The Road Few Travel
I shouldn’t be surprised when someone asks me the question, but it always seems to catch me off guard. It happened again a day or so ago. Someone filled out the submission form at Right-Writing.com asking something like, “How do I get published? How do I take my pile of paper and turn it into print?”
Because we have to write papers within the school system, many people figure they will turn their love of storytelling into print. Unfortunately they are lost where to begin the journey. Many of them decide to write a children’s book. Others decide to write a novel. Yet another group begins a nonfiction manuscript. Because they have persisted enough to begin, they figure someone should publish the material. They’ve done nothing to think about the market for their particular writing or who would publish it. It’s a key mistake on their part. Before you write one word of material, you need to focus on your reader. Who will be interested and how can you write your material so the editor for those readers will take your material?
Often these individuals believe they can write their novel and the first editor who reads it will love it and publish it. Then they will be on the bestseller list. This common belief should not surprise me. We live in an instaneous world. If you don’t reach someone on their phone, then you call their cell phone number. Something must be wrong if you don’t get a 24 hour response to an email. The publishing world doesn’t move fast and often it takes a while to receive a response—particularly a “yes” response.
It’s the road few travel but I strongly believe in the principle of apprenticeship. Instead of planning on writing the next bestseller, you learn to be an excellent storyteller. You practice your craft with the shorter magazine articles or in your local newspaper. Instead of writing an untargeted novel (believe me there are plenty of them out there), you learn to craft a short story with a page-turning plot and realistic dialogue and characters that make the reader want to know more.
Instead of planning on writing the next nonfiction bestseller, you learn to write different types of magazine articles for a small publication. You aren’t concerned about the royalty rate or the amount of payment for the article. You celebrate whenever anything appears in print and gets out to others where they can read it and appreciate it. Often beginning writers get hung up on things like royalty rate and what rights are they selling instead of a focus on quality work.
To me, the journey isn’t a one time experience. It’s a matter of building a body of work—solid writing over a long period of time. As you get published in one publication, the experience gives you the opportunity to be published in another area of the market. You learn how to meet the editor’s needs (and as a result the reader’s needs).
I’ve read the stories of people who catapult on the bestseller list with their first novel. It has happened and will happen in the future. It’s simply not the normal experience in publishing. I encourage writers to learn their craft, work hard at their storytelling and eventually they will be published—and not just published once but many times and consistently. It’s a journey worth the trip and one filled with learning every step of the way.