Tag Archives: getting published

SOME Return on the Investment

money treeLast week, I proposed that being published is not necessarily the be-all and end-all of every effort at writing, that most people engage in the other arts without expectation of being paid for whatever they create. And why shouldn’t writing be the same? I also pointed out that a drive to publish may, in fact, divert especially developing writers from their best efforts.

A reader responded this way:

This is a tough one for me, I have to say. Writing and kidlit are my passion. Yes, I would want to be involved with it even if I didn’t want to be published. For me, though, it is my only true option as far as something I can pursue as a vocation … so getting published (though a long shot, especially as a financial resource) is something I don’t just want, it’s something I need. Sure, I love to write … but all the years AND money I’ve spent in the effort to get published simply pushes me further into debt… . I need SOME return on the investment, so, although I do believe it’s the journey that matters, sometimes the goal has to be achieved. … This writing life is definitely not an easy one in this way.

I’m with her, with all of you who would say something similar. And I’m very aware that the argument I make comes too easily from one who is publishing, has been publishing, for many years. But I haven’t forgotten. This writing life is definitely not an easy one. And the difficulty of it is compounded when you are spending much of your time and resources on writing and have not yet published and need to publish to survive financially.

On My HonorMy writing career has been good to me in that way, though it took a long time to develop. I spent the first fifteen years writing full-time before I ever once earned enough to live on in even a modest way. The balance was finally changed only by the serendipity of having On My Honor win a Newbery Honor Award. And I do mean serendipity. There is so much luck involved in any award. There must have been scores of other books out there in 1987 that were equally deserving, but they, for whatever reason, didn’t catch the eye of the committee. I have always watched for the new opportunity, have supplemented my income with part-time teaching and lecturing, and have worked hard and consistently, but still I know that much of my financial success, such as it is, is due to happenstance as much as to my efforts. Not an encouraging message, I’m afraid, but an honest one.

Killing Miss KittyAnd a further admission, with the exception of On My Honor, my books that bring in the most income are often not my best work. They are ones that happen to capture some market niche or to be combined with the right popular artist or to be picked up by mass retailers, all simply luck. Truth be told, sometimes the books I’ve been most passionate about—Killing Miss Kitty and Other Sins being the most glaring example—don’t do particularly well in the market. Killing Miss Kitty and Other Sins, in fact, was a colossal failure. When it was emerging it got a lot of buzz, an unusual number of books went out even before the publication date, and when folks got a look at the challenging contents, those books returned to the publisher in a flood.

So … am I saying if you’re hoping to make a career out of writing, to make it your work, it’s time to give up? Not at all. But I am serving warning. I suppose “Don’t give up the day job” is as succinct a way to put it as any.

Yet I will return to the point of my last week’s blog. Despite the vagaries of an unpredictable market, despite the fact that commercial and even cynical sometimes comes out on top, the shortest road to success for most of us remains the road to our own hearts. When we write what we uniquely care about, we offer the world something no one else can give.

And then, whether our work sells well or poorly or not at all, we will have fed our own souls.  And that matters!

P.S. Another reader responded to this topic and sent me this link to a blog which many of you might be interested in.  Here it is:

Marion, I understand this one all too well and just wrote about it for Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo Writing Challenge. I’m sending the link because some of your readers might not know about her blog and will find true support here. — Karen Henry Clark

Write to Publish . . . or Write to Write?

Book-TitleA couple of weeks ago I shared a twelve-year-old writer’s request for help publishing her novels.  I asked for responses to pass on to the young writer and have shared those here, too.  Today let’s bring the topic back to ourselves, the grown-up writers out there longing for, needing publication.

Of course writers need to be published, because we need to share our work.  It’s as hard for most of us to write in a closet as it would be to play a violin in one.  But there are many ways of sharing, and that is the gift of today’s wide-ranging publication opportunities.  We can even share by handing a manuscript around to family and friends, electronically or on paper.

But when most people talk about publishing, handing a manuscript around is not what they’re talking about.  They are talking about selling.  They may even be talking about earning a living as a writer. 

It has long struck me that writing is the only artistic field where the world seems to assume that anyone who practices it must surely be a professional.  If you play the piano, no one asks you when you were last on a concert stage.  If you paint, your friends probably don’t expect your work to be on display in museums.  But if you write, everyone asks, “Have you been published?”

It’s as though publication is the only goal.  It’s also as though having a broad public audience for our words is the only justification for writing at all.

When I taught at Vermont College of Fine Arts, we repeatedly–and understandably–found ourselves working with students in the MFA in Writing program who were desperate to publish.  And the first lesson we had to teach those who came filled to the brim with such a need was to put aside the desperation, to put aside even the thought of publication, to concentrate simply and wholly on the work.  Only when they could do that–truly do it–could they begin to grow as writers.

That’s an attitude even a publishing writer must carry with her through her career.  We all need to learn that it’s the process that matters!  Everything else, even publication–in some ways, particularly publication–is secondary to the writing itself.

And that’s the good news.  Why?  Because publication is hard.  Even self-publishing takes stamina as well as funds.  Publishing is also sporadic even in the most fertile career.  If it comes at all, it comes only at irregular intervals.  And the satisfactions that attend a book’s birth are short lived. 

Writing, on the other hand, is something we can wake to every single morning.  The process will feed us, enrich us, satisfy the deepest and most hidden of our needs.  Curiously enough, if we are writing truly, writing can satisfy even those needs we don’t know how to name.  And it does all that with or without publication.

I know if you are standing on the other side of your first major publication, these words must seem hackneyed, even insensitive.  Sure!  Tell the homeless man how much he should enjoy the fresh outdoor air!  And I’ll admit that, if I had read what I’m saying now back in the days when I was longing for publication, I would have been unimpressed.  The truth is, I probably would have been pissed.

But my words remain true, nonetheless.  Writing is its own reward.

It is an act that blesses itself.

However successful our careers may be–or not–that’s something we would all do well to remember.