Friday, September 5, 2014

5 Ways to Tell if You'll Be Published (and Why They're Wrong)

Let me be clear up front: I am not (nor will I ever be) in a position to tell anyone whether or not they're going to "make it" in the writing business. But I've seen a bunch of blog posts either in the form of a list, a quiz, or just general advice purporting to inform readers whether or not they've got the stuff it takes to nab a book deal. It's usually meant to be encouraging, but honestly, I think it sometimes has the opposite effect. Here's some examples of what I mean:

1. "You'll never be a writer if you give up."
The problem: I'm pretty sure that quite a few published writers out there have, at some point, thrown down their mighty pens in frustration and declared, "I give up!" And meant it, too. Why does it have to be that we're either throwing our all into writing or we're doing nothing? I think we're all allowed to take breaks from the writing and publishing journey without feeling like we fall into that dreaded category of "people who gave up."

2. "You must love writing even if you're not having any success with publication."
There's this idea that we as writers should be totally, completely in love with writing all the time, even in the face of rejection. But we're not. And I don't think that's weird. Some days sitting down in front of the computer to work on the next manuscript when you just got hammered with rejections on the last one is not that fun. And that's okay. "Dealing with rejection" doesn't mean it never affects you.

3. "You'll never be a writer if you don't listen to advice."
The problem: I'd love for this one to be true. There's few things more frustrating than the guy who brags he can do all this awesome stuff and then, dang it, he actually can. But let's face it, some people think they're brilliant writers and turns out, they are. Good for them. But that aside, not all advice is good advice. Not even all advice that comes from an established writer is good advice. I was advised to trunk one of my YA manuscripts by a writer with a fairly successful editing service. It's so far been the manuscript that's gotten the most requests for more material. By an impressive margin. Which brings me to my next point...

4. "Successful writers get better with each manuscript."
I don't know who thought this one up. Seriously. After that manuscript got all those requests, my head was filled images of how my next manuscript was obviously going to "the one." I mean, I could hardly get any closer to landing an agent than I already had without actually having an offer. Only I didn't get offers with the next one. I barely got requests at all. Or the next one. And the infuriating thing was that all my beta readers seemed to think the subsequent manuscripts actually were better than my earlier one. But the number of rejections sure didn't feel like it. I think we have to allow ourselves the chance to write things that aren't as good as before. If we're always supposed to get better, we won't take chances for fear of slipping backwards. And sometimes slipping backwards is the only way to learn something new.

5. "No one who writes this bad will ever make it."
Thankfully, no one's ever said this to me. But I have seen it said (or at least, heavily implied) about others. I think good writers can start at any level. I really do. And I don't think there's any writer or editor out there who can look at a piece of writing like it's some kind of crystal ball and declare, "never." Never is a long time. People can learn a lot during never.

Just as a final disclaimer, this blog post is not intended to dissect or criticize the advice of any one person. It's just some general observations I've made. And if you're like me and feel like maybe what Author X said was true, that you're just not cut out for this, I just want to encourage you. People aren't fortune tellers. If you want to keep trying, keep trying. I'll be right there with you.

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