Sure, You CAN Publish a Great Book, but SHOULD You?

See full issue for 2016 10-24

It’s that time again, kids. Who’s up for a reality check? I’ve been down this road before with many of you, but I see a few new guys who aren’t quite in touch with the realities of the publishing industry. So let’s begin.

I believe that every one of us has a novel inside them. We can all write a story, and we can all find folks who will love it. However, that doesn’t mean we all should publish.

Let’s take a few steps back, because I can see those feathers ruffling. Set aside skill, ability, experience, and craft. Ignore whether you’re good at writing or bad. Forget all of that. Let’s imagine we’re all great writers. We’re the best, in fact. We can write the shit out of anything. Damn, we’re good. Look at our bad selves being so frigging good.

Not every writer should publish, even if you’re the best writer ever, because this industry will destroy more than it embraces. That’s because publishing takes a certain kind of personality. It is an invigorating and rewarding path, but it’s not without its pitfalls… and sinkholes and landmines, and raving lunatics after your blood (maybe just your kidneys).

So should you publish books? Not if:

You think you’re great.

Anyone can write, but can you truly make those words sing? Does your work have a certain something, an intangible X-factor that draws people to your words? Do you ever doubt whether you have it? No? Really. Well, let me tell you, most of us don’t write well. We don’t have “it” and we never will. It’s a hard truth to accept, and if you can’t acknowledge that you will ALWAYS need improvement and WILL NEVER stop learning, then you shouldn’t publish books.

And a sad reality is even the best, most perfectly written book is likely to sell no more than 100 or so copies. That translates to sad faces and shattered egos. Those aren’t fun.

You don’t plan to work harder than you’ve ever worked at anything in your life.

Think pushing a kid out of your vagina is hard? Think digging a big hole to put secrets in is hard? Think serving customers in any service capacity is hard? None of these is as hard as the publishing industry. At least with childbirth, you get a baby when you’re done, and the pain usually stops, unless your kid turns out to be a jerk. There's that. (moving on) At least with when digging a hole, you can use a big machine or get Fred with the freakishly large muscles to help. At least you have a paycheck to compensate for dealing with asshole customers (ice water, two ice cubes and a lemon wedge that is two centimeters thick, no more, no less, and what is gluten free on this menu, just a couple of drops of dressing on my salad, put the rest on the side).

Publishing is all on YOU and it pays very little in most cases. It’s like housework or parenting, in that it’s never done. NEVER. It’s never perfect. You never get much thanks for your efforts. And when you screw it up, and you will, everyone is eager to point out your failure.

You want all the money.

As I said, publishing books pays very little. Unless you’re the exception to the rule, you’ll be lucky to earn enough to buy a decent pair of shoes. You’ll put in thousands of hours for a few hundred bucks if you’re lucky. Probably less. You might not make a single penny. What I’m saying is it’s highly unlikely you’ll get rich, so if that's what you're hoping for, move along.

You’re sensitive.

I know they say creative types are in touch with our emotions, but if you’re too in touch, this industry will eat you alive. It will shatter you into a bazillion pieces, and then it will pick up those pieces, toss them around the room for a while, piss on them, and then stomp them into tinier pieces before setting them on fire and throwing the ashes over a cliff. You have to be strong enough emotionally to make it damn near impossible for this industry to crack your shell.

Good luck with that.

You’re desperate.

Desperate people should NEVER publish. Publishing books should come from a place of rational, calm logic, and realistic expectation. If you’ve got big dreams of fame and fortune, because you must succeed or else, or dream of accolades and adoration, because your ego is so fragile a stiff wind could give it a stroke, don’t bother. You’ll be disappointed, maybe even paralyzed.

You have nothing to say.

If you are writing for the glory and only that, you’re in for a shock. If you view this as a hobby, something to amuse yourself while making a little bit of cash, odds are you’re not going to last long. Maybe you don’t care about that, which is fine, but I think you should care. Buckle down and take the writing seriously or you'll fizzle out fast.

You’re a perfectionist.

In the publishing industry, perfection is an impossible dream. You will never be perfect. Your writing will never be perfect. Nothing will ever be perfect. If you can’t accept that, this job ain’t for you.

You’re a drama queen who needs constant attention.

Maybe you think publishing books will draw all eyes to you. You’re wrong. Publishing books guarantees that you’ll spend long periods of time being completely ignored. Your books will sit for days, weeks, even months, without a single person acknowledging their presence. Each day will bug you a little more than the last, until you do something stupid, like contacting a reviewer or writing a long, ranty blog post about why everyone should buy your books and how it’s not fair you aren’t famous yet.

If you need validation from others, don’t get into publishing. It’s extremely unlikely you’ll get it.

Now, all of that is probably depressing, so let me tell you when you should publish books.

You’re creative, but a realist, and you’re not afraid of hard, thankless work. You want to entertain, but you also have something to say. You have a thick skin, and you don’t need anyone to love you to know you’re worth something. You have a job that pays your bills. You’re in it for the long haul, and the only expectation you have is making at least one reader happy. You view publishing as a business, and not a get rich quick scheme.

You’re not a quitter.

If you’re all of these things, as well as a great writer, then you’re perfect for this industry and I welcome you to it. Keep plugging away.


Renee Miller

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