To Thine Own Self Be True

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.

http://www.jennycrusie.com/for-writers/essays/a-writer-without-a-publisher-is-like-a-fish-without-a-bicycle-writers-liberation-and-you/

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.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “To Thine Own Self Be True

  1. Hey there! Great blog. Come over and visit mine now that it’s open. WINK. First of all, I know what you’re saying and understand it totally. I think the main thing writers tend to forget after they’ve been writing awhile (and especially after they are published) is that if the writing is all about being published, if it is all about making money or writing what the market says it wants, the writer may soon face writer’s block. Or just not caring about the stories they’re writing. One of the greatest struggles in my publishing career is coming to understand what type of career is actually best for me. Everyone says there is one right way to do this writing thing “successfully” and that often means the way they’ve been told by everybody else is the right way to do things. I think my favorite part of Crusie’s statement is this: “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.” Amen, Jennifer. I’m getting that through my head. When it comes down to it, for me personally, that is the only way I can write a good story. Trying to adapt to the point that I’m trying to figure out what NY wants or any other publisher wants has caused me far more pain than pleasure. My best work is when I write what I want. But that’s just me. Other people will find the best method for them. That’s just the rub. If an author doesn’t find out what THEY really want to do, they are doomed to find far more pain than pleasure.

    Denise A. Agnew

    • If an author doesn’t find out what THEY really want to do, they are doomed to find far more pain than pleasure

      So very true. I remember you talking about this at our RWA chapter. It’s very important and all too easy to forget.

  2. 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.

    Isn’t there another element here, though? It seems to me that adding sensuality doesn’t only make a romance novel more salable or appealing to New York … it seems like it would make it stronger in its own right, too.

    It’s the rare change I’ve made that’s only for commercial reasons–when I get an editorial letter, the thing I love most is that I’m not just making the book more accessible to readers (though of course I care about that–I want to be read!), but that I’m also making the book better.

    I find revising in ways that make my books stronger (and along the way stretch my craft) hugely personally satisfying, and not only commercially satisfying.

  3. Benita

    “We have to give it up because when we allow our needs to go unmet by pursuing a goal that is out of our control, we become desperate and frustrated, and desperation and frustration are not turn-ons for editors any more than they are for men.”
    Try that again and just stop after the first part: “We have to give it up because when we allow our needs to go unmet by pursuing a goal that is out of our control, we become desperate and frustrated.” Who out there should be living a life full of desperation and frustration?
    Being in the midst of walking a new path, having really and totally given up dieting FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE, I wonder what happens in a writer’s life when she gives up the QUEST for publication? And is it possible to continue to submit items in hope of publication, without being attached to the outcome? (Think of some of the detachment philosophies of Buddha and the Tao.)

    • Although I find Taoist philosophy appealing, I think I’m too Western in my thought to wrap my brain around submitting without being attached to the outcome. The closest I think I could come would be self-publishing, which give me a creative pay-off of pleasure from designing the book and seeing it out there, even if not many books are sold.

    • Despite reading Rethinking Thin and Healthy at Every Size, I haven’t yet been able to give up the idea of reshaping my body. But that’s not the point of your post.

      You ask a very important question: Who out there should be living a life full of desperation and frustration? The answer, of course, is “No one.” And that brings us to a philosophy I’ve long held: If you don’t like what’s going on in your life, either change your situation or change your attitude. Toaists and Buddhists recommend the latter approach more often, Western thinkers, the former. Either way, DO SOMETHING! It’s better than sitting around being unhappy.

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