Friday, June 03, 2005

Publishing is, well, impossible to break into. Right?

Someone posted and I cried . . .

"Traditional publishing is hard to get into." Or so she said. She is right and thank God. She mentioned that your writing must be properly marketed. Yup. "The right eyes at the right time" to quote her. She mentioned if you are not a professional writer, the road is long and hard. Perhaps. Apparently she does not read very many magazines. There is a place for the beginner, if the approach is proper.

This poster is self-published and as I recall, her publisher of choice is PublishAmerica.

I said . . .

Hold on, let us examine your comments. They might be a tad misleading, or I am a tad stupid this morning. Then again, you are somewhat accurate, but let us clarify a few things. On the other hand, I might a tad stupid this morning.

What I have a problem with is the idea that only professionals sell their writing. True to a point. However, those professionals were not always professionals. They became professionals because they work at their craft and they write every day. They listen to their editors and to Bob, and that helps them. They work at self-improvement. If they do not give up, eventually, they will sell. You must get that first article in print. You will be amazed at the power of a check from a publisher or client.

So let us simply say this: professional writers sell because they act in a professional manner. Amateur writers sell because they act in a professional manner.

If your goal is to be a professional, work at it. A professional is not someone who sells a book or an article every so often. A professional is often scared that one day; there will be no more checks or contracts. That they have said everything he or she is capable of saying. Perhaps the well is dry and they will end up on the street.

You live and you die by your output. Full time freelance writers work very hard, and they are often scared that eventually, they will have to find a real job. Do you really want to suffer full time?

Some novelists start out by writing magazine articles. The pay can be good and you do not (necessarily) need to be an expert writer to sell to many of these markets. Many otherwise capable writers seem to have a problem selling simple articles. Then I review their approach and I can immediately see why they are suffering.

When you consider the vast numbers of magazines in this country alone, it is highly likely that your writing will find a market. This does not mean that you can find a market for absolutely everything you write and if you cannot spell or organize a coherent thought, you can still sell. However, I have a few writers' guidelines from magazines that accept "poorly written" work and the editor will clean it up. This is a national publication, by the way. They want ideas and they do not demand a fine polish.

Despite this, if your work is sloppy and inaccurate, you still might have a problem, regardless of how apparently lax the editor is. You must have some basic skills and a logical approach. Writing is still a tough job.

Many amateur writers without great skills manage to sell articles. Perhaps you might forget about writing a book and start with simple magazine articles. Many markets cater to (for example) certain hobby interests and they buy articles that might need a little polish. If you have a great idea, you will eventually find a magazine that wants your article.

There is a world of difference between "The National Review" and "Crafts." The NR demands a higher level of quality than Crafts does. A decent 'how-to' or 'service' piece will always find a market. Try writing articles for a year. Set some goals. Perhaps one query letter per week to start. Remember that you must deliver or you die!

Incidentally, I mentioned "Crafts Magazine." Their old guidelines tell the writer that their work does not need to be perfect; they will edit and clean up the work if required. This specific publication is (or was) telling the writer that he or she does not have to be perfect. This is not a reflection on the magazine and I do not want to imply that they are sloppy and will accept every sloppy piece arriving in their office.

If you cannot sell to markets that will clean up your writing, stop trying and return to the world of web sites that accept everything they see or perhaps write Internet poe-try.

Traditional publishing is hard. It is a winding road with plenty of obstacles. Many great books will never see print, yet many bad books do. The fact that it is hard to break in is a good thing. If it was easy, well, we would (I would) be decrying traditional publishing as I do much of the self-publishing I see. Thank God, there are hundreds of thousands of books worth reading in the library, should everything go to hell.

You asked how fair is it that "if your craft is not correct in every aspect of the word, then look forward to a rejection?" Quite fair in my view and again, this is as it should be. Writers who are having trouble selling might disagree. By the way, every writer makes simple errors, and the writer is almost always offered a chance to make corrections. Even Stephen King thanks his editor for making the book better.

She said, "I need help with my technical writing skills, but my ideas are good, so why should I pay someone, who may already have a toe in the door; to critique my hard work . . ." She apparently is scared to death that her work will be stolen. She also loves book doctors.

I asked . . .

To be clear, do you mean to imply that someone on the inside is likely to steal your ideas? Most beginners think this happens every day. I do not think it does. Then again, I am not saying that it does not happen from time to time. Any editor caught stealing starts looking for a new job, if they can find one. Trust me, no publisher worth a damn is going to hire an editor who steals manuscripts.

As for your skills being less than perfect, you can change that. That is, if you want to change. Writers with less than perfect skills break through the door every day. Let me ask you this: does someone who can not write because of poor skills deserve publishing glory and fat advance checks? What about the electrician or doctor that tells you he needs help with his technical skills. Do you hire him? I did not think so.

So, to sum up, if you lack certain skills, go forth and fix thyself. Mr. Strunk is your friend. Visit the used bookstore and buy a few used HS textbooks. If you want to be a professional, start small and build a foundation. Some people discover that the love affair they have with writing is short lived and perhaps should forget writing for a living. If this is you, good luck. No one said it is easy.

Some people discover that sadly, they cannot write. Despite their best efforts, they cannot write. Do not moan and groan because only people who have skill and can write will find a publisher. This is how it must be, and whatever it is that you lack, you should be able to fix. So, go fix yourself.

Bob Maxey - Salt Lake City, Utah

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