What truths do we hold as “self-evident”? With the United States’ Independence Day just behind us, many of us are still eating cake with strawberry stripes and blueberry stars, picking up yard evidence of expired sparklers, and reflecting on what those freedom evidence truths mean to us.
Writers hold certain truths as not needing explanation, too. Self-evident, evidently. Inalienable rights. But are they? (The final version of the Declaration of Independence calls them “unalienable.” Same thing.)
“Everyone has a right to write.”
Yes. Although “right” is a strong word. Almost anyone can take advantage of the opportunity to write, to create stories, to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and express themselves through writing. Books, poetry, spoken word, music, jokes, opinions, apologetics, creative grocery lists, Tweets, posts, studies, curriculum, plays, scripts…
“Everyone has an inalienable right to publish.”
No. Publishing is not an entitlement. It’s a privilege and an honor. Approaching it any other way is a distortion of truth. Even though independent publishing allows the possibility of publishing without involving a traditional publishing house, savvy independently published authors understand that freedom of speech and freedom of publishing don’t mean we can use words without consequences, that we can say, write, or print anything we feel like because of an inborn right.
“Every writer can count on the truth that their work deserves to be respected as-is.”
Ooh. A tricky one. There’s that word respect. One thing I appreciate about Books & Such Literary Management is that we treat everyone’s work with respect in our responses. Even if the query or book proposal is misguided, volatile, error-thick, and poorly done, we respect that a human being created the work. But the finest and highest quality writing can always use the benefit of an expert’s eye and advice.
“Every writer can count on the truth that even exceptional work is edited.”
Writers can depend on the writing truth that “if you work hard enough and long enough, you deserve to be published.”
Again with the deserve? Publishing isn’t an equation. Good idea + hard work + writing skill=publication? That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works. Good idea + hard work + writing skill + annual writers conferences + agent + chocolate=publication? Still not how it works.
So many factors enter into the chemistry of traditional publication. The atmospheric conditions. That’s right. What’s the publishing atmosphere right now? Is it conducive to a book on that topic? Is the timing a little off? How many other authors are tackling that topic/genre/setting/approach? Does that help or make it less likely the excellent book will be published? I turn down projects almost daily that are good, even fascinating, but not for me. They’re for another agent. It’s not a project that resonates with me, even though it might with the next agent. Editors tell the same story. They need to feel passionately about the proposal or they can’t convince their editorial team, much less their pub board.
An excellent book that is too similar to another excellent book already in the publishing pipeline is enough to stop a great book from reaching the bookstore or library shelves. Some might say, “All the more reason to independently publish, then.” Could be a good option. But the book will always be tugging for the same readers as the one already on the market.
Self-evident truth? “If the book is excellent, it will find a publishing home.” Not always. A hard truth, but undeniable.
Working hard and long is good. But it doesn’t give an entitlement to automatic publication. Publication entitlements don’t exist.
“Practice makes perfect.”
A more solid truth is that practice makes permanent. And practice makes possible. Some have been writing for many years, attending multiple conferences a year, but haven’t advanced toward publication because they’re rehearsing the same mistakes. They haven’t applied the editorial or critique comments. Or they’re practicing average rather than growing toward excellent. Practice doesn’t always make perfect. Or published.
“Agents and editors owe me and my project their attention. They at least owe me an explanation for why they turned it down. It’s my constitutional right. ‘Life, liberty, and the pursuit of publication.'”
Our primary agenting responsibility is to the clients we represent. Editors’ primary responsibility is to the authors they’re publishing. I assume no one who follows this blog would fall for the “constitutional right” idea in this untruth. But you might be amazed how many do.
Where’s the hope in this post? Simply this. We may not have an inalienable right to publication. But we’ve been given the freedom to write, to learn, to grow. We’ve been given unprecedented opportunities to develop our writing craft and ever-expanding access to rich research resources. And we’ve been given the privilege and opportunity to pursue publication.
That’s something to celebrate!