Today’s guest post comes from author Caitlin Kelley. A regular contributor to The New York Times since 1990, she has written for USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Glamour, More, and other publications in Canada and Europe. Her newest book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career In Retail” is out April 14th.
If I woke up tomorrow with the persistent belief that, because I love using words like medulla oblangata or “stat!” or like how I look in a surgical gown, I was now — shazzam! — a neurosurgeon, many people would be quick to disabuse me of this notion.
It would instead, require years of study and practice and oversight by extremely demanding teachers, and passing exams to prove my competency, before I would be legally and safely allowed to start cutting open people’s heads.
But anyone anywhere can flip open a laptop and decide, after banging a few keys, they’re A Writer.
Not only is everyone now A Writer, but they howl en masse in wounded outrage when people like me – author of two non-fiction works published by major commercial houses, veteran of three daily newspapers, winner of fellowships and awards – suggest it’s actually, you know, work.
Becoming a writer worth reading actually requires skill, training, editing, self-editing, revision, reflection and often discarding entire chunks of material.
I’m all for enthusiasm and passion and new ideas. Book publishing would die without all of these. But how many of these soi-disant Writers network daily with dozens of other skilled, accomplished writers and ask for their feedback and advice?
And what happens when it’s negative? Do they give up?
It’s not fun having your ideas and skills examined and questioned, or your assumptions — whether about word choice, point of view, character or historical context — challenged.
Yet hundreds of bloggers are convinced they have a book – a whole shelf of them! – in them. And every day I find another few dozen whiny or moaning blog posts about “I don’t feel like writing today” or “I want to sell my book!” Or how they totally don’t intend to negotiate the pesky obstacle course of commercial publishing, as if it were for, you know, losers.
If so, why are the most successful writers still doing it?
If you seriously want to get your book published, here’s what we all did:
Find and impress an agent, write a book proposal, work on it for free for months until s/he thinks it’s ready, submit it to publishers, who may reject it with really snotty emails, and pray someone somewhere finally says, Yes!
(Like surgery, this is not a risk-free business. For all its terrific pleasures – Great reviews! Your book in stores! — it’s also routinely filled with last-minute surprises and unexpected costs, rejection and revision and self-doubt.)
Newbies’ naivete about all of this drives me crazy. It won’t be like that for me, they insist.
In the world of commercial book publishing, there’s no single-digit “publish” button.
For every book now in the marketplace, a dozen or more people, each with very strong opinions – and their professional reputations and future income riding on their selections – chose those books from among the thousands, literally, each month competing for their attention and investment.
Talking about writing is often a lot more fun than actually writing.
ninja’s notes: I have posted numerous times that I don’t feel like blogging on random days, but I’ve also never claimed to a) like writing, b)call myself a writer, or c)have any desire to publish a book….unless said book can contain a bunch of stick figure drawings.