We’ve been talking about what kind of writer we want to be over on DWT… and I realized the real answer for me, many days, is simply PUBLISHED. I want to be the published kind. The kind who can tell her friends where to buy her books. The kind who actually gets paid (even if it’s only a pittance compared to the effort expended). But my urgency some days is admittedly wrapped up in wanting better answers for my family and friends, when they ask, “How’s the writing going?” with increasing trepidation and pity in their eyes. I’m a proud person. I hate that.
In the publishing world, it’s sometimes hard to sort out the “truth” amongst the many myths and slices of wisdom and rules and archaic business practices… And two conflicting “pieces of wisdom” I’ve been thinking about a lot lately are these:
1. If a book is good enough, it will find a home.
2. Even really great books don’t get published and not all books published deserve to be.
Somehow, I’ve managed to exist believing both of these things, even though, they contradict each other on the surface. One of the writing instructors I had when I started writing novels, told me that it takes Talent, Persistence and Luck to get published. (I’ve also seen this listed as Talent, Timing and Tenacity… but you get the idea.) But my instructor said that, in his opinion, 2 of the 3 is enough.
This, to me, explains the really great books not finding homes (talent, but either no luck or no persistence) and the mediocre or even crappy books getting published (no talent, but luck and persistence combining.)
I, and a few other writing friends, have recently suffered a few disappointing setbacks… situations where it looked like good things were about to happen and then they didn’t. At times like those, it’s so easy to assume we suck. That our writing just isn’t good enough. If it was, our books would find homes, right? We’ve been persistent, after all! But I’m still fighting not to get trapped by that self-doubt, however strong it may pull some days. My books, some day, will find a home.
That said, I’m also still fighting to not start house-hunting for my book in neighborhoods I don’t think it belongs in. (That sounded snobby or like I’m pro-segregation.) But, my point is that there are lots of neighborhoods for people to live in, many kinds of houses. Some people want a big yard in the suburbs, some people want to walk to work — and similarily, there are lots of publishing neighborhoods. I think I know which one I want my books to live in, which one would best serve the books, my career aspirations, etc. and I don’t see the point in setting up home, taking the time to decorate etc., in the wrong location, just so I can say I’m published. (Although I concede I may find myself eating these words some day. Perhaps soon.)
Jenny Crusie, in her great inaugural PRO-retreat keynote a few years ago, likened getting your first publishing contract (or, if you’re already published, a book really taking off) to getting struck by lightning. As much as I hate this idea, (too much given over to luck, with super-low odds) it’s also what I live by.
I just need to keep putting more lightning rods out there.