© 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see how you like it), or the advance checks (okay, that was nice while it lasted, which wasn’t long) or the way unpublished writers look at you, like you know something they don’t. Which is true – we know that at the end of the day the reward of it all is found in the process of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.