Today's topic is fiction publication. Now, I don't claim to be an expert on the entire publishing industry, but I've been cruising around the block for a few years and I've made some observations.
1) Writing is a frustrating business.
And business is the operative word. If you enjoy writing as a hobby, something to fill the void in your days, or perhaps to delight your special someone, then it's fine and dandy. But the moment you decide to take a chance and send your little darling out into the world in search of publication, you quickly realize that you've crossed over from Candyland onto (Nightmare on) Elm Street. Perhaps it's because artists tend to see the world in abstracts. We think to ourselves, "Hey, my mom likes this story. It must be good!" Even the first rejection slip can be explained away. That editor wouldn't know a good story if it hit him in the (insert body part). It isn't until the rejections start piling up (and, yes, I keep every one. I used to fantasize about writing everyone who had ever turned down one of my pieces once I got published and giving them a verbal raspberry, but I honestly couldn't afford the postage.) that you begin to realize that good old mom isn't the most reliable source for objective criticism.
But back to my point. Publication is a business. It has to make money in order to survive. That means ruthless competition, because these days everyone with access to a computer, laptop, blackberry, or pencil is trying to sell something they wrote. Because writing is easy, right?
2) Writing well is difficult.
I fell into this trap early on. I mean, we write stuff everyday: grocery lists, phone numbers, lame excuses to the landlord, love letters to our pets... Writing a book is just like doing those things, only a few hundred times back-to-back. Right? And ideas for books are everywhere. I can't tell you how many people have, upon learning that I'm a writer, suggested "the BEST idea" for a book. Usually it's the book they would write if they "just had the time," but I can have the idea for free if I just promise to mention them on the dedication page. This, more than any other reason, is why I cringe every time my well-meaning wife tells someone I've just met that "this is my husband. He's a writer." Most of these people probably think I'm an a complete a$$hole because my first instinct is to mutter something self-depreciating and duck away like a vampire presented with a crucifix smelling of garlic. Well, I can be a right bastard, but that's a topic for another day.
And all this stems from the fact that writing seems rather easy. You string together a few words and -- presto! -- you've got a sentence. Sentences turned into paragraphs, and pages, and so forth. But writing WELL is the trick. It's damned hard. Harder than I imagined when I first started writing with a mind to publish. And the worst part is, the more you study and practice and sweat, the more you realize that you don't know shit. Writing is just like every other skill. You start at the bottom and work your way up the ladder. And maybe, after you've paid your dues and done your homework, after you've re-read and torn apart and reassembled your story until you can recite it in your sleep, if the stars align and Lady Luck smiles upon you, then perhaps you might get a break. Perhaps.
3) Don't quite your day job. (No, really.)
Anyone who wants to get rich, or even earn a decent wage, would be better off looking elsewhere. I used to think that I would make my living with writing. That belief ended on the day my parents told me to either start paying rent or move out of their basement. I was 22 and already had an impressive pile of rejection slips to my name. Now, it may seem to the casual observer that all any writer needs is one homerun idea for a book to hit the big time. We live in a viral world where popularity can spark in an instant and go worldwide overnight. And it's confusing to new writers because many of these mega-best-sellers are (and there's no nice way of saying this) rather poorly written, even to the casual reader. I won't mention any names for fear that one day I may be on a panel with one of these authors.
The honest truth is, if you are writing for anything other than the pure pleasure of it, for the feeling you get when you're hitting your stride and the words are flowing like honeyed mead from your soul, for the reader buried inside you, then don't do it at all. And if you're not happy with the person you see in the mirror, then getting published isn't going to change anything. Publication isn't the whole meal, it's just the icing on a cake that tastes pretty good all by itself.