The innocence of youth is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, it makes facing the real world a challenge. I still remember thinking I could change the world and that everyone would love my books, giving me a publishing contract the first time I submitted anything.
Then I submitted my work and learned the painful truth: what I thought was great writing wasn’t. I had to learn a lot about good writing (including how to do it), then I had to learn about query letters, researching markets, self-editing…the list goes on and on. I’m not complaining; I’m glad I learned all of those things and that I’m still learning. I still believe my writing has a place in the world of published works, but now I know the hard, cold reality of publishing: it’s unbelievably hard for a new writer to get picked up by anyone. I’ve been trying for several years (though I will admit to not submitting as much as I should for most of those years) and only recently had a short story published for the first time. Getting a novel picked up is even harder.
Now, to prove there really is a reason for the title of this post, I’ll explain what brought all of this to mind. I was talking to my younger sister and two of her friends the other day. My sister and one of the friends want to be authors. They already have their books all planned out and are working on writing them. They also seem to be convinced that publishers will be drooling on their doorsteps to get the manuscripts. And once the contracts are signed, the books will become instant best-sellers.
I’m glad they still have the innocent view of publishing I had several years ago. I hope that once they discover reality, their dreams won’t be crushed to the point they never write another word. Getting a publisher to believe in an unknown, first-time author is difficult at best. For that author to quickly become a best-seller is nearly unheard of. All authors have to do promotion for their books. The bigger your name in the book world, the more time and money your publisher will invest in marketing and promotion. But for the majority of authors, it’s their own hard work and determination that build sales.
Then there’s the writing part of the dream. Yes, you may have a ton of talent, but even talented authors have things to learn. You may write compelling stories your friends and family love, but unless you’ve studied the writing craft, it’s likely you’re making errors that mark you as an amateur. You can justify not learning to correct these technical problems by saying readers will never notice them, but you need to keep in mind that readers will never see your story unless an editor gives you a contract. To get that contract, you need to have the best writing possible. Putting in time studying your craft is worth it. So is rewriting and revising your manuscript until your so sick of looking at it you want to throw it out the window. That time and effort will show in the completed project and improve your chances of impressing an editor.
Don’t be surprised if an editor asks you to rewrite part of your “perfect” manuscript. It’s their job to make the manuscript into something that will have readers lining up at the bookstore to buy it. No, crowds rushing to the nearest bookstore for the release of your novel aren’t likely, but you get the idea. Editors know the book market, they know what works and what doesn’t, and they want to see your book sell millions of copies as much as you do. Just be prepared for your Great American Novel to sell in the thousands, not the millions. When you get to your fourth or fifth book, your sales numbers will probably be better since you’ll have a following (we hope!) and at least a little name recognition.
Now, I’m not saying all of this to discourage anyone from trying to get published. I’m all for people dreaming of becoming an author and working to make it happen. But keep in mind the key word here is work. Writing is a hard business. Take a realistic look at it and decide if it’s something you want to get into as a career or if you just want to write for your personal pleasure and to entertain your family and friends.
As I’ve often said, publishing is a wacky, confusing, subjective world, but I love it. Though it can be a frustrating place for an author to navigate, I can’t imagine my life without striving for publication. It’s part of who I am, and I know that one day I’ll succeed.
Good luck to all of you author hopefuls out there. Keep learning, revising, and submitting!