As a professor of writing and a consistently published writer for nearly 30 years, I have a lot to share if you want to know about the business of writing and publishing. I don’t know that it’s harder to publish now than it was 30 years ago, but one thing is for sure: it’s harder to get people’s attention — especially the attention of agents and editors.
Everybody’s distracted by our media-saturated, multi-tasking world. And because publishing markets are now fragmented and no one is sure which medium is best for capturing an audience, agents and editors are more confused than ever, which makes them really skittish about committing to any project other than the one that seems most obviously a best seller. But even then, with a seemingly sure thing, no success is guaranteed.
So my main message is this: don’t be bummed, don’t be discouraged. If you’re dedicated to writing, then you’re focused first on your art, on the things you want to say, the worlds you want to explore. You should be having fun. If you’re not having fun writing, then why are you doing this? Yes, we all want to get published. And I know plenty of great success stories about writers who have stuck it out and found success after decades of trying. But, also, I know plenty of stories about writers who are still writing without having published a single word. They write because writing is what makes them feel most alive.
Let me confess right up front: when it’s all said and done, I want to be published because I want to be loved. Every publication is a chance for me to feel the respect and approval I most desire. But, at the same time, every publication is a chance for me to feel that nobody really cares what I do. Waiting for a reader review to come in through Amazon or fan mail through my website can be like waiting for the Easter Bunny to deliver a basket of goodies to my front door. It’s not an especially healthy thing for a grown-up to do.
That said, we’re human and we have needs. We should be honest about that. And here’s where it gets tricky because writing is all about making mistakes and accepting failure — and accepting rejection. So take a deep breath and brace yourself as I give you the best advice I can in these pages, in the hope that you’ll center yourself and treat yourself well in this challenging, sometimes exhilarating field we call “creative writing.”