Tuesday, November 24, 2009

WRT: Your Publishing Horizon - Hey, isn't that it right there?

I see so many beginning writers making the same mistake: holding totally unrealistic expectations regarding their journey to publication. The problem is not one of misinformation -- that would imply the writer has bothered to imform herself beforehand. No, it seems more an issue of mass disillusionment, and it's shared by anyone who hasn't traveled some fair distance down that road. For example, friends and family who ask me how long I've been writing fiction for publication (7 years off and on; 2.5 years nearly full time; all stemming from a lifelong fascination with the art) always seem so surprised to hear it's taken so long. I realize it's the same naivete I once held, thinking my first children's picture book text would be available for the Christmas rush the year I finished it.

That was six years ago. Who knew there wasn't a market for flatulent frogs?

A published friend of mine once remarked to me that oftentimes a rookie writer can't see the horizon they're working toward because of all the dips and hills they must traverse to get to it. They mistake the first crest for the finish line.

I disagree. While I see his point, I don't think most beginning writers even know about the hills and valleys. That's because we often forget to map out the trip in any meaningful way. Or, if we do, we're in denial about those obstacles. We fool ourselves into thinking we'll somehow be lucky enough to find a way around them. But you might as well wish upon a star. There are no shortcuts or secret backroads to hasten the journey for beginner writers.

Let me repeat that: There are no shortcuts or secret backroads to hasten the journey for beginner writers.

What is the source of this disillusionment?

It's complicated:

First, it doesn't help that writer's mags and other sources recount the exceptional stories of successful first-time authors whose journeys were short, sweet, and swift. It doesn't help to be reminded of Chris Paolini's story. Or others like him. But part of the blame is our own, stemming from our own self-deception. We've all heard about how J. K. Rowling struggled, but we choose to forget that. We only remember her success. At times like these, it helps to remember one definition for "exceptional" is rare.

It's also easy to forget the difficulty of the journey whenever we're taken in by the siren song of a well-written book. Invisible to us are the years of toil, the revisions and re-revisions, the queries and rejections. And rejections. And rejections. Back to revisions. And how many times does this cycle have to repeat itself, dammit?

In the coming weeks, I'll be talking in more detail about the publishing jouney, about mapping it out fully in the beginning writer's mind, about having realistic expectations for where your horizon is. Why? Because there's nothing worse than seeing a writer lose hope. I've been there. It's not a nice place to be. But it can be much more easily avoided with a little realistic mental preparation.

Writing is a solitary endeavor, but the writer's journey doesn't have to be.

In the meantime, happy roadtripping.


  1. I'm looking forward to reading more of your ideas about this journey. I"d like to recommend this to some of my students. I agree, some writers get all caught up in the commercial success of Rowling or Meyer and assume the same will happen to them--and it's so difficult to assuage them of this opinion.

  2. Great post! Now that the holidays are rolling around, it reminds me of what a terrible time it is to be an unpublished writer. "Oh, you're STILL not published? Weren't you working on that same book last year? How long does it take to write a book anyway?" Thank goodness we writers have each other!

  3. Thanks, Andrea. As a seasoned author, you can certainly speak with authority about the writer's journey. Or at least your unique experiences on it. I'm thrilled you'd want to engage your students in this way and I welcome the discussion. Sometimes it helps to get perspective from other greenhorns like myself - a bit of reassurance from other unpubs that the learning curve doesn't have to be so steep.

  4. Right on, Anna! I know I wouldn't have weathered some of the lows (rejections, endless revisions, critiques) as well as I have had it not been for this wonderful community of writers.