Hold These Truths as Self-Evident

truths Cynthiablogger: Cynthia Ruchti

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.

writing truthsWriters 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.”

Yes. That is truth. writing truth constitution

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.

writing truth sparklersWriting truth?

“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!



19 Responses

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  1. The right to write. And the right to read. And the right to choose what to read. Even if I write well and my work is published, readers have the right to reject it.
    * [Me on my soapbox] We have corporate responsibility to teach our children to read, evaluate what they read and apply the truths they find to their lives. We could and should do better. [Off the soapbox, thanks for reading].

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      A corporate responsibility to teach our children to read… I agree. And to let them observe us loving reading. One disadvantage of digital books as opposed to paperback and hardcover is that our children won’t make a visual connection with covers and titles that intrigue us. They’ll see us reading on our devices. But how will they know that we’re embroiled in a compelling novel rather than following a ridiculous thread of nonsense? Or watching videos of possums crossing superhighways?

      • Cynthia, that is so true about digital books and readers, especially with children. One of my very favorite part of having hard copy and paperback available is the cover art and back copy. “I love it!” says the artist part of me. It does connect to the title and content of the inside pages and story, if done right. I enjoy figuring out why the color and and cover art were selected with all the various nuances. I love back copy too! It’s like a teaser that prompts me to open the book and read the inside cover work, about the author, recommendations, or what have you. Once done, and I’ve selected my purchase, I feel like I am taking home a treasure. They don’t get that with digital, and I for one feel that is like missing some of the best parts of the reading experience. I still love an actual book in my hand best, with hard copies my greatest treasures.

      • Yes, and I love taking pictures of books. I can rarely get a decent picture of a book cover on a tablet. It’s just not the same.

  2. We’re entitled to the PURSUIT of happiness and success; their guarantee is their negation.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      It was a difficult decision to create this post because many who follow this blog are the convinced. But it’s also good to celebrate–and remember–that the pursuit and the process are the larger portions of the gain.

      • All my roads are becoming literal dead ends; the work I can still do will never attain the original goals. But by God’s Grace I’ve come to know that the road really is the reward, and if the quest’s true, I needed no other.

  3. David Todd says:

    “‘Everyone has an inalienable right to publish.’ No.”
    I disagree. Publishing _is_ free speech, exactly as defined by the Constitution and verified by multiple SCOTUS decisions. It is a God-given right that the US Constitution secures for its citizens.
    What no one has a right to is an audience for their speech, written or spoken. I believe you’re conflating audience with speech. A literary agent’s job, in part, is to decide whether someone’s writing is likely to appeal to a sufficient audience and so be worth the agent’s time to represent. An agent’s rejection of a submission has nothing to do with the right to publish.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      You can disagree, David. It’s your “right.” In this context, we’re talking about publishing in the context of being traditionally published. That is earned, not a birthright. It would be interesting to see the biblical support for the idea that freely speaking what is on our minds is a God-given right. I’m not speaking politically here, but theologically. Many a time, God silenced people, put a hand over the mouth of His own followers, instructed them to stop their complaining. We may be, in this country, “free” to speak up and express ourselves, but that doesn’t always make it wise…or prudent…or godly. And, for clarity, my use of the term “right to publish” refers to those who believe they have a right to “BE published.”

      • David Todd says:

        Cynthia: Since your original post mentioned self-publishing, I didn’t consider it to be simply about trade publishing. Of course no one has a right to be trade published, and I can’t imagine anyone thinking otherwise. That seems intuitively obvious because it involves business decisions of the trade publisher. The SCOTUS has decided that you can’t force someone to publish something, because the decision not to publish is part of the right of free speech. It’s also interesting to note that, at the time the Declaration of Independence was written, almost all publishing was self-publishing, or patronage publishing. The royalty-based publishing of today was mostly unknown back then.
        While everyone has a God-given, unalienable right (which for Americans is secured by the Constitution) to publish anything they want, wisdom dictates that they should exercise this right with extreme caution. Self-restraint has nothing to do with the right itself, only with the wise exercise of that right.

  4. Emily Conrad says:

    I like that you mention the words we publish have consequences. Rights and responsibilities are so intertwined! I see writing for others to read as such a privilege and a responsibility, a gift I hope to steward wisely in order to honor God. I so appreciate the freedom to write and to pursue publication. Whether a particular piece ever sees publication or not, I’m also grateful for how God uses writing to draw me closer to Him. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  5. Cynthia, thanks so much for this post! it is so true, that often there are those who think they have the right to publish, and they do it daily on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and the like, but how many of those who use that right are understanding their words they write produce, as the Bible says, life or death. Words must be used with wisdom and great prudence if published the traditional route, because many will be held accountable for what is produced and put out there for readers. Accountable to God, number one, and accountable to society as a whole. I understand what you are saying. It is the way it is, even for those great books that may never be read because another occupies that place. Seems so unfair, but that is where my trust in God’s direction for my life comes. If the answer is, “No, we are not interested, or someone else has beaten you to the punch.” My Father’s plan for me is still intact, and I simply turn and say which way now Father?” My security and peace do not lie in if I am published traditionally or not; although, I am working hard to do so. my security, peace, AND joy lies in following the plan He has laid before me. Thanks again for giving further understanding about writing and traditional publishing.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Trust enters heavily into this, doesn’t it?

      • Absolutely. When all our hard work is done, and we know we have done our best, we lay the results in His hands. If we can do this, and resist the pressure of the world’s version of success, then we can walk in peace in the process, in stead of becoming a demanding, or grasping anxious author in waiting…neither of which is something to be desired or be around.

  6. I am an achiever, albeit a laid-back one. In many ways this means I try very hard to achieve my goals, and rarely take on a project I *know* I have absolutely no control over the outcome. For example, you’re not likely to see me competing in a physical marathon. Why? Because I know from experience that if I even try to get in the required condition to attempt a win, I would injure something (due to a chronic health condition). But I did strive to have the highest GPA in my college class because even though I couldn’t guarantee the outcome, I knew there was at least a chance I could do it.

    I see publishing the same way. Do I want to be published? You bet! Do I think I’m guaranteed (entitled) to be? No. No. And no. But there’s a chance – no matter how small – that it will happen if I do my part.

    And truth is? If I had the “right” to be traditionally published, the realization of that goal would mean far less than to know that it came about through hard work, perseverance, and the grace of God.

  7. Pat Iacuzzi says:

    I’ve found it difficult to accept the terminology “my truth” that’s been introduced recently. (Quoted from the Urban Dictionary: “Often used by academics, this is a convenient phrase for avoiding arguments because people can contradict your opinion but not your “truth.”)
    To me it also equates with “my right”; which sounds kind of self-deserving.
    The Bible speaks of Truth, period.
    Even the Declaration starts with WE hold these truths…but the “my truth” narrows things down a bit for those who feel their rights have been trampled on by a neutral publishing industry. I also think about the publishers who take a chance on something that isn’t successful fincancially–they not only lose out, but the readers suffer as well. Hopefully, we (writer, agent & publisher) can hold these truths to be self-evident–together.

  8. Thank you for this, Cynthia. The points you make are so important to remember, especially in today’s culture, and you phrased some of the harder truths with gentleness and respect. I truly enjoy following your posts.