Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Publication Panic Attack

I was reading another writing blog, where a hopeful author is fretting over getting her first manuscript accepted by an agent. She was talking about query letters and how when you send one and it's rejected, you really don't know why unless they take the time to explain, which is rare. So the author has no idea whether to change the proposal, change the query letter, change the book, or just try the same package on someone else.

When I read stuff like that, I get a painful constricting feeling in my chest, just under the sternum. I have to remind myself to breathe. My stomach also clenches and I think I might lose my breakfast. So I take deep, slow breaths, fix a cup of hot tea and write about it.

This all goes back to the eternal question: Is what I am writing interesting enough for someone else to read, let alone publish? The answer to the first part of the question is undoubtedly "Yes," because my friends, at least, will read it and perhaps even enjoy it.

The answer to the second part is "Who knows?" From what I hear, publishing is the ultimate crap shoot. You just keep putting yourself out there and hoping for the best. However, at least authors get to do it from home, while actors, singers, etc. have to face personal humiliation day in and day out. Okay, it's not the ultimate crap shoot, but it feels like that at times.

The other question is, why in the world do we DO this? What makes us so goddamn sure our writing is so important that we have to sacrifice our time, happiness, self-worth and lots and lots of postage to try to spread it to the world? In the ultimate picture, does anyone really care, besides us? My mom will always encourage me in my writing, because she's my mom. (Thanks, Mom!) My husband will ask how much all this is going to cost and will we ultimately lose money in the process? He isn't being mean, just practical... the bills come in each month regardless of my word count, and it's not like I'm contributing a lot financially.

My six-year-old just wants me to get off the computer so he can play Dino Attack.

Writers are either supremely egotistical, or supremely driven. I have met some egotistical ones, for example the author/writing teacher (now very successful) who discouraged me in college so much that I didn't write a thing for nearly thirteen years. But most of us are just driven. We can't not write.

But why publish? Why not do what my friend Michelle Gregory did, and self-publish a few copies to share with family, friends and Internet buddies? Why not publish for free on my blog? It would probably draw an audience, which is what I want, but no income. No publisher would want the book after that because anyone could just download the whole thing for free. But is income that important? Yes, I have to admit it is. I need to be able to justify all this time and effort to our family finances.

And, I have to admit, there is that teeny little part of me that is just dying to see my name on a glossy cover at Barnes and Noble, or an airport news stand.

But, I am also terrified of the whole publishing house process. For example, book promotion. How in the world am I going to do book tours and signings when I have a six-year-old who has to go to school, Cub Scouts, etc.? My husband can't take off from his job to do Daddy Daycare. So it seems hopeless, and I go round and round in circles of nail-biting, chocolate-chomping, coffee-slurping frustration.

What I keep coming back to... and I apologize because this is really, really corny and even a bit wierd... is that I really believe God wants me to do this. I don't know why. I find it very hard to believe that in His eternal Plan, my little book has any impact whatsoever. I just know that over and over again, He has put it in my heart, "Just write the book! Just do it." Perhaps its a simple matter of obedience. Like Abraham sacrificing Isaac. Nothing really came of that (fortunately for Isaac!), other than that Abraham proved he was faithful and God was pleased. Perhaps this is all just about pleasing the God who gave me this little gift of making up stories.

And yet... and yet... those tremulous little fingers of hope reach out in spite of my own misgivings... Did C.S. Lewis think that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, written for his niece Lucy, would ever have the impact it has? Did J.R.R. Tolkein ever think that his Lord of the Rings trilogy would be so successful, even though I believe most of the success has been posthumous? Did Beatrix Potter really think her simple little stories would affect generations of children?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But oh! What a venture!

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians something: something)


silvercharmster said...

You need to keep writing for the simple fact that I plan to show up at a book signing and get an autograph. (And, no, signing a copy while we sit at the table and have a cup of tea is not the same thing.) So how am I going to do that if you don't get published, Huh? Huh? Huh? That is what I would like to know. (Sorry - reading too much Junie B. Jones at bedtime!)

Michelle Gregory said...

i'm glad you posted this. i'm glad to see that someone else wrestles with the whole "why in the heck am i doing this?" question. i'm also glad that you came to the conclusion that maybe it's just out of obedience that we write.

all i know is that if i don't write, part of me will die. i know that sounds terribly melodramatic, but it's true (for me at least). we may never know how our words and stories affect people. i hope i get a glimpse in heaven, but even if i don't, i have to believe that i'm having some kind of an impact, even if it's just on the angels. can't you see one of them saying, "i don't know why they do that. i sure wouldn't. but at least they're living out of their hearts." and as my husband says, "how important is your heart?"

frankly, mine is important. it's why i keep doing this. my favorite quote is, "don't ask what the world needs. ask what makes you come alive and go do it. because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

Wendi said...

Arghh now you are making MY Stomach clench up!! I haven't typed a single word of my book yet, it's all chicken scratch pen and paper so far. I'd love an hour free to start!!!! You are so far ahead of the game, hang in there, it will ALL Be worth it when you aren't only published, but a MOVIE!!! Love ya!

Christine H said...

Wendi, your reaction to the pages I accidentally left in your basement is one of the things that keep me going. Viva the chicken scratch! "Just keep writing, just keep writing, writing, writing, what do you do when you want to wri-ite?" (sing that to "Just Keep Swimming" from Finding Nemo)

Michelle Gregory said...

you're right. i am addicted to nano. (grin)

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