Dear Diary: I’m “unpublishable”

Like most girls my age, pre-teenage brought the gift of a diary. My mother was so tickled to give it to me. I had no clue what to do with it, honestly. “It’s for writing down your thoughts, special memories, things you do in,” she explained.

So in my first diary, I diligently wrote something in the small-lined page every day because I was supposed to. But I didn’t like doing it. There wasn’t enough space to really do anything interesting with. There was no room for any of the details I wanted to capture and remember for later. The printers of this diary evidently thought that six teeny lines for a day was enough for a pre-teen girl’s thoughts.

And then there was the added problem that I was the oldest of four girls. At this point in time, all four of us shared the same bedroom on top of it. Privacy couldn’t be expected, and there was no way I was going to write down anything really personal in something that had a joke for a lock (even as a kid, I could tell that). It only took one instance of seeing my diary open in a sister’s hands to kill any desire to write in it.

So the diary quickly went unused. Sure enough, come Christmas, I got another one. Again, my mother entreated me to use it. The second one had more space (a whole page!) per day. But I’d lost my enthusiasm for the endeavor. I couldn’t think of anything to write in it, so I’d only jot down things on occasion then quickly forgot its existence again. This cycle repeated until I finally stopped getting diaries about age 15 or so.

Many years later, I was packing things for the downsizing divorce brings and found one of those long-forgotten diaries. I did the natural thing–I started flipping through it, just to see how much I didn’t write before I threw it away.

And I hadn’t, not much, as expected. But one date caught my attention: May 13, 1974. The entry read

Everyone’s wanting to know what I want to be when I grow up. Most of them want me to be a teacher. But I want to be a published writer.

 I was 13 when I wrote that. It was still true when I found the diary in 1991.

The first thing I had to do then was to figure out what “being published” means. I’ve decided that it means “Having my book in a store that my grandmother in BF-Nowhere, Michigan can walk into and just buy it.”

Knowing what you’re shooting for, exactly, is a requirement for making a goal, after all.

 *** ***  *** ***

Becoming a published author is, in some ways, a lot like getting any other job–you’ve got to convince someone you can do something well enough that someone wants to pay you to do it. The big difference is, with writing, you have to prove it before you can convince someone. Each book, each story is the “resume” you use to attract attention of agents and editors. Fortunately, you can reinvent your “resume” every time until you find the one that works, but sometimes you just can’t find the one that works.

There’s lots of reasons a writer fails to get published. The vast majority is because their actual writing isn’t competent enough to read easily. There’s those who write well, but just aren’t good at telling stories. And then there are those who write well enough, are good at telling stories, but aren’t interested in telling stories that will make publishers barrels and barrels of money.

I got my first rejection letter in 1975, and have gotten them steadily when I’ve submitted. I’ve gotten compliments on my writing, and my storytelling at various points. I had a small press publication in 1999 (back at the dawn of indie publishing) and got a pretty good review from Romantic Times for the book. (That didn’t qualify as published since Gramma could only get the book online and still doesn’t own a computer.) I’ve posted a fan fiction story on several years ago and have gotten good reviews and still get a number of “favorite stories” every month. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I’m most likely in that last group of “unpublishables”: The readers of the kinds of things I like to write isn’t a large enough market for big publishers to deal with.

That was a fairly hard blow to the ego, I admit. I mean, “Write what you love” and all that rot that writers are told by other writers. Apparently all the things I love to read has become passé, “stuff your mom read” or some such nonsense. But a writer writes what they write. Getting an entirely different kind of story is difficult because there’s no real way to control what ideas come to you. And not all writers can just write whatever will market well, or make adjustments so it will “sell better”.

I’m one of those writers, y’know. The story is the story and that’s what I want to tell. It’s the main reason I want to write. I want to be published because that will get my work out there for people to read. I mean, that’s kinda the purpose of writing it down, is so people can have the chance to read it. Otherwise, I could just play them through in my own head and enjoy them. Writing is communication first and foremost, after all.

Thus, I’ve turned to the indie publishing option. It’s tailor-made for all those “niche markets” that’s not big enough for the big publishers. A few thousand copies sold–at this point a few hundred copies sold, is enough for me.

And, yes, with the publication of the Flamechild anthology I’m part of, I’ve come close to becoming published by my own definition. My grandmother can walk into her local Barnes & Noble and read it for free on a Kindle (she doesn’t have one, but several of my cousins who live nearby do) while drinking coffee.

So, I’m not entirely published yet, but I’m a whole pile closer now than I’ve been before. Foobat Books has taken the steps for all their books to be available to the distributors for bookstores, but indie publishing is still a little too new and risky for many books from unknowns to be marketed that way. But as it continues to grow (at least, I’m hoping it does) and opportunities open up, I think I have a chance to get there that I never had before.

Assuming, of course, that my assessment is correct–that I’m a niche writer looking for those “few” readers who will enjoy my work. But that’s an entirely different journey (and blog post).

Previous Post
Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Hi. I clicked over here from AW. I think you and I must have received identical diaries as kids. 🙂 I hardly ever wrote in mine either, and I have no idea what happened to it. And like you, I landed in that third category of unpublishable. Finally decided to go with a small local publisher who is transitioning from being a subsidy press into something more traditional. They’re enthusiastic about my novel, and I’ve been working with a great editor and designer. The novel’s coming out late this year, . . . but it probably won’t make it into a store where your grandma could buy it. But after pursuing this dream for thirty years, I’ve decided I’ll take what I can get.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • The Bag of Holding

  • Pigeon Holes

  • Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: