I shared a table recently with six or seven others at a writers conference. The writer to my right (right?) leaned in my direction and directed a comment to me.
“Please tell me something encouraging about publishing now.”
Wow. Put me on the spot, why don’t you?
But I thought I understood. After all, we were a couple days into the conference. And, as these things go, this writer had made new friends, received valuable instruction and critique, and more. But she had also heard and learned a number of hard realities. “You need a platform,” of course. “Debut fiction is a tough sell right now.” “The market for Biblical fiction and historical fiction is extremely tight.” And so on.
So, I recognized the shock and pain behind her question. And, happily, I had just taken a bite of food, so I could stall for time while I chewed. Eventually, though, I had to put down my fork and attempt an answer. I said something like the following (off the top of my head, remember):
We live in amazing times. Writing and publishing haven’t seen such momentous changes—and possibilities—since the invention of movable type. And this era of change is probably bigger even than that. It’s certainly happening much faster.
It’s never been easier to write. It’s never been easier to publish. It’s probably as hard as ever to be paid for your writing and to sell a book and to gain readers, but there have never been so many ways to do that. You can write longhand or on a typewriter or on a computer. You can have your iPad read back your copy to you. You can set up a blog in minutes. You can read your original poetry on your own YouTube channel. You can buy a domain name and launch a website. You can create email newsletters for your tribe. Your self-published novel can be one of the four thousand ebooks uploaded daily to Amazon. You can record and upload your own audiobook. And all of that just scratches the surface.
I think I even mentioned that her presence at a writers conference was a fairly recent innovation. A few decades ago writers conferences were rare and expensive compared to the many options a writer has today. (I was a writer for fifteen years before I even heard of writers conferences—and, yes, I am old enough to make that claim.)
The writer’s journey is a long obedience in an uphill direction (to revise Nietzsche and Eugene Peterson). It can be exciting and intense. It can also be demanding and discouraging. It’s not for the fainthearted. But whatever you write, however and whyever, this is an amazing time to be a writer.
Brennan S. McPherson
Amen. More possible than ever to make a living at writing, or to get your work out there to tons of people. When you’re discouraged, just write down a list of the opportunities you have, and you’ll start to see your perspective is upside down.
An opportunities journal! You’re brilliant, Brennan!
“It’s never been easier to write.” The delete and undo keys are miracles of modern technology, and I am grateful frequent user.
Oh, amen and amen. And again I say, amen.
Electronic editing is such a blessing. I remember writing on the Smith-Corona with the eraser type cartridge that you plugged in from the right after taking out the inked ribbon on a similar cartridge.
I’m sitting here, feeling sorry for myself, because you will be at the HACWN conference – a half day drive from me – and I’m unable to attend. Hope you have a wonderful weekend in KC and find some amazing authors.
Judith, I’m so sorry we’ll miss seeing each other. My loss is greater than yours, no doubt.
Thank you for the kind words, Bob. But I would have to disagree. Politely, of course.
Damon J. Gray
Him: “But, the glass is already half empty!”
Her: “Hmm, the glass is only half full.”
The other guy: “Wow! Look at this. I have a glass!”
I prefer mugs.
Sharon Kay Connell
Love that, Damon. It’s all in your perspective. 🙂
L. K. Simonds
I love a wide-open perspective!
I love that there are so many paths to readers. My path rose to meet me and my debut novel via a contract with Morgan James Publishing. The more I interact with the MJP team, the more convinced I become that they are the perfect fit for me, personally and professionally. And guess what? Just this week, I learned that my debut novel will launch next autumn, which gives us plenty of time to plan a full-court press to let readers know it’s out there. I’m so grateful – God is good! All the time! (Most especially when He fulfills long-standing promises.)
Thank you for this post today, Bob.
As Mary Oliver wrote, “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Your line, “My path rose to meet me . . . ” is quite eloquent. There is even the slight hint of a double entendre in the use of the word “rose,” suggesting sunrise. Congratulations on your success!
Rebekah Love Dorris
Encouraging post. Thank you.
Thank you for the comment, Rebekah.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Bob, if you were at ACFW, I[‘m sorry to have missed meeting you. I did get to chat with Steve and Tamela, which was great.
Four thousand books a day???? Really??? I am flabbergasted, flummoxed, and frustrated….but I’ll get over it and continue to write. Great post!
Sheri, no, I wasn’t at ACFW. I’m not nearly important enough. But Steve and Tamela are.
Sharon Kay Connell
I’m so happy to be a writer/author in this day. What a privilege it is to have people read my stories and tell me they enjoy them. To me, it makes writing worthwhile.
“It’s not for the fainthearted.” No, it is not, but if writing is what God called you to do, being faithful to the call give you great satisfaction when you finish your story. And, after having written four books, I can tell you that it does get easier as you go.
Now the promoting and advertising…that’s another story. I’ve never cared for selling things. But even that is getting easier as I learn new techniques and find new outlets.
Sharon, speaking only for myself, I haven’t found that it gets easier, so much, because the moment I get good at something, I become aware of the next hurdle, and so on. It’s an ongoing, stimulating process!
I pinned my heart to the good old days
and decried the modern world;
setting up a website to count the ways
that vile modernity had hurled
down icons, TV killing stage-plays
I now must post from Youtube-world
to Twitter with those maddening delays
until ‘Your Tweet Is Posted’; seconds swirled
into wasted nothingness! But this does not faze
me, I’ll revive the past from this modern mess,
marching to conquer ‘progress’…uh, where’s my GPS?
Andrew, you forgot to mention “commenting on blog posts…something something ghosts….”
Oops, I KNEW I was forgetting something!
Another great blessing in the current writing environment is access to so much help and expertise online. There’s a smorgasbord of literary assistance available with just a click of the mouse.
And as for the competition — if it wasn’t hard, why do it? I believe God honors endurance.
Thank you. Those are encouraging words. As Christian writers we have to believe God is in control or our work as well as the publishing industry.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
WOW! Unbelievably timely. I just posted in one of my blogs yesterday that I have learned something significant from you expertly perceptive SLA agents: my inability to narrow my writing to one focus is holding back my career as a published author. But I also admitted knowing that fact doesn’t change that inability. 😉
I’ve written a whole list of books in different genres that haven’t even been pitched to an agent or publisher. Until yesterday’s epiphany, reinforced by today’s Bible study about letting go of false perceptions of security and your post this morning, I had seen all that as evidence of “failure to publish.” Emphasis on failure.
But upon seeing your list of possibilities, I realized mine was a very narrow judgment. I AM “published”: academic journal articles; numerous newspaper columns; blogs (one professional, one personal, one historical), each with loyal followers; and the hidden contributions I’ve made to numerous other writers’ published works as their consultant/editor.
As you stated, there are many ways to publish. Tapping more than one might not be a great business decision, but it is a choice, not a sin. Thanks for the reminder–probably not the one you intended, nevertheless very relevant to me! I bemoaned my “failure” to focus to a friend recently, and she replied, “But look how many people you’ve blessed!” That was a valuable reality check! While we’re waiting to be “published” on a big stage, maybe it’s good to keep writing to offer small blessings in as many ways and places as we can. You gave us a lot of ideas of places we might do that. Thanks!
Great post, Bob, and all.
I appreciate everyone’s wisdom.
I sigh with each rejection, take the wisdom given me, and plug on. My sister asked my why I keep going. I don’t have an adequate answer for her, other than I must. She takes this to mean pathologic obsession after rejections. I take it to mean, perhaps when my manuscript is better, the Gospel will be shared further.
My goal of goals is evangelism from typing fingers. If God wants me to stop, I believe He will show me.
Wow. Everything you said is so true. Thanks for sharing.
In light of the depressing national news and chaotic state our world is in right now, your post was a breath of fresh air. Thanks for giving us hope. And thanks for seeing the full glass–er, mug.
If this is the best time for writers and publishing novels, then it is the best time for editors as well…
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Well, Tish, yes and no. Writers for whom I’ve edited tended to either (1) know their strength is in the content and they need extensive editing of the writing itself, or (2) think their content AND writing are stellar and I’ll just need to do a quick proof-read and change a few commas to semicolons. Some (2) writers believe this even if their writing is actually as in need of substantive editing as that of the (1) writers. In both cases, when authors receive my preliminary assessment, the initial response is often denial, sticker shock is prevalent, and they suddenly realize that no editing fees were ever built into their budgets. The “best time for editors” comes with some built-in challenges. ;-D
You said it, Linda!
Most writers do not see editing as critical. Even though it is the difference between a so-so manuscript and a blockbuster.
If you are a writer, your editor is as necessary as your word processor, if not more so.
so true! I think it’s the ‘Look what they’ve done to my song, Ma!” concept + “and pay the editor? That’s rich!”
Both carry ‘some’ truisms. The writer rarely makes enough money to break even on a really good edit, and a proofread is all they can afford.
I know when I’ve taken stuff out of my work, it seems jilted and shallow. When I’ve added stuff to meet a genre, it’s ugh, over the top. So I understand that. Most editors understand the message the writer is reaching for, and edits are well-appreciated.
The newbie may not know about sticker shock. When they figure that out, they develop the hide of the rhino and plan a budget.