After I put up my list of publishing definitions last week, I got a comment that made the gears in my brain start spinning.
Part of it was because they (innocently, I believe) mentioned the idea that publishing is some sort of competition. Which it isn’t. Anyone who’s earnestly pushing that idea, that I’m somehow competing against other writers, is saying a lot more about themselves than they are about any aspect of publishing. Seriously.
And right after that someone on my twitter feed mentioned they’d given up on the idea they’d ever be a published novelist. Which was kind of heartbreaking, to hear someone’s given up on a dream. But it’s also tough to counter because... well, “published” isn’t always the neat, clean goal some folks think it is.
Anyway, I went to answer the first comment, started thinking about the second, and that’s how we ended up with a bonus post. These aren’t tips or tricks but more guideposts. If I’ve finished my manuscript and I want to be published, there are certain decisions and admissions that need to be made. I may be way off—and I’m open to hearing other thoughts--but I think if I want to succeed in publishing, there's three things I need to be very honest about.
That’s the big thing here. I need to be completely, brutally honest with myself.
First is being honest about my manuscript. Is it the absolute best it can be? Have I really put in the work? Did I do multiple drafts? Line edits? Get feedback? Did I listen to the feedback? I’ve mentioned once or thrice that “good enough” isn’t going to be an easy sell, for me to an agent or for an agent to an editor.
Again, we’re not talking about what it can be with help from that professional editor. We don’t care about how cool the adaptation’s going to look on the big screen. How is this manuscript? Seriously.
Second is being honest about how many people my manuscript is really going to appeal to. We all love the idea of the runaway bestseller with millions of copies in print and dozens of translations. But the simple truth is that’s very rare. Maybe one book a year does that. Maybe. And simple math tells us... it’s probably not going to be our book. I mean, hell... my own grandmother never read any of my books. They just weren't her thing.
Having a realistic understanding of how much my book will sell makes it a lot easier to sell my book. It also gives me a good sense of what path I want to be on. A book with broad appeal has a better chance with a big traditional publisher, while a more niche book may do well at a small press, and a very niche book could make me a lot of money self-published.
Third, maybe the toughest, is being honest
about what I really want out of this. Why do I want to be published? Am I
hoping to make storytelling a career? Do I just crave the validation that somebody
thought I was worth publishing? Do I want a six-figure advance? Am I
just hoping to get invited to better parties the next time I’m at a con?
Am I seeing this as a stepping stone to
There’s a lot of book clubs out there after this past year. There’s probably one we’d all like to get chosen for.
It may feel like there’s a lot of overlap and room for multiple choices in that mess of questions, but again... what am I really hoping to get out of this? What’s the thing that pops to mind when I hear “published author” applied to me? Do I want the money? The recognition? Something to put on my shelves? Hopefully it’s clear that what I’m hoping to get should affect how I go about trying to get it. And maybe, if I’m being honest, I might even realize my primary goal in writing a book is a bit... unrealistic?
Again... be honest.
And once I’ve been honest about these three things, I should be able to see some overlap. Places where pushing at this one means pulling on that one. And when I’m done, it might give me a better sense of where I am. And what I may need to do to get where I want to be. I’m not saying these things can guarantee anyone a publishing contract, but I think it’s worth noting that most of the successful writers I know consider this stuff.
Anyway, just a few quick thoughts. Your mileage may vary, as the kids say.
Next time... Cloverfield.
No, wait, what am I saying. This weekend is Valentine’s Day. And book club!
Thursday we’ll talk about love. Cloverfield can wait until next week.