Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You don't want publication yet.

I recently received the following email from fellow attorney-writer Courtney:
I'm gearing up for the impending NaNoWriMo--I have a novel idea that has been floating around in my brain for approximately 5 years, but with all the nonsense that comes with living life on a daily basis, I haven't done anything other than put a loose outline on paper. I'm hoping this is my year and maybe next year at this time I can be worrying about trying to get it published. I'm actually contemplating taking a few days off of work in November, shutting off the cell phone and internet, and just going into some kind of writing zone--somewhat akin to the old fashioned "all nighter" pulled in college to crank out a paper--but this time probably it will involve a lot more sleep and a glass of organic red wine.

Do you have any advice/tips for me? For example, I'm looking for things I should be doing now to set myself up later for publication. I have purchased a book titled, "Publishing Your Manuscript," which I must confess I have not cracked open yet, but it somehow makes me feel closer to my goal by sitting on my bookshelf.
So, here's my advice, and I hope it doesn't sound too harsh: DO NOT DO ANYTHING to set yourself up for publication. You're not there yet.

You need to write first. And write and write and write and write...

The internet is full of awesome resources to help you get published. Mur Lafferty has an amazing podcast called I Should Be Writing that covers everything from first drafts to revision to submission, with published-author interviews to boot. NaNoWriMo itself has a page called I Wrote A Novel, Now What? I've got a list of blogging agents, editors, and other helpful industry players here: How Do I Get An Agent? and you can also follow my entire list of agents who Twitter (I've found nearly a hundred, there's probably more...)


It is SO easy to lose yourself in the scrum of people running towards the prize of publication.

You can end up crafting the perfect query letter, instead of crafting your novel. (Somewhere in the archives of the lovely Natalie Whipple is a blog post where she talks about the frustration of having written a query letter that got lots of agent attention, only her book wasn't actually fulfilling the promise of the query letter, and so of course there was no chance of publication yet. CONGRATS ON YOUR BOOK DEAL, NATALIE!!! You totally earned it.)

You can find yourself worrying about whether you're going to get stuck in a career of writing in a certain genre, instead of actually finding your voice. You can find yourself comparing your process to those of other writers without being able to remind yourself that YOU are not THEM and what works for them may not work for you. Eyes on your paper, writers.

You can waste way too much time blogging and Tweeting, trying to find an audience for books you haven't written yet. Even if you find a community that's trying to be supportive, if you're not in the right mental space, it can do you damage. The writer isn't the one spending all his time hanging out online talking to other writers about "the process." The writer is the one who stays in the room.

Last year a lot of people were telling me things I wanted to hear: you're great, it's just a matter of time, don't worry about it... but it wasn't what I needed. I needed to be spending more time on my revisions. I needed to be spending less time trying to figure out the "magic bullet" of publishing, and more time just writing more and more and more to make myself better. Hell, even if I am great and it's just a matter of time, I needed to be spending more time writing new stories, and less time pursuing publication because words are my product and I need as many of them on paper as I can get, so that I actually have the work I need upon which to base this supposed future career.

Finally, and worst of all, if you work to learn the publishing trade right away, you might actually manage to get your book published right away... before it's really ready. You want your work to last a long, long time. You should make sure it's as close to perfect as it can be before it goes into print.

Screw publication. Find out what kind of writer you are, first. You'll have a lot more fun, and end up being more successful in the long run, I promise.


  1. Carrie, this is amazing and so true. When May B. comes out in January, it will be fourteen years from the time I started writing. Not what I wanted to begin with but in retrospect so worth it.

  2. So true! Write and then write some more. Then see how you handle editing, because that too is a process you must learn.

  3. Yup. I didn't research publishing stuff until the first draft of my first novel was finished. I hardly revised it all (relative to what I do now) and got 52 straight rejections.

    On the other hand, I learned a lot in all of that. I think the only real danger is having your hopes dashed so terribly that you give up writing altogether. So long as you pick yourself up again, I think any path is a good one.

  4. I love this post. Have you read Art & Fear? Their story about the clay pots is the most simple, perfect story I know about "how to get better as an artist".