Monday, January 12, 2015

On Being a Writer: Writing and Publishing

I started reading a novel recently where what mattered was being published. I stopped after four chapters. The writing was bad. What got it published was lust dripping from every page. I suppose some authors would be thrilled to write like that if it meant being published.

I wasn’t. You might call me the reluctant novelist.

I worked on my first novel, Dancing Priest, for years before I showed the manuscript, or even the piece of the manuscript, to anyone. I wasn’t uninterested in publishing it; I joined online groups, followed what everyone was saying about publishing, followed the blogs of agents and publishers, sent our query letters to agents, and talked to editors and others writers. And I was reading a lot of fiction, both in the general and Christian genres.

I attended a writers conference, and even had a session with an editor who had read a portion of my manuscript and then a group reading session with an agent and other writers. Both sessions were personally encouraging. I kept at it. I even kept writing after an awful experience with a review and an editor that taught me that Christian publishing was little different than general publishing. It’s a business, like any other business, and it is business considerations that rule over everything else, including what kind of quality is published.

So when a small publisher approached me and said they had heard I had a manuscript, I said no. It took almost a year of prodding before I finally agreed to let the publisher see it. When they came back with the offer to publish, it took six months for me to agree. I was still reacting to that negative experience, and I also understood what kind of effort would be required to market and promote the book. I already had a full-time job that was about 50 percent more than full-time job.

We went ahead and published. And I was right to have been worried – the amount of time required was huge, in reverse proportion to the result achieved. The same thing happened with the sequel, A Light Shining.

But I learned, and I think I learned a lot. And that made the entire experience worth it.

In On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts, Charity Craig (co-author with Ann Kroeker) quotes author Anne Lamott, who frequently sees people at writing workshops who are less interested in writing and more in being published. “The problem that comes up over and over again,” she says, “is that these people want to be published. They kind of want to write, but they really want to be published. You’ll never get to where you want to be that way, I tell them.”

Charity and Ann both describe their own experiences with trying to be published. Both eventually got there, but not because they wanted to be published. They wanted to be writers first; they wanted to tell the story they had in them to tell. They both eventually realized that sometimes, and perhaps most of the time, it’s better to concentrate on the writing and making your story the best it can be before rushing out to try to get published. And sometimes life intervenes, and your writing dreams get put to the side.

The writing is what matters.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Mary Sayler said...

Thanks for this perspective, Glynn. Other poets and writers will welcome this, too, so I'll highlight your post on the Christian Poets & Writers blog -

Unknown said...

Very helpful. Thank you, Glynn!

Martha Jane Orlando said...

I love the fact that my books have been published, but it truly is about the writing. One must be called to it and keep at it first and foremost.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Glynn!

Ann Kroeker said...

I love reading your writing and publishing story (and priorities), Glynn. Thank you for sharing it and revealing some of the behind-the-scenes realities.