Last week I watched a video by an author who used to have a big following on YouTube. They quit the platform two years ago for mental health reasons and have no plans on returning. However, they provided an update to their readers via a private video in their newsletter.
In the video, they shared that they’d spent the past two years writing, revising, and then submitting a new novel to publishers. The book was in a different genre to what they were known for, but the premise for the story came to them with such intensity that they knew they needed to write it.
They put everything they had into that novel; they loved the book; their agent loved it, and it went out on submission and got picked up by a publisher. They had phone conversations with editors about market strategies and release dates. And then, out of nowhere, they got the call that the publisher wouldn’t be taking on the book after all.
That is the risk of being a writer. You may spend years working on a novel that nobody wants. You may get given the green light, only to be pulled up by a stop sign further down the road.
This issue is not restricted to gatekeepers. Yes, traditional publishers may reject your work, but self-publishing is not a backup option–it’s a choice.
You can self-publish your work if you want to get it out there, but there is no guarantee that it will sell, especially if you don’t have a platform or a willingness to invest in paid advertising.
Finding readers is a way to complete the writing process, after all, finished books are products, but getting published cannot be the only reason why you write.
The kind of disappointments I mentioned above are common, but they aren’t always talked about. Sometimes we hear big authors mention the two or three books they wrote before they hit their big break, but we never heard about this type of rejection from mid-list or mid-career authors.
In one way, it makes sense because successful authors have a reputation to uphold and convincing readers to part with fifteen bucks for a paperback is hard enough already without planting the seed of doubt about the author’s skill level.
Brandon Sanderson wrote thirteen novels before landing a book contract.
You can’t write thirteen novels if your only goal is publication.
You’d lose steam after just a few because it takes a lot to write a book.
I’m not going to tell you why you should write a book or what specific motivations could be deemed morally acceptable, but in general, it probably should have something to do with process. Just saying.
You can have big ambitious goals and dreams for your book, but the publishing of a book is such a small process and the promotion of a new release is brief (a couple of months if you’re lucky).
Promotion takes up time; writing takes up you: your headspace, energy, and love.
When writing becomes the reason for writing, you can’t fail.
The lessons learnt from unpublished manuscripts become invaluable, golden. The pages are gifts you’ve given yourself because you were brave enough to commit to a project. The manuscript may not lead to a measurable external outcome, but you will experience internal benefits from having written it.
The only thing we can do as writers is commit to our creative urges and compulsions, follow the heat of a story, and leave questions of publications and marketability for later.
The story must always come first.
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