I read a piece yesterday by an aspiring writer that kind of bummed me out. She was clearly having a moment (we all have them) during which she was wondering if writing was really her calling and if it was something she was ultimately cut out for. She’d just had a brush with massive success (an article that went viral), but still felt empty. Still felt like she hadn’t truly made it.
And why not? Because offers from agents/publishers hadn’t rolled in. Because no one had seen her piece and offered her a job.
I can understand. In the writing world, there is a large amount of pressure to not only get attention, but to get the right kind of attention. Attention from the public is one thing (as you would get from a viral blog or article), but attention from someone in The Industry—well that shows that you’re a “real” writer. I think any of us who plunk words on a page for a living or even as a hobby have fallen victim to that kind of pressure at one time or another. In fact, I know some writers who truly believe it.
I am of the opinion that all of it is hogwash. Bullshit, even. I take this strong, oppositional stance not because I’m thumbing my nose at The Industry or anything like that, but rather because I think there are many diverse paths to success. I think that “success” as a concept can only be defined by the individual, and sometimes, the most direct path to it is by revamping the idea of what “it” even is. In order to get what you really want, you must first figure out what it really is that you want.
For example: do you want to be a writer? Do you write? Then there you go. You’re a writer.
It’s easy to get hung up on the publishing industry and what it means to share your work with the public. The exciting thing about being alive right now is that everything has changed over the last decade. Traditional publishing is still a very cool thing, and securing a book deal is an outstanding accomplishment. That said, self-publishing is more popular than ever, and it is no longer the red-headed stepchild of the literary world. There are some phenomenal authors and writers who self-publish, and their reasons for choosing that route are varied.
The point at which the flock gets separated is at the exact point where the rubber meets the road. It all comes down to how badly you want what you want. Do you want to have a published book? You can do that. It is extremely hard work to generate a successful career out of self-publishing, but I know plenty of people who do it. The thing they all have in common? They write constantly, they are rarely deterred by setbacks, and they are always open to suggestions and feedback. None of the great self-published authors I know are shameless self-promoters. In fact, that very behavior is a bit of a turn-off. They let their writing and storytelling do the promotion for them. That’s not to say they are hermits who are hiding under rocks—they have websites and social media presence—but the “promotion” side of the business very much takes a backseat to the writing side.
Now, if what you really want is to be noticed by one of the Big Four or even by a prominent agent, then that is an entirely different game that I believe involves luck and impeccable timing. The only way to have a chance at winning that game is to put your work out there and send well-crafted queries to the people who are most likely to listen. Industry research and practice will absolutely help (as will an excellent manuscript), but sometimes even the best book just isn’t what The Industry is looking for right now. If rejection is too discouraging, then this path to success could be a rough one for you. Very few people hit it big right out of the gate. The ones who ultimately win out can probably show you an entire Home Depot Moving Box: Size Large full of rejection letters. It’s not personal—it’s business—and it’s part of the process.
So back to this writer who bummed me out. Her story made me sad because I know there are so many ways to have a personally and financially satisfying writing career. It’s incredibly hard work, and it involves a lot of scrapping and uncertainty. It requires audacity and humility at the same time. It involves writing, above all else, even when you are fairly certain no one is reading.
Dedication to any craft must be a labor of love. If writing is your thing and you truly love it, then do it as often as possible. Success is available for anyone who wants it and works for it, and the only way to reach it is to try, practice, trip, fall down, get back up, try, and practice some more.
Feeling discouraged? Drop me a line. We’re all in this together, and I’d love to help you get past whatever roadblock is holding you back.