Thursday, April 19, 2018

You Don't Have To Be Good To Get Published

I've met a lot of writers who want to take a crack at the big leagues. Some of them were really good, some of them were mediocre, and some of them were outright bad... but they all said the same thing when I asked them why they didn't act on their desire to send their books off to a publisher.

"I'm not good enough to get published."

You might be surprised.
While I'm all about being self-aware about your skill level as a writer, this is a common misconception that I think holds a lot of people back. Because we look at the books that inspired us, or that awed us, and we think that's the standard we have to meet before we'll be given a publishing contract.

If you want to disabuse yourself of the notion that only great authors get published, go dig around in the bargain bin at your local bookstore. Because I promise you there will be some stinkers in there. However, those books were written by someone, published by someone, and put on the shelves by a company who expected to make money.

There is also something else you're not seeing, though. That there are a lot of really good books (or at least really successful books) that get rejected over and over again. Many times to the point where the authors either stopped submitting them, or considered giving up. If you've heard the stories about J.K. Rowling's first Potter book, or the crazy circumstances that led to the Eragon series being published the way it was, then you've got an example of both ends of this spectrum.

Take A Chance (Because Skill Is Just One Part Of It)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again; success as an author is largely a matter of luck. While being a good writer helps, you're more on the whims of fate than ever before. For example, if you had a steampunk novel right around the time the genre was first blowing up, then chances are good you got snapped right up off the slush pile. Not only that, but people would be looking for exactly what you'd put out, and there wouldn't have been a great deal of competition at the time. On the other hand, you could write a compelling narrative with all the bells and whistles these days, but that genre just isn't in demand.

So, through no fault of your own, your timing might have been the difference between victory and success.

Does the mob love Thracian gladiators this season? Bully for you!
While being "good" in terms of storytelling chops, narrative flow, and unique style are all helpful, those things are not enough to guarantee success all on their own. At the same time, being workmanlike in your story construction (or even blisteringly mediocre), are not things that will stop you from being successful if other factors are in your favor. Popularity of your genre, catchiness of your title, lucky marketing breaks, and even positive reviews from unexpected sources (which is why every Clive Barker book has a positive quote from Stephen King on the cover) can all be what makes or breaks your attempt to publish, sell, and succeed.

Spin The Wheel... What Have You Got To Lose?

You might be right about not being as skilled as your idols. You might have a long way to go when it comes to reaching your full potential as a writer. However, if you have a complete story, there's a better-than-even chance there's an audience out there who would like to take a look at it. You've got nothing to lose by sending it to a publisher (or just publishing it yourself).

And, of course, the more times you spin the wheel, the better your chances of hitting it big are.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. While less about specific structure in your writing, I mostly wanted to let people know not to focus too much on meeting some arbitrary goal before they decided to send their work out into the world. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive. To stay up on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to support me and my work, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or click here to Buy Me A Ko-Fi!

1 comment:

  1. Quality writing is often subjective. Hell, if John Grisham and E.L. James (“Fifty Shades of Grey”) can get published, anyone can! I believe that good writing is always accompanied by good editing. But good luck is really when opportunity and preparation meet.

    Personally, my only true writing success (aside from letters to a magazine or newspaper editor) has been my own blog. If I don’t get published outside of that in this lifetime, then I just won’t get published. It would be disappointing, but I wouldn’t feel like an absolute failure. If you try your best to get something done, you really haven’t failed. The circumstances around you may have prevented you from achieving your goals. But I still might get something published after I’m gone. And that’s not a bad thing!

    I don’t write to get rich and famous. Of course, that would be incredible and preferable. But I understand the brutal reality of being a professional artist. I’m no fool either way! Regardless, I’ll just keep writing.