Dear fellow writer
Most of us who pick up a pen or clack away at the keyboard, toiling at our book, do so in the hope of one day being published. We long to be known by that hallowed title of AUTHOR.
The truth is, however, that not all written work should be published.
This does not mean you should quit writing. On the contrary, there is great creative and personal satisfaction in putting words on paper meaningfully. But maybe this book you’re working on is not destined for print.
The question is: how will you know?
I would like to share ten possible warning signs that should make you rethink your motives to publish.
1) You were a great writer at school/college.
Here’s the thing. The sort of rhetoric one produces for academic approval as a student is seldom of the nature or quality that a reader in the open market would pay money to enjoy.
Is it possible to apply your natural talent from your student days to novels and non-fiction works? Absolutely! Will it be enough? That depends on the individual. But simply relying on success from your teenage years is a recipe for disaster.
2) Everyone tells you that you should.
Let’s face it: hearing the words, “You should publish this!” is great for the ego of the budding author. The fact that this recommendation usually comes from the lips of friends and family, does not make it worth less, but the loyalty of loved ones can make them biased.
That’s why it is important to join a writing critique group and involve Beta readers whom you are not personally connected to. If the general public agrees that your work deserves a space on their bookshelves, that is a better indication of your potential success than the private support of your inner circle.
3) You want to make money.
Can you make a living from writing? For sure! Copywriters, journalists, how-to manual developers, and web content creators — to mention a few — may have full-time or freelance employment that pays the bills.
But novelists, poets and non-fiction authors usually work on their writing part-time because they need a fulltime job to pay the bills, even when they have been published! A “successful” publication may earn you, say $10,000, which sounds great, but you can’t survive on that unless you are churning out equally successful books every few months.
“But Elizabeth,” I hear you say, “what about those authors who are making six figures a year, every year?” The cold fact is that this is by no means the norm. Success in publishing is not necessarily linked to a huge income. A book might sell really well at first, but typically sales peter off after the first few months, often dwindling to a steady trickle. That’s why you keep writing: because you love it, and because readers are looking for the next good book.
4) You want to be famous.
The remarkable success story of J.K. Rowling - the literary world’s only billionaire - has encouraged the idea that authors can be superstars, too. However, this is extremely rare.
Actually, most writers are quite introverted, and rather enjoy NOT being in the spotlight. Which is just as well, because authors often only achieve fame once a book has been made into a movie.
More typically, to achieve fame, you would need to build up a loyal following through a series of consistently well-loved books. That means a lot of hard work, and a lot of luck. See #6.
5) You have a great idea.
I should think so! There really is very little point in writing with a view to publishing if you don’t have a great idea. But so do literally millions of other aspiring authors.
Having an amazing concept means very little if you cannot translate it into awesome writing. In fact, the great idea is less important than great writing. Well-honed writing skills can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Many popular books are variations on well-loved (but sometimes overused) themes. It is the author’s individual voice that gives it freshness.
6) You believe you are a better writer than someone else who was published.
Some writers are incredibly self-deprecating, while others suffer from delusions of grandeur, and there is a whole range of personalities in between.
The thing is, even if you’re right, and your work is particularly promising, the world of publishing is finicky. It is, first and foremost, a commercial business. Publishers want to make money, so they seek books/authors that they hope will help them make this money. Sometimes, this means that they seek what is popular rather than what is particularly good. If it sells, they are not so much concerned with the caliber of writing (within reason), but rather that the readers are buying the copies.
Add to this the continuously increasing number of writers seeking publication, and it is not surprising that great authors can be lost in the crowd. Agents and publishers can only process so many queries in a year. Even if you are the next best thing since sliced bread, you may never be published, even if you deserve to be.
7) Your book is your “baby”.
During — and shortly after — the writing process, you are likely to feel a very close connection to your book. After all, writing is a creative process. Using your artistic skill is very personal, and you are likely to feel protective over your newly-made creation.
That is why it is wise to spend time on a different project and create some distance from your just-finished work. You will need to be able to hear constructive criticism from your critique group, your Beta readers, your editor, and your agent (if you go the traditional route). If you are too emotionally attached to your words and ideas, you will not be able to make real strides in improving them, and your book will never reach publication quality.
8) You believe you can always self-publish.
Self-publishing has become a very real and profitable alternative to traditional publishing… for some. This is especially true for those authors who have not managed the very tricky dance of finding the perfect agent to match their book, or because the pitching process was simply not their strength.
BUT they have clear plans for how to go about marketing their book through social media, and the patience and persistence to build up their social media presence for this to succeed.
The fact is that literary agents sometimes say no because the book truly isn’t ready for publication. To stubbornly persist in self-publishing under these circumstances is to present a version of your work that is not ready to be seen. And, once you have self-published a book, very few agents will thereafter want to represent it, even if you have now made significant improvements to the book since publication.
9)You've spent all this time on the book already.
That’s OK. You didn’t waste any of that time. The first book you write will, in all probability, be the one you look back on in years to come with a realization of how far you’ve come since then. Maybe you will even decide to rework it later, using the experience you have gained.
But don’t assume a book has to be published just because it is written. There are plenty of authors who used their first book as their steepest learning curve.
10) If this book doesn't succeed, you're done trying.
If you’re going to be a career author, even part-time, you’re going to have to keep writing, and learning, and growing. Layers of life-experience, exposure to the great writing of fellow-authors, and the steady improvement of your own skills — these will add greater maturity to your craft.
So, maybe you misjudged the available market for your book. Maybe you need to fine-tune your skill. Maybe you haven’t found the genre that is right for you. Don’t give up. Write the next book. An author is nothing if not brave, stubbornly optimistic, and resilient. Keep the big picture. Being published is immensely gratifying, but it is not the only goal.
Now, what are you waiting for? Go and write another chapter, a paragraph, a sentence. Do research to make your book’s world more believable. And enjoy the journey!