In the fall of 2016 I wrote a (long) blog post titled “Publish and Perish Anyway.” Despite my intention to write, first, a love letter to my nearly lifelong desire to be a writer, and then second, a critique of what publishing didn’t mean to me, parts of it came across as a little whiny and defensive. I didn’t feel whiny and defensive when I wrote it, but it had a little of that vibe nevertheless.
Fundamentally, I still feel and think today the way I felt and thought fourteen months ago. I love to write. I love to have people read what I wrote. But I lack what I deem to be the specific ambition required to publish. I’m not a lazy person. I enjoy hard work. But when I imagine the outcome of being published, I struggle to find within that outcome the motivation for seeking publication … for all the reasons I wrote about.
But there is an aspect of seeking publication that I had not considered and, indeed, I don’t think I could have considered, at least not emotionally, had I not decided to set aside publishing as a goal. The seeds of my new found willingness … even eagerness, to seek publication were planted as I made my book available to more and more people to read and so received more and more feedback. No matter how many people read it. No matter how many times I read it. There were still mistakes.
So I had my first sort of “duh” moments. Almost a dozen people proof read my book and yet there were still mistakes. I just found another one the other day. I realized there is no substitute for professional proofreading, somebody whose job is to proofread and who does it every day. That “duh” moment led to the second. A few of my very early readers had provided some feedback on story, structure, character, but beyond that, readers just gave me general feedback. Again, no substitute for a professional whose job it is to read and evaluate stories every single day. This led me, somewhat reluctantly, to begin looking closely at what literary agents actually do. The more research I did, the more I came to understand that I didn’t understand. To a much greater extent than 20 years ago when I last considered them seriously, agents collaborate with writers. Anyone who has done any work in publishing will read this and wonder what is wrong with me that I didn’t truly absorb this idea until now. But I didn’t, and the thing of it is, collaboration is something that does motivate me.
Sure, finding an agent is a step on the road to potentially being published, but before it is anything it is a chance to collaborate with someone whose job, every day, is to understand story and help writers.
I decided to treat it like a consulting project for a client. Everything went up on the wall as I deconstructed the work into tasks. Turns out, I enjoy the work. The chances of finding an agent, let alone getting published and making even a little bit of money, are still slim. But like the actor said when he came back to the set after sulking in his trailer, “I found my motivation.”