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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Publishing Myths, Part 4: My Book Deserves Publication

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


(First, just a reminder. This series is opinion, based on my own experience. Yours may vary. If you're an exception to the rule, great. However, that's not how things work for the vast majority of people. In addition, the target audience is fiction writers. If you write non-fiction, I hope you find something useful anyway, but be aware that these are different markets. What works for us might not work for you, and vice-versa. My intent is not to warn anyone off of any particular publisher, agent, editor, or organization, but rather to give writers the tools they need to evaluate markets and services for themselves. Are we clear? Then let's move ahead!)

No, my book does not deserve publication, but my book deserves the best chance I can give it. Those are two different things.

Saying that my book deserves publication because I wrote it is like saying that I deserve a recording contract because I can carry a tune in a bucket. Part of that statement was a lie. My singing voice is like nails on chalkboard. But for the sake of argument, let's pretend I can carry a tune in a bucket and decide to audition for "American Idol." The odds are not good. I'm up against tens of thousand of people, according to their web site. So I have to do something to stand out. I could wear a bikini, but that would be an offense to society. Reluctantly, I come to the conclusion that if I want the shot at stardom that "American Idol" offers, I need to do more than carry a tune - I need to be able to sing with a passion that attracts the judges - in a good way, of course. I need talent, and drive, and determination and a thick skin, and I need to be well above average in all those areas. It takes a lot of work. Just because my mother thinks I can sing (and I suspect she really knows better than that) doesn't mean I should be on "American Idol." (Oh, I had a dream as a kid... but that's another story.)

Wait a minute. That sounds like publishing, doesn't it? Now you get the idea. Tens of thousands of people are trying for those few slots at commercial publishers every year. Being deserving has nothing to do with it. Whether or not an agent or a publisher looks at my book depends on several factors:
  • Can I write?
  • Can I tell a compelling story?
  • Is there a market for my book?
  • Does the publisher think they can make money off of it?
  • Is their room on their calendar for my book?
Notice that the last two factors are pretty much out of my control. The third one can sometimes depend on timing, but I have to pay attention to the markets. That zombie vampire stripper who happens to be cop book may not go over this year, but it might in a year or two. (Yeah, that's a silly premise, but someone probably said the same thing about vampire detectives. Or boy wizards.) The first two factors are entirely under my control. Think about what I said about singing above. I may have talent, but I also need drive and determination. Like the singer, I MUST practice in order to become technically competent. A polished manuscript would be comparable to a polished performance by a singer. That just doesn't happen overnight. It takes a lot of hard work.

The best advice ever given to me when I was starting out was to act like a pro, and I'd stand a pretty good chance of being one. By "acting like a pro," the person who gave me that advice was talking about the very unglamorous aspects of the profession - writing, rewriting, revising, editing, polishing - not to mention professional behavior in my dealings.

After all that, I'm going to admit that "deserve" may be the wrong word. Yet, it's a word a lot of aspiring authors use. In my mind, "deserve" is a word that smacks of entitlement, and the world doesn't "deserve" to see all the words I crap out via my keyboard. If you think I bloviate here, you should see the stuff that I edit out. Heck, I don't deserve readers, but I hope to earn them.

And I hope you stick around for more.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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Filed under: Publishing Myths            
2/8/2009 3:40:53 PM
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