My friend Brett Sandusky is a marketing manager for a major U.S. trade publisher. He also spends his time proselytizing for the #brettism project, writing for Textual Identity, waiting for a fatty book deal, tweeting his brains out, and trying to get his hands on free food, free drinks, free books and decent Mexican food in New York City.
[For the sake of diverting argument from the get go, “writer” and “author” are decidedly not the same thing.]
We’ve all been there, the I-want-to-be-published moment, the I-deserve-to-be-published moment, the call to arms, the fulfillment of our destinies, the raison d’être of our beings. If you’re a true writer, you know what I am talking about because writing is a way of life. Because there is no other way to exist. Because “art is why I get up in the morning.”
Let’s be honest, here, for just one second before proceeding. We’re not all bestsellers. I’m sorry to say, but it’s the name of the game. (Darwin had a point.) Some people just don’t have what it takes. (Don’t kill me for saying this. I know, I know, “Where there’s a will there’s a way”… uh huh, yes, believe it. Follow your dreams, but be realistic about it, too. You know as well as I do: not everyone is a bestseller. I cannot say this enough.)
So, that out of the way, here is the real question: at what point does one become an “author”? Is it the “writing process” itself that does it? (No.) Is it when you are “published”? (Maybe.) Does self-publishing count in order qualify you as a “published author”? (Withholding judgment.) And, most importantly, how many times can one use quotation marks in a single train of thought?
Let me say this loud and clear: the art of writing is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. Shaw said it first, and, you know what, he was right. It’s work. It’s tough. It sucks. It kills. It hurts. It makes you want to vomit. It makes you rethink your life. It makes you ask ugly questions. It is all of these things. It also lets you sleep at night and feel productive and have a sense of self and pay the bills. Well, maybe not that last one, but we can all dream, right? Writing is a cruel mistress that leaves you always wanting more. And more. And more. And more. The mere fact of being insatiable makes it worth it.
And, we’ve all heard the line. We’ve all seen the ad. We’ve all been tempted from time to time with the promises. “Get published now!” “How to get an agent!” “What does it take to be published for real!” We’ve all thought about shelling out the cash for these seminars, to hear what a true “veteran” knows, to get the inside scoop.
I call bullshit on all of these promises. You want the inside scoop? Well, here it is: There is no formula. There is no right way. There is no middle path to enlightenment. And, stop spending your money on scams.
When I see these ads, really, they make me want to hurl. Most (read: not all, i.e. for liability purposes, i.e. don’t sue me, i.e. I’m sure someone out there is legit, i.e. I am not reading this off of a card) of these offers are crap. Bonafide hogwash. Real malarkey. Lying. (You get my point.) I won’t name names. I won’t call anyone out. But, you know who you are; making ca$h off of people’s dreams, taking monie$ from people who just want some notoriety and a sense of accomplishment, lying through your teeth about promises you can’t keep.
I just heard a story the other day about an agent who was running a seminar on how to get published. After the session, she was hawking her book at the door. A self-pubbed book. (!) Do you see the irony? Thank you.
The seminars, the webinars, the meetings, the book groups. Ah, there are many an avenue to finding the secret to being a “published author”. To finding happiness. To reaching your full potential. To fate.
But, the real question is this: Why? Why publish something? What is your true motivation in submitting your manuscript to agent upon agent, so that she can submit it to editor upon editor? This is what we have to ask ourselves. This is what we have to be realistic about. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: “Not everything is meant to be published.”
Having a book published does not make a writer make. Let’s be honest about this, yet again. Writing is an art form, a toiling and weaving of words, a nerve-wracking battle with vocabulary, grammar, precision and style. It is a game one must play, should you choose to listen to your muse. That is all, the long and short of it. Publishing, on the other hand, is a business. It is a financial decision. And, yet, the aspiring writer dreams of this pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (excuse my cliché; if you know me, you know it pains me to use cliché). Again: why? Prestige? Name recognition? The ability to have an extension of yourself bound in an object?
And so the paradox continues. As it will for time immemorial. I don’t have the answers to these questions. Everyone’s motivation is determined by a different set of criteria shaped and molded over time by one’s own journey to the page. I just ask you to think hard, to re-consider and re-up your motivation, to be realistic about what it is that you do. Can you be content in being a writer? Do you take pleasure out of the act of writing itself? Or, are you just in it for the ascot-wearing cocktail parties? (Note: said ascot-wearing cocktail parties are really just a myth. Thanks, Hollywood!)
So, why am I saying this? Because I believe in the publishing industry, in the written word, in the power of creation. (You see, according to mystics, G-d created the world with a series of verbal enunciations. So, when an author writes, is she not creating the world once over with her words?)
And: because there is a litany of misinformation out there on how to get published, why one should be published, and what the point of the book industry is about. There are predators who disseminate disinformation and make a buck off of those who don’t know.
The true path to becoming an author lies in the hard work, that 90% perspiration, it lies in the dedication to becoming a better artist every day, to writing every day, all day, all night, and in your sleep, it lies in the fact of being haunted by not writing. This is what agents see and want. This is what editors fight for when acquiring a property. This is what will get you to that pot of gold. And, once you’re there, well, now it’s time to really get to work.
I leave you with this one last thought: Writing is a profession of know-it-all-ism and toiling for your craft. Authorship is a profession of self-promotion. Think about this and ask yourself: “What is it that I love to do?”