Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is Your Goal to be Published?

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been introduced in various ways to several new writers. They all had one thing in common—no idea what they were doing, or what it took to be published. In fact, one woman was complaining to me that she had received several rejections from publishing houses because they didn’t like the way her novel was written, but she didn’t want to change her novel to suit their needs.

Meeting these people took me back many moons ago to when I first decided to take my writing seriously. In July 2006, I had one novel that was about halfway finished. Inspired by a co-worker, I had been working on the novel for about six months, but kind of lost steam after I moved from Kansas to Texas and became a stay-at-home mom. However, with the extra time I had on my hands (in what little spurts the newborn baby slept and I didn’t sleep with her), I decided to finish my novel.

The first thing I did was join a novel workshop group on Writing.Com. The Novel Workshop Group was a large workshop, divided into several genres with their own forums. To have your novel on the board, you had to commit to providing one review of another person’s chapter per week. That was doable for me, so I delved on into the Young Adult workshop.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I honestly don’t remember much about my first review, but I will say that the first few that I received were real eye-openers. Apparently there was a lot more to writing a novel than sitting down and pouring your heart out onto a blank page. It seemed there were stuff like rules and guidelines. People expected you to be aware of character arcs, plot development, setting, etc. I didn’t even know half of what they were talking about. So, I swallowed my pride, absorbed each review, and started doing my own research.

I found blogs by writers and agents. I signed up for newsletters. I went to the store (when I could afford to) and bought books on writing and editing. I found out that I had barely scratched the surface of this crazy world we call writing and publishing. I was merely a very small fish in a massive pond.

One of the most important things I learned was that we should always be teachable. We never know it all, especially in the world of publishing where everything is always changing. Reader’s tastes change, which means what the publishers are looking for changes, which means what we are expected to produce changes. Even if those didn’t change, we would still never be perfect. There’s always something to improve upon.

Which brings us back to these new writers and their frustration with not being able to write the way they want. Is it okay for them to ignore the very things we work so hard to learn and channel?

Of course it is.

It becomes an issue of their goal with writing the story. Do they write for themselves? Or do they write to be published? If they write because they just feel that story needs to be told, and the only people who will probably ever see it are friends and family, they can write however they want. And yes, the people that read their story will probably even gush over how wonderful it is. (Yes, generally what your mom says is only about 5% helpful—she’ll love whatever you write.)

But if their goal is to be published—to have a publishing house offer them a book contract with advances and royalties and whatever else—then they have to learn that their way isn’t necessarily the right way. They have to bend to the will of the man! (Or so to speak) This may mean making hard decisions on characters and plot development. It may mean joining an AA group (Adverbs Anonymous), or taking classes on the basics of writing fiction.

So what is your goal? Or what have you learned about the business or about writing that surprised you?


  1. Hi Ralene

    One week ago I would have agreed with every word. But I'm puzzled now after having read the first few pages of "The Road". I loved the film, but I was disappointed at a novel filled with broken sentences, and yet it got published and became a film.

    You'll see things.

  2. Some great points! Definitely agree with your statements,"One of the most important things I learned was that we should always be teachable...There’s always something to improve upon." It's being teachable and knowing that we haven't arrived that allows us to grow and become better writers! God bless!

  3. Ralene, I completely agree with you--we should be open to new things while being aware of what we should and shouldn't do. (And there is no shame in being clueless about it when you're just starting out, like I told Sultry/JD.)

    @Miguel: The author of The Road has been published many times and I believe he's been on the NYT Bestseller list a few times as well. I have not (and completely refuse to) read the book. =)

  4. I'm not sure if anything has really surprised me about the publishing world since I've spent my time doing the research ahead of time. I write for myself and with the goal to be published some day. I write because I have the desire, I have stories that want to be written and the publishing is more of an icing on the cake concept at this point.

    My issue is not with new writer's and their thoughts on the easiness of publication. What I've noticed is the non-writers and how they can weigh down on some of us with their lack of understanding. I know a few younger writers, for example, whose parents are very naive about the struggles it really takes to write and get published. It can cause some problems and be difficult to work through.

    Now, on the comments topic of McCarthy. He indeed has many books published. One of the more popular ones being No Country For Old Men, which was made into a popular movie. I haven't seen or read it. I had to read his very first published book for a novel writing class and oh gods. It wasn't the technical aspect of sentences and such, but overall. I'm not dumb but I could not understand The Orchard Keeper. So much of it confused me beyond all frustration.

    One thing I think some people forget is that there is a part of this publishing goal that us writers don't have control over. We can't control what the agents/publishers will think or like. We can control our craft and that's why we should focus on it.

  5. Thanks for chiming in! Yes, there are always exceptions to the rules. Some people who head-hop like crazy get published, some who definitely belong in AA still find their books on the shelves. But these are exceptions, and not the norm. You know?

  6. I can relate! I was so clueless about many things with writing when I started. But it gave me a great starting off point. We DO have to be humble and teachable!

  7. After 10 years of working on and off on my first book, I finally went to my Husband and said something like "No holds barred, nothing's written in stone or sacred. I know I need to completely redesign this so what's your thoughts?"
    "Really?" he asked. "Now you're starting to sound serious about getting published. Well, to start with So-and-so has always bugged me." And so we proceeded to axe half a dozen characters, reconstruct a new magic system from the ground up, eradicate an entire country, alter other governments/realms/cultures/races beyond recognition, take a chainsaw to my plotline and subplots alike...
    Painful, but I don't regret it.


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