Don’t Hold Out for Publishing to Make You Feel Seen. Here’s Another Goal Instead.

From Susan DeFreitas via Jane Friedman:

Every year, I return to teach creative writing at a summer program offered by the school for the arts where I attended high school (though this year, I had to do so virtually). And every year, at the end of an intense week of workshops with young writers ages 14–18, I do my best to engage in a bit of time travel.

Which is to say, I do my best to tell these talented young people what I wish someone had told me when I was their age.

Walking the tree-lined paths of my old school always brings me back to that time: My awe in discovering poets like Galway Kinnell, Lucille Clifton, and Mary Oliver, and writers like James Joyce, Raymond Carver, and Joyce Carol Oates. The strength of my yearning to write that well, to be that big—big enough that my work would be studied, in time, by kids like me, in schools like this.

And the first step toward that great success was, of course, publication. Like all my other peers, I dreamed of getting my first short story published, of attracting the attention of an agent, and publishing my first book—and at eighteen, I thought I’d accomplish all this before I was twenty.

Instead, it took me until I was thirty to publish my first short story, and until nearly forty to publish my first book. Which meant that I would go on to spend many years of my life fruitlessly pursuing the dream of publication, with what felt like very little to sustain my spirit.

. . . .

The last thing I want to do is to discourage these young writers in their ambitions, but the fact is, publishing is a tough industry, and the apprenticeship period for fiction can often feel interminable. I know from personal experience many of the most talented writers in any class will eventually just give up, because that yearning inside them has begun to sour and, in time, turns into something that feels a lot like grief.

So here’s what I try to tell these kids: Publication may feel like the thing you’re yearning for, but in reality, it’s something deeper.

What you’re yearning for is the sense of being seen.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman.

Here’s a link to Susan Defrietas’ website

Regular visitors to TPV will have anticipated PG’s response:

  1. It is not 1970 or 1990 or 2000 any more. People don’t wear bell-bottoms except in nursing homes. Sha Na Na only performs at AARP conventions. Things change.
  2. If you want to be seen, write a good book, then self-publish your book on Amazon or via one of the many useful services that will help you publish there and everywhere else.
  3. If you work diligently to let people know about your book, you will be seen.
  4. You’ll even receive some reviews by people who see your book, read your book and love your book. You’ll receive some other types of reviews by people who don’t love your book so much, but that’s gonna happen regardless of how and where your book is published.
  5. If you want to be seen some more, write and publish another book, maybe a little better than your prior book.
  6. Just like learning to ride a bicycle, you’ll get better with practice. Will you get good enough to turn pro? The answer depends on talent, but, even more, it depends on how hard you work to get better.
    1. The best weightlifters work out almost every day. Upper body one day, lower body the next. As they get stronger, weightlifters move to heavier weights. If the weights are easy to lift, the weightlifter isn’t going to improve very quickly, if at all. If you visit a serious weightlifting location, you’ll hear lots of loud human/animal noises which often happen when weightlifters try to get better at their sport.
    2. The best ballet dancers practice almost every day. PG doesn’t know if they do more spins and grunt or not, but they work hard to get better at their art as well.

Being “seen” by a traditional publisher is a different thing entirely.

It’s a lot more work and most writers never get seen by anybody but a bored and unpaid/bored and underpaid intern who sees the first paragraph, pulls a reject letter from a stack of them, inserts the letter into your postage-paid return envelope, licks the envelope (without wondering where it’s been before you put it in with your manuscript), drops it into a basket with a lot of other rejection letters for Bob to pick up later in the day to take to the post office on his way home.

If you’re the one out of thousands of authors, you may be seen by someone who works for a publisher and gets paid for for doing so.

If that happens, learn how to wait. And wait. And wait. A couple of additional people who work for a publisher might see your ms., but it doesn’t exist for the world yet.

If you make it through the seers inside the publisher, you might see a publishing contract.

If you want an advance that is large enough to keep you from being evicted while you write another book, don’t quit your day job right now. As a matter of fact, don’t quit your day job ever because you’re probably going to need it regardless.

You’ll be even older if you ever see your book in your local bookstore for a couple of months before it disappears because not enough of your friends bought a copy.

OTOH

If you had kept writing and self-published your books during the time between mailing your ms. to the publisher and seeing it disappear from the bookstore, you might well have three or four books for sale on Amazon and receive a monthly payment from the Zon. The payment might be big or little or in-between, and might not cover the rent, but you’d be receiving money for your work.

That said, PG’s business advice to writers is do what you feel will work best for you.

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