Getting Published versus Staying Published

© 2007, The Oregonian

Deep in the black heart of every writing workshop instructor resides a dirty little secret: we are praying that no one asks when our next book is coming out. We keep talking and sounding oh-so-enlightened so no one will ask this question. Because while getting published was what got us up here in front of these people, all of whom see themselves as the next Chuck Palahnuik or Mike Rich, we know something they don’t, something we don’t dare speak aloud: these days it’s harder to stay published than it is to get published.

And getting published is about as likely as a fifty-something ex-jock getting hired-on at Nike to write shoe copy. Believe me, I’ve tried both, and I’ve only succeeded at the former. Ask anyone who’s been there, it’s absolutely true. More writers are losing their contracts every year than there are writers who are getting their first shot at it.

There are a few names in town more famous for their repeated appearances at writing conferences, workshops and the occasional keynote than for their books, and I’m one of them. I’ve been pontificating on structural paradigms for the Oregon Writers Colony long before any of my four novels were published, long before I knew how to spell or pronounce the word “paradigm,” and long after anyone remembers that my humble books were more critically-successful than they were commercially enduring. And for the past few years the folks at a variety of writers’ conferences have indulged an apparent penchant for nostalgia by inviting me back to teach, including a keynote at one conference that nearly got me lynched for speaking The Truth about the business of writing fiction for money. Because The Truth isn’t the point.

The truth about getting published, you see, is a paradox of vast proportions. Every author who has lived to see their name on a book cover knows that the real joy of it isn’t in the book signings (try being introduced to forty empty chairs sometime, see how you like it), or the advance checks (okay, that was nice while it lasted, which wasn’t long) or the way unpublished writers look at you, like you know something they don’t. Which is true – we know that at the end of the day the reward of it all is found in the process of writing stories, not selling them. In the very thing that got you hooked in the first place. Writing is like that old joke about prostitution: first you do it for love, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money.

3 Comments

Filed under getting published, turning pro

3 Responses to Getting Published versus Staying Published

  1. I love that joke….

    I look at it like this. I’m getting my foot in the door now. I’m hoping that with all the attention my first manuscript is getting, that it’ll get published. I know it’s still a long shot, but if it does get published most of the thanks will be to you L.B. Well…anyway.

    My second story is going to have to be better than my first….then on and on. I don’t ever want to just settle. As long as I never stop learning.

    As long as I master the structure….. then the rest is all subjective. Flexing to me and to the people who will read what I write. To the worlds I will create.

    As always great posts. I’ve been keeping up. Thank you for being in the right place at the right time Mr. Brooks.

  2. You’re welcome. You’re doing everything right, because the level of your commitment and patience shines through in your comments. That’s perhaps the #1 quality a writer needs to break through, so you’re already well ahead of the crowd.

    Let me know how else I can help you, including anything specific you’d like me to address. I have no doubt you will reach your goal… perhaps even sooner than you dare dream. We need to get lucky in this business, and to a large extent we make our own luck as a product of how hard we work, and how smart we work. You’re doing both.

  3. “…the way unpublished writers look at you, like you know something they don’t. Which is true – we know that at the end of the day the reward of it all is found in the process of writing stories, not selling them. In the very thing that got you hooked in the first place.”

    Oh, how true this is. I’ve been telling people that being published is great, but the work that comes with it (the presence you need and to keep up that platform you worked so hard to build and and and…) is almost not worthwhile because I’m not able to work on the next book as much as I want (pretty much Never!).

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d never take back accepting a contract offer and I certainly want more of my stuff out there (1 novella & another novel are coming out this year), but no one ever tells you that it’s almost harder after you Are published than trying to become published.

    All I want to do is write. My characters are screaming at me to give their stories and voices a *voice* … but I can’t because I’m too busy doing other stuff to make sure the first book stays on the track it is. And if I can’t write, then the aforementioned novella and novel … they won’t be coming out and then I’ll have a Huge problem 😛

    I truly am grateful, but there’s always another side to the story … and people just don’t realize…