by Jim Sellers
I think it is safe to assume that all authors want to be published. The part of our brains that encourages us to hit SEND on something we’ve written and decided to share with someone – anyone – is the same part that contains the endorphins that will scream “YES, I WANT TO BE PUBLISHED AND RESPECTED AS AN AUTHOR”.
Whether we want to achieve the level of an Erik Larson or Danielle Steel is well beyond our control, but anyone who writes has a fundamental need to have others read and enjoy their work. To counter this tendency, there is an entire industry established to corral those ambitions and shoot them down before any of them get too big and ambitious. It’s called the Publishing Industry, and they have thankfully saved us from millions of works by thousands of authors around the world who have been deemed unworthy.
To be fair to publishers, they do pick up new authors now and then and publish their books. Because of this, writers around the world continue to submit their work for consideration and, inevitably have their hopes dashed on the floor, only to sit at the computer and try again. Like lottery tickets – you probably won’t win, but that doesn’t stop millions from shelling out cash every week to try anyway. This is really what the unpublished author is doing.
Of course, publishers have to make a buck to survive, and today a buck means millions of bucks. The books they print have to sell millions of copies to make millions of bucks. As a result, we have shelves full of books on celebrities, including the likes of Sarah Palin and Justin Bieber, and established writers like Anne Rice or John Grisham in all kinds of stores and websites being bought by millions of people. This is reality; these books make big money so that publishers can continue publishing and can afford to shop around for new authors. At the same time, the market changes constantly. People prefer e-books and audio books over printed books today – but for how long?
Publishers used to control the market and the market used to have clear lines of delineation for ages, genres, buying seasons. For years, the YA market was dominated by stories about girls in romantic situations and adventure stories for boys. I grew up on a steady diet of Henry Gregor Felsen tales about hot rods and guys my age driving fast cars. When Harry Potter hit the market, all the rules changed, primarily because these books appealed to both kids and adults and the traditional verboten subject of murderous evil was breached. Suddenly “tweener” books are a thing and worthy authors such as Katherine Paterson and Gary Paulsen are back in vogue along with endless species of undead and alternative life forms.
So what can a publisher do? Most of the time they watch other trends like politics and celebrities, they follow Twitter and read blogs to see what people like. Hence, we have Julie and Julia, Shit My Dad Says and countless others. Every time a new trend hits, a mass of new writers run to that format.
This begs the question to the unpublished author; do you think you could sell a few million books? Is that even what you want from writing? Do you want to live in the lap of luxury and tour the world greeting hordes of frantic fans? Or, do you just want to have people read your stories?
I know a few published authors who have solid collections of work and who maintain full-time day jobs because the publishing doesn’t pay them enough to live on. There are countless stories of people who struggle to get a publishing deal but, in the end, they don’t sell enough books to cover their advance.
So again, what do you really want? If the answer is B – share my stories with people, and not A – I want to be J. K. Rowling, then please, please, please stop submitting books to agents and publishers. Don’t self-publish and beg stores to carry them. Stop wasting money on printing and self-stamped, addressed envelopes, and just start a website. Just a blog, nothing too difficult. There are so many hosting sites to choose from: Word Press, Blogger, Tumbler are some examples and they are free, easy to set up, and full of features.
Then make a commitment to yourself. Repeat after me, “I will write and publish a new story /chapter /poem /opinion piece /essay /whatever each week/month/etc….” Next, look for places to share your writing, like Web Fiction Guide or LinkedIn. Use Twitter and Facebook to tell people about your stories and – this is important – use tags to attract search engines to your page.
If you can have thousands of people read your story, with or without publishing, isn’t that success? Why do we think that our writing, no matter how wonderful, imaginative and original it is, will be a ticket to the comfortable life of a novelist? This is not a lottery and odds do not increase if we continue to submit manuscripts repeatedly. The story will sell if it can be sold. The reason why we hear of writers being discovered in odd places is that it’s true. Come up with something different and be honest. If the writing is good, the publishers will find you. Until then, be happy that people are reading your work, that’s what you wanted anyway.
About the Writer
By day, Jim is a mild-mannered academic writer and project manager in a Canadian university. By night, he writes fiction, short stories and records his own songs. His professional writing career began in the 1990’s with the acceptance of his first screenplay by a broadcaster. Since then he has worked on television series and documentaries, written for magazines and websites, and managed communications for several non-profit organizations.
His current project is a series of short stories, which will be published later in 2012, and he is completing work on two novels. You can read examples of Jim’s writing on his website: jimzshortstories.