February 9, 2021 / 3 Comments

Three Things About Publishing

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.

So I need to really consider this. How many people are realistically going to want to read my book? Will it only appeal to die-hard splatterpunk fans? Would most mystery readers enjoy it, or only cozy readers? Yeah, it’s a fantastic sci-fi epic, but how big is the market for sci-fi epics right now?

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 Hollywoodor comics or something else? Is this just all about getting chosen for you-know-who’s book club?

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 reallyhoping 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.

0 replies on “Three Things About Publishing”

All good points. I think it’s important to expand on editing if you’re trying to get traditionally published. Copy editing is imperative, creative writing group “critiques” are not. As a personal example, I once spent three years in a creative writing group having writer after writer input their advice on my first ever manuscript. Every single persons’ criticism of my story was different. Eventually I cancelled all their opinions and came back to my professionally edited, copy edited, and proofed manuscript. And as for editors at big publishing houses, well they don’t always get it right. I have a traditionally published author friend who was on her third or fourth novel for HarperCollins. Her editor at HC kept telling her to change the entire ending of her book. On the fourth re-submission of manuscript my friend had to put her foot down and say NO. She forced the editor to take the ending she was given, or she wasn’t getting anything. It’s a good thing she did too, because that particular editor soon left HC to go work on a cruise ship again. Seriously, big publishers get editors from anywhere, a lot of the time. You don’t need a degree in English Lit to work at a big publishing house.

"Do I just crave the validation that somebody thought I was worth publishing?"

I recently realised that this is exactly the reason I want to be published. I don't have the self-belief to push my own work down the self-publishing route. But I don't ever see myself being a full-time writer either (much as I'd love it). Doesn't mean I don't want my writing to be the best it can be. I do. I'll put in all the work to make it so.

So yeah, this post struck a chord with me because only this past week I've come to terms with what I really want, and it's given me a lot of peace and a fresh dose of enthusiasm. Hey, I even finished my first draft yesterday.

Thanks for your work. I loved the Threshold series. I've only recently discovered it and I've been gobbling it up, especially the A2Q.

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