I’ve been hesitant lately to write about writing here on my writing blog. Stupid, huh? It’s mainly because I feel like everything has already been said a million other places. Presenting my viewpoint isn’t going to change anything. This weekend, however, proved me wrong. I received an email from one of my readers. She had found one of my older posts and emailed me because at the end of the post was an invitation to contact me if you’re feeling down. She was pretty low, so she gathered her courage and emailed me. I’m glad she did. In our correspondence she has said I helped her a lot, but I want her to know she has helped me, too.
When I think about my existence in this world, I get discouraged. There are billions of people. I believe every single person is important and significant, including myself, but at times it’s hard to feel that way because there are so many of us. This wonderful reader who emailed me said something along the lines of how difficult it is to be so personal on her blog and not feel like anyone is listening. How do you get readers? How do you get people to beta read your novel? How do you get an agent to say yes? How do you avoid feeling like you’re being completely ignored?
Because let’s face it…writing IS personal. It is. I don’t care what you say or how thick of a skin you’ve got, if you’re writing anything worth reading, you’re putting yourself into it and that makes it pretty danged personal. So, obviously, it’s going to be hard when you want to share that writing with the world and you keep getting rejected by those gatekeepers.
Let’s talk about those gatekeepers for a second.
Are they really GATEkeepers? What kind of a gate are they keeping, and is it truly what we want? I’ve been thinking more about what writing means to me and why I do it. Why do any of us focus our creative energy on something that can take so much effort and hurt like freaking hell when we get rejected or get a bad review or any of that crap? We must be masochists or something because this chosen “career” is quite insane when you stop to think about it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you haven’t been writing long enough.
Ever since I signed with a small publisher, I’ve done a lot of soul searching about why I made the decision to sign with anyone other than a Big 6 publisher. I’ll admit right now that I stopped and asked myself, “Am I throwing away a bigger dream? Am I upset about not getting a huge advance? Am I going to regret this decision?”
I have a lot of friends who have agents and big contracts with the large publishers. It kind of hurts when they seem to get more attention than others who sign with small publishers or self-publish. I’ve asked myself a billion times why that is, or if it even matters (because that sounds kind of egocentric of me to say, but whatever). Still, recent events and conversations with close friends of mine (yes, friends with those big publishers), I’ve come to the realization that it isn’t about The Big Publishing Deal. It’s not about any publishing deal. It really isn’t. When you view it that way, those little gatekeepers aren’t keeping any gates closed to your happiness. See, that’s the problem – writers who think that getting past those gates = happiness.
I think it all boils down to impatience. I read post after post about how frustrated writers get with being rejected. “I’ve been querying for SEVEN YEARS AND HAVEN’T GOTTEN ANYWHERE!” they scream at the top of their lungs!!! Seven years! Yes, that is a long time. Still, I’ve been writing and wanting to get published since I was ten years old. That’s longer than seven years, so I should have been pretty frustrated a few years ago, right? OK, I’ll admit I have been very frustrated, just like the writers in those posts. I sent my first manuscript to a publisher when I was sixteen. I never heard back from that publisher. I never gave up. I wanted to be an author so badly that I went to college and got my degree in creative writing. It seems like everything in my life has been aimed at this career in some way or another. See, it has been a lifelong aim, a constant struggle to write better, write more books, compete against my own failings to develop this talent I’ve been given. I will never stop doing that. Ever. So if you’ve been querying for seven years and haven’t gotten anywhere, I can understand why that would be really frustrating. I can see why you might be bitter and feeling like you should give up. I don’t think you should give up, though. You will get what you want, eventually, if you keep trying. But what is it that you want, really?
Getting an agent or a publishing contract is nothing compared to finishing that first book. Getting a six-figure advancement and three-book publishing deal is nothing compared to typing the last sentence of your fifth book. It’s nothing compared to reading your own work and knowing you have put everything into that writing. It’s nothing compared to watching yourself grow as a writer and a person because of this choice to write. Publishing is a byproduct. Some of us might not be happy with anything less than a huge publisher. I don’t know why that is. I don’t pretend to know why, but I do know what I want in my writing career, and it’s not to chug up a hill toward the Big Publishing Deal. That’s not why I write. I’ll be happy with my writing and this career and these choices I’ve made no matter what. Why? Because what makes me happy with my writing is my writing. Period.
I guess my point – if I even have one today – is that I think a lot of writers (and yes, I might be talking to you, I might not) have their priorities completely screwed up. Publishing is a fantastic, amazing, worthwhile goal, but is it what will make you happy? I can guarantee you that as I’ve watched my friends self-publish their books, get big huge deals, small deals, mid-size deals, every kind of deal you can imagine, I haven’t seen their true happiness come from any of that publishing stuff. I’ve seen more happiness come from starting another book, getting better, being proud of this craft that is 100% personal when it comes right down to it.
So as I’ve stepped back and looked at my small publisher, I get a huge smile on my face because they are the kind of people that help me grow as a writer. It has been worth the TWENTY-ONE years of work to get to them. They are perfect for me because they have helped me grow as a writer. They aren’t just my publisher, and that’s one of the reasons why I knew in my gut that I wanted to sign with them. For you it might be a bigger publisher that helps you grow as a writer. Or it might be that you choose to publish your own work. It’s different for everyone, but the point is that you need to figure out why you’re really doing any of this. I might end up with a bigger publisher later in my career. That will be great, but that’s not what will make me happy. It’s that 100% personal, gut-wrenching hard journey that makes me happy, not the destination…and never a hand opening a gate.