You may have noticed that a lot of writers hang out with other writers. This isn’t because all writers are drunks, though there are some great ones, nor that only writers are fun and creative people, not by a long shot. But, it can help when a writer is going through a period of rejection and needs someone to talk to about it. Because other writers get it. They get the rejection, the fear, the angst, the periods of not writing and complaining, or writing and complaining, or the shoulders you need when well-intentioned friends and family might say something that cuts to the quick. If you’re wondering why your writer friends get testy when talking about their writing, here are some insights:
Writing and getting published are two different things.
Say this a few times. Please. They are both tough and they are completely separate entities. Let’s talk about why.
What’s all the writing about?
It’s those things that we willingly subject ourselves to on a daily (when it’s good) or weekly or monthly basis (when it’s not). Sometimes we have to. Sometimes we like to. Often, it’s what we know how to do or something that we have come to. We are usually insecure about our writing. This is because we all do it differently and get different results. It’s sort of like cooking. Sometimes we don’t feel like it, but then we get it done and we think, that was such a good idea. I really needed that. We might cook things that you would never eat. We might cook things you’ve never heard of. And, most people don’t care or mind about that. But, there’s sometimes a part of us that wants to cook for others. We might have started out with dinner parties or have gotten together and shared a dish. Maybe someone liked it or didn’t. Maybe we got some encouragement or feedback. But it unlocked something for us. And, from that point on, we were cooking a bit all the time. Reading recipes, trying to learn from other cooks, and a little part of us hoping someday we will get to be a chef.
Now, you might think there are lots of ways to enjoy cooking without being a chef. This is very true. It’s true of people who even go to culinary school. But, if you start mentioning to people that you went to school for culinary arts, or that you spend your free time cooking, they might start to wonder when you’re going to get a job in it.
You might start out working in a diner, then move on to a larger place or someplace with a bit more flair; you might help out with catering here and there and start teaching some others some of your tricks.
And you might keep dreaming of landing that head chef position at a prestigious restaurant or starting up your own place.
Now we’re getting much closer to the publishing discussion.
So, here’s the thing. That all takes a really long time. Sometime it never happens at all. It also takes an enormous amount of time and effort to constantly put your work out for others to sample. Maybe you’d find a mentor who could help you with networking. Maybe you would meet someone who could help you finance your dream.
Maybe if you were a writer, you could find an agent, then a publisher, then one day see your book in print.
What probably wouldn’t help is learning the recipe for a friend’s blueberry muffins. Yes, I’m referring to the “you should write my story” line.
We have ideas. We have lots and lots of ideas and stories. We are overflowing. If you want to write a story, we can probably help you get started. But, we do not have the time nor inclination to write your story.
Okay – enough with the cooking. You get the idea.
So here’s what we’ve been doing holing up in our offices, trailers, caves, coffee tables.
Writing, staring at the wall and thinking, worrying, writing some more.
Editing our previous work, worrying why it wasn’t good enough for the 25 places we submitted it to. Think for a second the last time 25 people rejected you for something. If it was a job, you might think you were in the wrong field. This is typical for writers. We do worry we should quit. But 25 rejections are nothing. 100 are maybe a nudge towards revision. We have to weather that if we want to have a chance.
Reading. Reading some more. Reading debut authors – those people you’ve never heard of – we buy and read those books. We read established authors too. We read widely. Then we read obscure little journals that cost $15 each. We read the tiny stories and poems. We think about how they work. We share them with others. Then we send our work to those places that we like the most.
Researching. Research agents and journals and publishing houses – not the big ones like you’ve heard of on the news, the tiny imprints or start-ups. We try to support them. They are often our best chance of publishing in today’s market.
Contacting agents. Yes, we are calling in networking or sending cold-call emails to the slush pile, after having carefully crafted letters to these over-worked, blurry-eyed agents who often try to be kind.
Then we wait. Oh yeah, those 25 rejections we got? Those took 3 months. Agents or independent presses might take 6 or 8 months to respond.
This is all after we’ve drafted a story eight times. Or twenty times. Or written a 350-page novel and reworked it for two years, sending it through beta readers and friends, asking for constructive criticism, then having to deal with the parts that aren’t working or don’t communicate our vision. All of these things are really hard. They are. But we like parts of it. And, we really like parts of the writing and the reading. We think we’re going to like the publishing parts. If we happen to get a story or poem out there, it feels really, really good.
Self-publishing is a choice that people make for a variety of reasons. Some people self-publish really strong, articulate, and compelling books. Self-publishing is a different system than traditional publication, and it is up to the author to make that decision. However, if writers are going through all the steps above, they have likely decided not to self-publish. Maybe they feel that traditional publishing has more respect, maybe they feel as if they want to earn the scouting badge of publication, or maybe they need it for a job or other reason. Regardless, those two avenues of publication are not viewed the same in the corporate and publishing worlds. A suggestion for self-publishing is often not a helpful one.
So, when we’ve been writing and revising a book for three years and sending it out to agents for more than six months and it seems long enough that it should have been published already and you say so, forgive us if we cry, order a beer, or launch into a tirade. It seems long to us too. It is long. It is part of the process. We don’t know when it will end.
What do we do? We go back to writing. We read some more. We hope we are getting better. We start over. We still call ourselves writers. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read anything I’ve written or if I haven’t made money by my writing. I am still a writer. I am still here. I am still going.