Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Being published is so passé.

I think there's a time in most aspiring writers minds when they dream of the day they'll finally see their name in lights, printed under the title of a story, finally having something to justify all their hard work. Finally, after years of toil, being published.

That's the dream, I suppose, the idea of publication being surrounded by an air of importance, feeling like something big.

Maybe I'm just cynical (surely), but it just doesn't seem like that big of a deal anymore. With the internet, there seems to be a boom in everything writing. The Dream is more accessible than ever. Everywhere you turn there are writers sharing their success stories. Writers sharing their advice (on monotized blogs, of course). Writers sharing their self-published e-novels that have sold thousands of copies! Writers sharing links to books on how-to-write fiction that tell the world how you too, each one of you, can also make your dream a reality and become a successful writer... if you just buy the book.

To meet the demand of this upsurge in writers following the dream, thanks in part to the internet and e-readers, there seems no shortage of outlets for being published. There are more online journals than one can keep up with, successfully publishing a slew of new writers every day. Tons of writing forums and workshops online, filled with loads of hopeful writers sharing their various degrees of success. Entire forums dedicated to building success (read as: sales) for their self-published book, largely to other people pimping their own self-published books. Hell, big publishing houses have opened their own sites, filled with forums and story-reading-mechanics with promises of even more accessibility and presence and success.

Everywhere you look, there are writers finding success!

Or are they?

Is having your story published in an obscure online journal that publishes 365 stories a year a success? Is winning a writing contest on one of dozens of writing forums, judged by other members of that same forum, a success? Is it even a success to sell a few thousand copies of your self-published, 99-cent e-book, knowing that most sales are simply to other writers hoping you'll reciprocate the purchase and buy their 99-cent e-book?

"I've been published" is the kind of thing I imagine meant something at some point, but when someone says this today, I shrug. It's a statement that perhaps used to carry weight in defending our lifestyle choice to become a writer, but seems incidental these days. You say you're published, and I'll raise an eyebrow and ask where? There are a slew of questions that go through my mind, trying to discern the merit of the publication, because just saying you're published doesn't seem to mean enough anymore.

Did being published used to require so much explanation? Did it used to come with so much doubt as to whether anyone should care? Did being published used to be so potentially passé? It's almost more impressive these days to meet someone who is dedicated to writing and hasn't been published yet, who is waiting for a 'meaningful' publication, or like me who is just more interested in writing, and being able to say I've been published just seems... almost boring. It just doesn't seem that hard to get to say it since it's become such a relatively easy cherry to pop.

Granted, it's tricky raising doubts and questions about the perceived success of other writers. I care about writers, and writing, and love seeing writers I respect find success. But because I respect writers, I also feel it's important to call BS when it's due. If you're an aspiring writer, don't be satisfied with the talking points. There are a lot of ways to get tricked into thinking you're on your way as a writer, or that you've already arrived. The danger is writers stop fighting to reach the top, because they think they're already there, or even halfway there, only to find you're still standing on the beach and haven't yet made a splash.

There are a lot of things a writer needs to believe in to find the strength and willpower to actually make it in this industry. Belief in self. Belief in the power and potential of fiction. Belief that telling stories will somehow make a difference and be worth the cost of trying; and if it doesn't feel like there's a cost involved, you aren't trying. There's so much to believe in, but with the ease and frivolity with which people can be published these days, be wary that you may be buying into the wrong message, believing the wrong things. Basically, in the words of the imminent Public Enemy: Don't believe the hype.


  1. I totally agree. I think that the new goal should be circulation... not publishing. If someone is actually distributing your work, marketing and promoting... that's when you know.

  2. Yeah, how many people are actually reading your work is a better indicator of things, I agree. It can also be deceiving with online journals, though, many boasting tens of thousands of 'readers' when really it's just page hits, perhaps from multiple people, who skim the site once and may never come back.

    The best indicator, as you mention, is probably definitely when someone or some agency is willing to put time and money into marketing and promoting. Having someone else say 'we find your writing worth our own time' is a bigger indicator of success than just about anything else. In my mind, at least. (I say in my mind, because you have novels like Twilight that were, imo, shoddily edited despite being published by the same company that publishes National Book Award winners that are expertly edited. So they had the resources, just didn't feel them worth committing to Twilight, which says a lot, imo).