all of it in different combinations until you hit on something that works.

It’s not to say publishing can’t be done. Of course it can. People do it every day. But it’s never a sure bet, and it’s never based on having “the best story” or “the best idea” or “knowing the right people” or “just trying until someone likes it” – at least, no one of those things alone.

I haven’t cracked it yet, so I’m hardly qualified to be offering advice. But I apparently like preaching, so here’s my opinion anyway. I’ve been making plans, so it’s been on my mind recently, I guess.

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