Monday, December 10, 2012

I Don't Want to Talk About Publishing Ever Again

I love meeting other writers in-person. It's a fun way to make new friends, and there's something about the group mentality that can't be replaced by computers.

There's one thing about in-person writers I hate. Hate is a strong word... which is why I used it. They're obsessed with publishing!

I suppose this is an odd complaint; since I quit my day-job to write, I'm also "obsessed with publishing." What bothers me is I can't get in a discussion about writing without hearing everyone's thirst for validation. If we talk about writing and publishing doesn't come up, it's as if the whole conversation is wasted.

Let me back up a little; talking about publishing isn't inherently annoying. Goodness knows, I discuss getting agents with people online all the time. It's just that all the publishing discussions I've gotten into with writers face-to-face are unproductive.

First off, everyone has a different opinion of what "published" means. We use that one word to define nearly ten different things.

I remember being told someone was published and gazing at that person in awe, only to discover the person paid to print 500 copies of a book and hasn't sold any of them. There isn't anything wrong with that! I think printing your book is fantastic. But it's not what I thought the person meant. When I was disappointed, the person was hurt.

You have to define what "published" means to the people you're speaking with before you can discuss it. This can create many disagreements and bruised egos.

Second off, it becomes the blind leading the blind. Everyone thinks they know everything about publishing and they want to grace others with their expertise. 

The leader of my last writer's group always told others what they needed to do in order to get published, even though he had been looking for an agent for years and had no idea himself. "This will never get published" became a phrase he used almost daily.

Every time he told us something we wrote could never be published, I wanted to scream at him, "What do you expect us to do? Tear it up and throw it away because it has no value? Can we please write nonpunishable crap without you policing us?!?"

I wish more people would write for writing's sake. Even if publishing is our primary goal in life, we can enjoy the journey without the pressure of accomplishment.

Since too many people know too little about publishing, it opens itself up to too many arguments. With a different group, someone thought it was ridiculous that ebooks cost as much as printed books. I was about to explain that ebooks cost just as much to make (the material of a printed book only cost $1, and you still have to pay for the author, agent, editor, format, cover, distributor, etc.). But as soon as I said "They cost the same to make," someone sitting next to me said, "That's not true."

Oooooo, it makes mad when people do that. I wanted to turn to him and say, "You caught me; I just made it up off the top of my head. I do that sometimes, say random untrue things for no reason."

I cooled down when I realized that again, we were talking about completely different forms of publishing. He was a professor who was about to print a textbook when he realized it would be cheaper to create an ebook. He launched into a rant about how ebook sellers are trying to steal our money, ignoring what I had to say.

This rant is getting long, but I've gained momentum and now I can't stop.

Another thing that gets under my skin is the idea that everyone has to have the same goal. After Nano I asked a friend of mine if she was going to do Camp Nano in the summer. She looked sad as she said, "I have to revise my last book first."

I said, "You don't have to do any revisions." She looked confused, so I went on. "You don't have to do anything. If you want to put your book on a shelf and move on to something else, then you should do it. Who says we have to edit everything we write?"

The biggest reason I hate talking about publishing is this: it's cruel.

Most of the writers you meet will never be published. There's nothing wrong with that. We can all live happy, fulfilling lives writing, revising, printing, self-publishing, or whatever strikes our fancies. That's okay.

Instead of sending out the message that whatever you do is worth doing, we send the message of "You can be famous! Climb that mountain! Reach for the sky! Follow the American Dream!" Then when they get to the end of their lives and they're still unpublished, they end up an unbearably cynical old man.

Getting published is important to me. But I'm tired of the confusion, pressure, hurt feelings, bad advice, egotism, and all the negative feelings when we discuss it. When I meet writers in person, I want to talk about writing.

10 comments:

  1. I understand your pain! I wonder if we always talk about publishing because with most groups of writers that's the one thing that connects us? If we all write different genres, then what would be the one thing that draws us all together? Getting published, I guess.

    Good rant!

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  2. I think it just depends on the writer's goal. If their goal is to be published, that's what they'll want to talk about. Not all writers are that way, though. Some write for therapy (I know some vets who do this) and others write to pass stories onto their grandkids (I've also met people like that...very cool) and others write hoping they'll have their books on a shelf...also good.

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  3. I believe we all want to be successful published authors. I hope we all know that our goal there won't happen without some very serious dedication to the craft of writing. Good writing sometimes occurs; great writing is the result of working hard at writing.

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  4. Can you and I become best writing friends? I say this because I am a part of several writer's groups and sometimes I feel like an underachiever. There are folks in groups who have published (mostly self-pub) two and three times over. But I just want to hone my craft, find my voice and tell an awesome story without going to get a BFA or a MFA. Thank you for this post. I am glad I am not the only one overwhelmed with all the publishing talk.
    I would say that maybe all this publishing talk is a symptom of the recent explosion in ebooks and self-publishing and print on demand and Amazon. Maybe it will all calm down to some sort of equilibrium some day but until then, terrified newbies like myself will continue to search for balance. But for now - just help me write! :-)

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  5. I think this is a rant that needs to happen every so often to keep our heads on straight. Thanks for bearing the burden of being the rant-er.

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  6. I enjoyed this rant. I think that some people write solely for their own pleasure and that's just fine. Others want other people to read them and that might mean they read their work to friends (or foes) at a writing group or become the most highly read authors of the year. One thing which epublishing is doing is blurring the boundaries between the two extremes.

    Like you I think the important things are the writing and the reading.

    By the way, I thought the leader of your last writing group should not have been in a position where he was the leader of anything.

    Martin Lake

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    Replies
    1. I know! They were trying to get a new leader when I left. Hopefully they were able to make a change for the better.

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  7. I can see how publishing is forefront on many a writer's mind. But when gathering with other artists, I much rather enjoy talking creativity, artistic process and the like. I find those kinds of discussions energizing.

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