Why It Isn’t About the Big Publishing Deal

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.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle

37 comments

Author Thomas Amo

So well said Michelle! I think some writers feel the only thing that vindicates them is being able to say, I've got an agent. I've got a six figure book deal with XYZ publishers. In the end it's not that award on the wall that makes you the fantastic writer. It's your continuing on in the face of adversity and the payoff is the reader who puts your book down and says, wow that was a great story!

Susan Kaye Quinn

I SO NEEDED TO HEAR THIS TODAY. Sorry to shout, but I literally was avoiding writing (which I really need to do today) because I was bummed out about things that DON'T MATTER! I mean obviously they matter some, or I wouldn't be bummed, but they aren't the important things. And your post helped me today to see that (again), so thank you!!

Chantele Sedgwick

Fantastic post, Michelle. I write because I love it. I think finishing a novel is the best feeling in the world. πŸ™‚

Jill Kemerer

It's so hard to focus on the joys of writing when we're dealing with the stress of trying to get published. Thanks for this. πŸ™‚

I am such a ham and I love attention so it's definitely a constant conscious thing for me to keep perspective and remember where the real value and happiness is in the writing journey. For me, more than anything else, it's the friends I've made (fictional and real).I've got four complete manuscripts under my belt now, and each one has been met by its own rush of joy upon completion. A young friend of mine recently put the last sentence on her very first. As she was coming up on that final approach, I advised her do do something special to celebrate, such as look around the room and grin stupidly at whomever might be around.She rather went above and beyond (and gave me permission to share this video with whomever). I plan on posting it to my blog every time I reach that "complete first draft" milestone.http://youtu.be/GLACP_Q51f0I think this will always be my personal tangible reminder of everything your post is talking about here. πŸ™‚

Bane of Anubis

I agree and disagree. I've blogged a couple of times about the sheer depressing vastness of humanity (here and here)… and I think people should be happy with finishing books/starting books, but, there is a certain joy in in professional validation (whether via agent acceptance, short-story publication, small-press, big 6, etc) that is incomparable, IMO.

Tara Lindsay Hall

BEAUTIFUL! This is why I LOVE your blog. Even when you're just writing a blog post, your words are always perfectly chosen. After I finished my first manuscript a couple years ago, I was so excited! I thought I would immediately publish it and I would be so happy and super rich! So I sent out queries, and a short bit later… nothing happened. Surprise.But I chugged along. I came up with more stories, revised the one I had, and I am proud to say that I am 10 times the writer I was when I drafted that first book. I pray that book never sees the light of day. And when I see how much I have improved, that is what makes me happy. Publishing would be work, it would be publicizing and traveling and signing and speaking. I don't want all that. I want to write! What I do want is for someone to pay me to devote all my time to writing. That's really all publishing is for. I want people to read my work, I want them to enjoy it, and I want to get progressively better. But I don't need a publisher for that. I just need money to buy more coffee so I can keep writing! It took me a long time to learn these things about myself. I thought if I couldn't be world famous I wouldn't be happy. But I'm not unhappy now, as long as I get to keep writing. It's all about priorities, and you've said it beautifully Michelle. I guess the point of this rambling comment is to say that I am in complete agreement and totally relate to what you've said here. Seems kind of pointless now to have written all that… Oops. <3~Tara

I agree with the other Tara, who said, "What I do want is for someone to pay me to devote all my time to writing." The danger is forgetting that publishing is just an ends to a goal, and the goal is writing.And actually, even writing is just a means to a goal, a goal which is deeper although less easy to put into words.

Jake Henegan

I agree somewhat.But for me, publishing is a must (aside from my end-goal). Publishing is what validates my work. Let's just say that if I got rejected, I would know that the fault lies with me. I didn't write well enough to be accepted. Therefore, publishing isn't as such the point, but the acceptance of a publisher is the point. I don't care if no one knows about it. I don't care if it never sees print (though that would suck… and stop the motion of my bigger plan). The point is that it was good enough to be accepted. (Please note that this is how it works for me. It is not meant as an opinion of other people's experiences.)I hope that made sense.

Domey Malasarn

In my years of writing, I've had to think a lot about what makes me happy. Thankfully, I get closer to understanding that more and more as time goes by. These days, I feel content. I enjoy the writing work and I feel emotionally satisfied by it. It's fulfilling to me. And, like you say here, Michelle, that has nothing to do with publication.

Great, great post! THANK YOU for sharing it today. I needed it.

Once again, you're on the money. Writing is very personal. I put everything I am into my stories. I take chances, I reveal, I trust, and it helps me communicate with others after such honesty. Much of my earlier life was guarded. Safe and boring. Through writing, life really begins (for me.)

began* πŸ™‚

Great post. I spent 25 years trying to get a novel published. When it finally happened, it was a wonderful experience – BUT – I couldn't help noticing one thing. My life did not magically change. Yes, there was a book with my name on it in the bookstores. Yet I still had to get up in the morning and go to work at my day job and come home and walk the dogs and take out the garbage. There was no major shift in the way my world worked. So I got a wonderful few months of "Hey, look, here's my book, isn't that *cool*?" Then came the question of, "Okay, you finally did that. Now what?"Well, the answer was, "Sit down write the next book." That truly is the important work, not the publishing part. -Alex

Laura Josephsen

You just said so much of what I've been thinking lately as I've been looking at all my books and what I want for them and making some big decisions regarding some of them. I've found that there are going to be different paths for different books. And there are different paths for every single writer.

The last sentence says it all. Great post, Michelle! Just what I needed after receiving a "gatekeeper" rejection today.

Your post was right on the nose. Although publication sounds wonderful, it really isn't about that. I think you have to write because you love doing it, not because you'll have a huge contract or be a bestseller. Touching even one person makes a difference.

K.D. Kinney

Thank you thank you thank you. You're really inspiring and I'm so glad I found your blog! Seriously. πŸ™‚

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Thomas: It does validate a writer to say those things, I think. I certainly feel validated being able to say I have a publisher. However, it's not where my happiness stems, that's for sure. You are absolutely right that it is continuing to write no matter what that makes what you do worthwhile. I think it's at that point that a writer finds true writing happiness.Susan: Aww, that makes me happy that I could help out in a small measure. I like shouting. It shows your enthusiasm. Hehe! Chantele: It is the best feeling. NOTHING has compared to that in my writing career so far.Jill: It is. I think it can be a constant tug of war that can really bring a writer down. It's good to constantly refocus.Faith: I watched that video, and that is awesome. Hehe! I feel like that ever time I finish. I need to record a dance! Maybe… :)Thanks for sharing your comment here. I think the friends I've made through writing have been invaluable and have enriched my life so much. It's wonderful. Publishing has helped me make even more, and that's wonderful, too. Bane: I agree that there is a certain joy in professional validation, absolutely! It's not like I signed my contract with a big scowl on my face, hah. That was seriously one of the best days of my life! I just don't think publication is a permanent solution for writing happiness. In fact, I KNOW it isn't. Read Mizmak's comment up above. πŸ™‚Tara: Aww, I love your comment, thank you! I don't think it was pointless at all. I'm really happy I didn't publish the things I wanted to publish when I was sixteen. I think that would have been a mistake. I needed more under my belt, for sure. I know I'll always keep growing, but I didn't self-publish a book until I was certain I was ready and my work was ready. That took a long time.Tara: Oh, what a fantastic point! I think that's true that writing isn't even the end goal. It's something much deeper, as any art form is in my opinion.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Jake: I hope you can get to a point where you don't have to be validated by outside sources. Everyone's writing is so different, and the publishing world is run by so many trends and political goals that I think it's incredibly unfair of any writer to wait for outside sources like that to completely validate their writing and their creativity. I don't think it's a bad thing to allow those outside forces to HELP validate you, but to rely on them completely, I'm afraid you'll never find true happiness. Anyway, maybe you don't feel that way. Sorry if I'm assuming too much. The thing is, if you keep trying and writing with a real professional attitude, you will get published eventually. Davin: I like that you say "emotionally satisfied." To me that's the ultimate doorway to happiness. I'm not sure publishing gives a lasting impression of emotional satisfaction because so many factors come into play at that point. It's that writing work that really provides that best, longest lasting satisfaction.Taffy: You're welcome! Thank you for coming by.Charlie: I know I saw this in your work, and it really connected me to your writing. I appreciate writers who open up like you do. It will always lead somewhere fulfilling.Alex: I just love what you say here about life going on, and you get to a point where you're like, well, now what??? I think I hit that point, too, and I started to realize where my true happiness was coming from, and it wasn't from getting published. Quite a revelation. I'm happy to be on this journey with you. It's truly a pleasure!Luara: Good luck with those big decisions! It's so important to stop and ask ourselves these imperative questions – why are spending so much time and energy on something? You are absolutely right that there are different paths for different books. I've found that out, too, and it's exciting and unnerving at the same time. I'm also certain that at different parts of my life, I'll take different paths. No one path is good forever. πŸ™‚Butterfly: Thanks for reading! I'm glad it could help out a little bit. πŸ™‚Shari: Publication IS wonderful! Or, it can be. I just don’t think it should be everything, you know? It’s certainly not the entire reason I write. Thanks for coming by today!K.D.: I’m glad you found my blog, too, because that’s how I found your blog! You’re amazing. Tell yourself that every day, please. Because you are!

Michael Offutt

I just wanted to add too that in our economy, it's important to support the small guy too. Rhmelda Publishing sounds like an awesome group of people doing their best to make a name for themselves. However, if everyone said…"pfft…I only will accept being published by Harper Teen or Random House" then these people would go out of business. Capitalism is about competition and in many ways, my sympathies go out to the small guy that has to fight the Wal-Marts. Anyway…your blog is very inspirational.

Bane of Anubis

Ha, definitely not a ticket to happiness, but one that aids self-confidence (for those of us lacking), which is a valuable weapon in the battle against gloom.

Neurotic Workaholic

This definitely hit home for me. It wasn't until this past year that I finally got the courage to start sending my work out to short story contests and literary magazines. I definitely would love to get published (who wouldn't?), but I figure that it doesn't have to happen right away. Like you said, it's definitely a wonderful feeling just to finish writing a novel; that in itself is an accomplishment since a lot of people don't get that far. So for me, I'm going to focus on getting published in literary magazines first, since I've heard it's easier to get an agent to look at my work once I've got publishing credits.

Jennifer Shirk

You know I really needed this reminder. That was really well said. πŸ™‚

Steven D. Jackson

This is a brilliant post. When you get down to it, if your motivation for writing was a big publishing deal, you'd probably lose a lot of the book's soul in the first place and you wouldn't enjoy writing it. If the motivation is something else, then your happiness is tied to the accomplishment of your own goal.

Genie of the Shell

I'm with Tara and Tara. Validation is a powerful rush, but it isn't permanent or all-fulfilling. I fantasize about a great publishing deal because it would free me to write more… but then again, it makes me just as happy to imagine a scenario in which I get a bunch of money some other way so that I can quit my jobs and write. I think getting validation from a Big 6 publisher would feel great, but I'm not sure if that good feeling would be so much larger or longer lasting than a great review from a fellow blogger or a less profitable deal with a smaller publisher who would give me and my book more personal attention.I think the Big Publishing Deal is one of those things that appears more awesome than it probably is, compared to other awesome experiences in writing.

Amber Argyle, author

I cried when I read this. Just so you know.

The need to feel that effort has an impact, to be validated, never gets easier. I know have to keep watching myself or else I feel my blog effort has been wasted if I can't get at least one positive comment. It's all well and good to tell myself, "Oh, there are tons of lurkers like me who get something good from reading without commenting so it's good enough that I did it for me," but I'm pretty much lying to myself.And then I see my friends, those I also want to be my peers, getting more replies than total people who read my blog, and really start to strangle myself on comparisons.As you say, I probably have my priorities skewed. In fact, I'm pretty sure of it. Thank you for writing this, to remind that happiness can't come until priorities are straight.

Jessica Bell

AMEN! If only more of us could look at publishing like you do, I think there'd be less miserable writers. Excellent post.

Lucky Press, LLC

Wonderful post, Michelle. I wish every writer would read it…perhaps every six months or so.I feel the same way, as a writer and as a publisher. It is a joy to publish a good book. I've learned not to count the worth of the book by the number of books sold; but it is very difficult for writers to do the same. I often see writers who are desperate for a publishing contract, then become desperate for high sales figures, desperate for book awards, desperate for a bigger publishing deal… well, you see the theme. For me as a writer, illustrator, and publisher, what helps is to nurture an attitude of gratitude; an appreciation for the opportunties that have been given and earned. The most important thing I ever wrote sold 500 copies. I had no time to market it; was too busy publishing books by others. But just knowing 500 people were encouraged by something I wrote has meant so much to me. Words are powerful and it is not torture to be a writer; it's an honor and a blessing. We have the ability to put our thoughts into words and to have those words read. Many folks never have that opportunity at all, and all of their thoughts, hopes, and cares are trapped inside their minds and hearts. Janice

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Michael: That is an excellent point. Thank you for bringing it up! I get a little thrill every time I see someone signing with a small press these days. πŸ™‚Bane: Yes, true! It's good to have validation, absolutely. Neurotic: That is an excellent route to take! It certainly gives credibility to your writing background if you have published other things. It's not for everyone to hit the short story market, but it works great for many!Jennifer: Aww, thank you for letting me know! I appreciate you coming by. πŸ™‚Steven: Yes! That's exactly it. I think it's so important to dig back to our roots and figure out where our real motivations are. Sometimes they need shifting. Genie: I do know that money has a lot to do with why some people write. They need time to write, and time is money. I've been thinking about putting up a post about writers who have quit their day jobs to break into writing. I want to get a good discussion about that going. Thanks for your comment!Amber: Wow! Um, sorry? Seriously, though, I hoped this helped in some small way if you were feeling down.Alicia: Yeah, I visit some blogs that get three times the amount of comments I do – on a regular basis, too. It can be depressing. It's so easy to get pulled into the comparing game. When you reach one point, something else comes into play, and you keep wishing and wishing. I can easily see myself never being happy with anything I have in the moment. A dangerous place to be! I hope you find peace. It's good to re-prioritize. I do it often, or try to, at least.Jessica: Thanks for coming by! It's my goal to be a very happy writer and spread the joy, lol. πŸ™‚Janice: Your comments are always so insightful and lovely, thank you! You really hit it on the head here:I often see writers who are desperate for a publishing contract, then become desperate for high sales figures, desperate for book awards, desperate for a bigger publishing deal… well, you see the theme.It truly is an honor to be a writer, and I'm grateful every day for the experiences and the opportunities I have to share my work. No matter what happens in the future, it's all a part of the path I've chosen, and I'm grateful.

Michelle, thank you. You're absolutely right, and I'm glad you've said it. I wish more people would. I think you do a great job in selling yourself and promoting your work, your attitude, and what writing is really all about.I started at college as a creative writing major, too, but switched to political science. It was a hard choice that I felt pressured into. My parents pushed the "you'll never make any money at it" shtick, and my peers giggled behind their hands in critiques at my genre fiction. To protect myself and my writing, I had to walk away. It took me 10 years to come back, all the time floundering, searching for a creative outlet.In the past couple of years, I knew I had come back to writing because of my love of the story and the process, but in reading other people's blogs, I've gotten caught up in the idea of the big publishing contract, and 6 figures, the movie deal, and all that. So, really, thank you again. We all need to remember why we're here. No one gets into writing because of the money, but so many seem to get lost along the way.RosieEast for Green Eyes

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Rosie: That's so sad that you were pressured into something you didn't truly love. I think that you can always look back on that, as you are doing now, and remember why you started to write again. That might be a valuable memory for the rest of your life. I think as we read other blogs and start comparing ourselves to everyone else, we can get a bit off-centered. I want to do a post soon about comparing – but looking at it in a different light.

My opinion: Anything worth saying is worth saying again.Who cares if someone else, or even you!, have already said something about writing before? Writing is a form of expression. When your heart wants to be free, put pen to paper (or keyboard to word processor, etc) and WRITE!I for one enjoy your posts about writing the most. Because that's when you share your insights about your passion the most freely. Thank you very much for sharing those special moments!

Okay, and this is a great example of why I like your writing, Michelle. Re-reading it I found something else that struck a cord to me, and didn't realize until after I posted a comment that I had spoken up previously. Being impacted in different ways from multiple readings really is the biggest compliment I can pay any writer. * hug *

Julie Musil

Ok, this post is two years old but it really hit home for me. I appreciate it!

Michelle D. Argyle

Julie, thanks for coming by! This is one of my favorite posts, so I’m glad it’s still getting looked at. πŸ™‚

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