No, You’re Not Ready to Publish

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Don’t you hate it when the Inner Critic is right? After years of being shoved aside and trampled, he gloats over fleeting opportunities to jump up and down and yell, “I told you so!” and it’s so annoying.

It’s not easy to admit, but many of us are probably among the 99.9% of writers who mistakenly thought our brilliantly written and endlessly polished first novels were ready for launching. In hindsight we know better, but at the time we were enthusiastic about their chances in the market.

I read of one writer who said, “Don’t tell me first novels never sell. If I believed that, why would I bother to finish mine?” When we first begin writing, the naïve mindset is like a protective cloak… “we don’t know what we don’t know.”

My husband quotes one of his professors as cautioning, “For the first ten years in ministry, don’t preach on Revelation. After that you’ll know better than to preach on Revelation.”  As writers we could use a similar admonition — something along the lines of, “Write your heart out on the first book but steel yourself to the reality that it’s only a learning experience.”

Reality sucks! But it’s not as if we expect a new surgeon to immediately perform brain surgery, or a beginning athlete to compete in the Olympics, so why do we expect our first novel should be bestseller material?

Anne Allen wrote an excellent post on “12 signs your novel isn’t ready to publish.” She directed it to those who were tempted to self-publish too soon, but her ideas make good sense for all of us seeking publication. I particularly like the simplicity and sense of her comment, “All beginners make mistakes. Falling down and making a mess is part of any learning process. But you don’t have to display the mess to the world.”

Yes, we worked darned hard on that story and we’d like to reap some benefit from the effort. Well, guess what? We did. The benefit is in the education. We read and wrote and learned. Part of what we learned is how little we actually knew before we began the process. Part of what we will learn tomorrow is how little we know today.

When more experienced writers warned me about the Inner Critic’s unreliability, they didn’t suggest how to react on the odd occasions when he might be right. I’m sorry, but there’s no being graceful in the face of his taunts.

“I’m learning with experience. So shut up already!”

If someone knowledgeable told you the book you are currently writing would never sell, would you finish it anyway, or stop where you are?

~

Ostrich Photo by anankkml
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34 thoughts on “No, You’re Not Ready to Publish

  1. karen evans says:

    Well, my tries at devos have been told that, only if I am well known or already published or have a great platform, will a publisher want to take me on. But I write what my spirit says. True writers, I think will write on, anyway.

    • Karen, don’t believe people that tell you those are the only ways. Strive to produce the very best written work you can, and get it critiqued/edited by someone who is experienced with the genre. Then research the right market for it and get querying. There’s truth to the saying that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

  2. It would depend on my age 🙂 I’ve spent the majority of my adult years believing it would make no difference to keep writing. Several months ago I decided to get back to writing for “me”. Now I’m loving the process. Your post is an encouragement today. Thanks!

    • I’m a believer in the possibilities when a writer is both passionate and determined. I’m glad you’re writing again… and writing for yourself is the very best kind. 🙂

  3. Laura Best says:

    If I really believed in the story, and my characters I might try very hard to find a way to make it publishable. If not, I’d eventually have to face facts and give up. There are many ways to write the same story as I keep repeatedly discovering.

    • You’ve seen the business side of publishing and know that it’s not always the quality of writing that makes it unpublishable, but what’s marketable. It helps to understand that.

  4. Katt says:

    In answer to your question, I would finish it. Then go to work. I used to think writing a book was just that, writing. But the real work comes after you’ve typed ‘The End’.
    This post reminds me of a conversation I had an hour or so ago with another writer. He is very discouraged at the moment. I have read his work and he is a great writer. The advice I gave him is; we all need help with our writing. But be careful who you listen to. J.K. Rowling was rejected hundreds of times. So was Stephen King.
    We need to work, and polish our writing until it shines. Then we find the “key” that opens the “right” publishing door! It will happen—just don’t give up!
    Great post!
    Hugs

    • “… we all need help with our writing. But be careful who you listen to.” That’s wonderful advice, Katt! Not everyone offering guidance or an opinion is necessarily qualified to give it (myself included), but encouragement is always welcome.

  5. Carla Altland says:

    If we first do not succeed , try , try again !!Keep on writing >>> for sometimes the biggest failures can become the best writing. Never ever give up, for it will be worth it all , even if you are the only one who reads what you write. Life is writing!!

    • That’s the spirit we need, Carla. I remember Diana Gabaldon saying the best advice she could give a writer is not to give up… a lack of persistence is the biggest obstacle to publication.

  6. joylene says:

    I never believe what people say anyway, so I would have finished regardless. But after 7 sevens, what a shock to realize I’d written a book no one wanted to read. My reasons for writing it didn’t exactly dictate publishing, so I got over the shock. And because I was so hooked on the process I immediately started a new one. Hope that answers the question.

  7. Jennie Dugan says:

    Timely question. I just decided that if the book I”m currently trying to get published doesn’t find a publisher, I’m going to put it online and share it with friends anyway, free of charge, and even subject myself to feedback. But check this out. In the last week, in the handful of blogs I follow, two separate, unrelated writers wrote about having writing breakthroughs after simply doing as they felt led for a loooong time.
    And I also acknowledge that it may not be my part to be a bestselling novelist. But I have to write. To write is to breathe.

    • That’s determination, Jennie! Good for you. I know you’ll be putting out a really great story, well written, revised and edited, in whatever form it’s to be published.

  8. Shari Green says:

    I’m pretty sure I’d finish it anyway, because I’m kinda stubborn that way. 😉

    I think I’d get a good laugh if I went back and re-read novel #1 (or die of humiliation knowing I actually sent that thing out!). But that’s okay. It would be a bad sign if I were in the exact same spot now as I was then. And I hope I’ll feel that same way some day when I look back on the novel I’m currently writing (#4), because that’ll mean I’ve kept learning — that all the “practice” is still paying off.

    • I agree… it would be awful to look back and see no difference in our work after years of struggling to improve. Hopefully we’ll recognize the results from all the how-to books, the critiques and conference workshops. Hmm, talking about a conference…. 😉

      • Shari Green says:

        Registration opens June 1. It’s so not our year, but I can’t stop thinking about it. 😉

      • Unless a miracle happens I don’t think I can afford to go… but just because I don’t go doesn’t mean you can’t. Didn’t you say you had leftover prize money waiting for a good use?

  9. Tricia says:

    “If someone knowledgeable told you the book you are currently writing would never sell, would you finish it anyway, or stop where you are?”

    Actually I need someone knowledgeable to tell me that. That way I’ll get mad and want to prove that person wrong. A little anger can be a lot of fuel.

  10. Dave Ebright says:

    “If someone knowledgeable told you the book you are currently writing would never sell, would you finish it anyway, or stop where you are?”

    Hah! I wouldn’t waste my time having that conversation in the first place. Have never been caught up with validation concerns.

    • It’s probably true that writers get altogether too caught up in their neediness! Intrinsic validation from our own sense of accomplishment has to be more satisfying anyway. BTW, congrats on the release of Reckless Endeavour!

  11. The novel I am (well, actually, should be) working on right now? It’s sucking my soul out through my fingertips. I would drop it like a hot potato.

    I’m hoping the soul-sucking, however, will ultimately bring forth something as amazing as I know this story can be. Because that’s what good books need to grow: eat writers’ souls.

    Great post!

    • You need soul sucking candidates? I’ll gladly give you my big-mouthed Inner Critic for a meal! LOL! But I know what you mean about the best work coming from somewhere deep inside us.

  12. I’d write it anyway. Then I’d edit it and edit it and edit it and learn until I get it right.

    I pinned a quote from your blog on my website http://lucinda.110mb.com/page6.html because I thought is was awesome. Anything to help us wannabe (published) writers to cross that finish line and get that trophe.

    I was told once that only one in every 2 million writers are able to quit their day jobs. My response? “Great, that means I have a chance!”

    First novels are our learning process, and there are too many novels in my head to let my first attempt be an anchor to doing something I love doing so much.

    • That may be a first for me. I don’t often get quoted. Not that I very often say anything worth quoting, of course… but, thanks, Lucinda. And with all that editing I don’t doubt you’ll make it onto bookshelves one day soon. Happy writing!

      • Publishing often is like playing the lottery – you have to buy a ticket first. By that I mean, I continue sending out query letters and studying the publishing industry. So, I hope it won’t be all THAT long before I get another book on a shelf. The first one….long story and a lesson well-learned.

        Hope all your writing endeavors are success and joy.

      • Thanks, Lucinda. Long story and a lesson learned??? Hmm, sounds like that’s a story in itself. 😉

  13. joylene says:

    Forgot to mention I love the picture.

  14. I am starting number 6 and I know I still have a TON to learn:)) But this is the best way–trial and error.

  15. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I believe that the inner critic and the inner cheerleader are both necessary. The cheerleader keeps us writing and gives us hope. The critic keeps us from overconfidence and vanity, ensures we have the humility to keep learning. The critical thing is to negotiate a path between the two!

    I’ve finished books that I haven’t even tried to sell. I did it for myself. I’ve noticed that if a book really wants to be written, I’ll write it regardless of whether it ever sells. And an idea that sounds very sales-worthy, even to others, isn’t something I can write if it doesn’t strike an inner spark with me.

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