I recently reread an article by Jennifer Crusie: “A Writer Without a Publisher is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle.” Jenny raises some important points about the quest for publication. Go ahead and read it now.
Interpretation is a funny thing. I can interpret Jenny’s words to mean that self-publishing is an act of someone desperate to be published (any publisher is better than no publisher) or I can interpret them as endorsing self-publishing as “digging a wider hole.” It’s easy since she doesn’t mention self-publishing directly in any way.
But I have to ask, if publishing shouldn’t be a goal, why submit? If the process of creation is all that matters, we should just leave our stories on our hard drives. If having people read our stuff is the goal, we can just put it up on fanfic sites or our own websites, or on Smashwords for free. The argument has been made in earlier comments that traditional publishing will expose our work to a broader audience. This is true, if you make the cut. But it still means that publishing is a goal.
I agree with Crusie on her other points. Giving away your power to is not a healthy mental space to be in, so making publishing your Primary goal is not in your best interests.
Here’s another way to look at the question. Writing is a business, but it’s not quite like making and selling widgets. An author’s emotions go into their product. It’s that emotion, along with craft, that makes a story come alive. As Crusie enjoins us, when we write the stories we need to write, we take back control of our lives because we’re meeting our own needs, not looking for validation elsewhere. We’re the ones determining success, and it’s based on our pleasure in writing and our passion for craft, not on whether somebody in New York thinks what we write is marketable.
That’s all well and good, but if it’s a business, some of our satisfaction comes from successfully and profitably getting our work into the hands of paying customers. And that may mean doing something new and different from what we’ve done before. We may have to develop a new skill that will appeal to the consumer.
For example, I’m currently learning to add more sensuality to my stories. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but I want to learn how to do it effectively, partly because I think it will make my work more salable. By Crusie’s definition, I’m giving up control to New York. By my definition, I’m expanding my craft because adding sensuality is not fundamentally changing the stories I want to tell.
So if “Being published” shouldn’t be your primary goal, what should your goal(s) be?
Lisa Cotrell-Bentley, an indie publisher, recently mentioned she was having fun. Oh yeah! Fun! I remember that! And that dovetails with what Crusie was writing about. Writing what’s important to us, what we’re passionate about, is fun. Writing synopses and submitting is not fun (usually), nor is waiting to hear back from editors, but getting published is fun, so I do it anyway. The idea of designing my own cover and frugally self-publishing is fun. Doing lots of social media to promote it, not so much, but then, stepping outside one’s comfort zone rarely is.
The point is, not every aspect of writing is fun or even satisfying. But most of it should be. If it’s not, we should take a good hard look at why we’re doing this.