What if (gulp) you don't get published?

Feb 10, 2011

I have loved writing stories since childhood. I finished my first "novel" (which was more of a novella) when I was about 13, and I proudly bound it with a three-hole-punch and some yarn and presented it to my father. He praised it lavishly, got misty-eyed when he saw it was "dedicated" to him, and told me one day I would be a published author.

Since that day, I was determined I would be. I wrote and wrote and majored in English and creative writing in college. But I didn't really get serious about publication until the last year. I took an incredible writing class, found a critique group, began learning about the publishing world, and got more consistent in my writing. My third novel is now with beta readers, awaiting some final revisions.

My husband has been incredibly supportive through the whole process. But he's a practical guy, and the other day he asked me a question I hadn't even considered.

"What will you do if you don't get published?"

It made me sit back. I honestly hadn't considered it, but I knew it was something I should. It's something every writer should, I think. Because, let's face it, the odds of getting an agent, selling your book, and getting great sales are pretty long.

There are thousands and thousands of people in the United States alone attempting to write novels. There are thousands of writing blogs where some of those people are attempting to get their name out. Agents receive hundreds to thousands of queries a year and take on maybe one or two clients from those. Some of the books they take on make the rounds of publishers and never see the light of day. Some of the ones that do get overlooked by readers.

So I knew I had to really think about what my husband had said-- what if I'm one of those thousands who never get published? The first thought I had: keep writing.

I can't imagine a future where I'm not writing, published or not. I love it. Once I get a story in my head, I can't stop squirming inside until it's on the page. Yes, I do want to share those stories with people. Yes, it'd be nice to make a little money after all the work I've put in. But there are lots of different roads to publication, so if one road dead ends, I've still got options.

And in the end, when I look at my current novel, I can acknowledge proudly that I have written a good book. Maybe not a great book; definitely a flawed book as it stands now. But it's the best thing I've written so far. I loved writing it, and I enjoy reading it. My writing improved through it. It might not be the book that gets me published. But I'm not planning on giving up-- I've got my whole life to pursue my dream of sharing the books I write with the world.

I'm putting in the work. I'm studying the craft, I'm making connections, I'm getting my work torn apart to make it better. And I love it enough to stick with it through the tough and discouraging times. I can reach my dream, but it was encouraging to honestly ask myself what I would do if I didn't reach it.

So, my friends, think about it. What will you do if you don't get your current dream of publication? Keep writing and keep trying? Pursue a slightly different dream-- publication with a small press, or self-publication? Decide that you love writing just for itself and won't pursue publication after all? There are no right or wrong answers-- just the answer that resonates with you.

And once you know the answer, you just might find a little more confidence in yourself.

And now for something completely different...

Don't forget, you can win a critique from agent Sarah LaPolla and editor C.A. Marshall, and help five kids in Ghana get an education! This is Daniel. He wants to be a doctor, and is in charge of the first aid kit at New Life International Orphanage (with some help from the caretakers, of course). Please help Daniel reach his dream! Even if you can't donate, spreading the word can help these children immensely.


Misha Gerrick said...

I want to publish, but like you, that is not the reason I write.

I write because I love the sensation of creating something new.

I'll probably keep doing it after a million rejections.

Or maybe not. A million rejections might mean that I suck at it.

Justin W. Parente said...

Hi Shallee,

I would live nothing more than to be published. Have my name in print by one of the big six houses. Now, that's not to say I'm not realistic. I don't live and breathe it. I write also to create something new, like Misha. I know my odds are slim. I like to think my writing is good enough to see print. My critique partners are invaluable and push me all the time. We all push each other.

While I have other career asprirations, writing is a hobby hopped up on drugs. I just don't do it sometimes. I always think about it. My worlds. My characters. But I keep it contained and produce the writing when I feel I can.

Thanks for posting this.

In My Write Mind

Demitria said...

I think writing is an amazing undertaking because you're never a failure until you quit. Even if you don't get your current manuscript published, there's always the next one and the next one after that. That's how I choose to look at it. I'm not published now, but that doesn't mean never.


Margo Kelly said...

I have to write. I think about it all the time, and I crave it when I'm not doing it.

I will keep writing. I will keep sending query letters.

That's all I know for now.

Karen Elizabeth Brown said...

I started writing because I had all these stories rolling around inside and my daughter challenged me to do something about it. It never occurred to me that I would want to publish. At this point, I'm still learning the craft, but if my writing progresses to the market, being published would be fantastic. But it's not why I write. My goal is to enjoy my work.

Emy Shin said...

Although I came back after "giving up" trying to get published a few times before, I don't feel the compulsion to write the way other writers do. However, I do write because I like it -- because it's a way for me to unload stories in my head.

If I never get published, I'll probably still write, and perhaps consider self-publishing under a pseudonym or just posting/serializing it online. And in the mean-while, keep trying. :)

Donea Lee said...

This is a great question I think all serious writers really need to consider. Like you, I've been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I daydream constantly. Writing is my avenue to get what's in my head...well, out. :) I'll continue to write, I know. Publication, to me, is just an added bonus!

Lindz Pagel said...

I didn't seriously entertain the idea of seeking publication until a little over a year ago. I've always written for the sheer pleasure of it. Like you, if I get an idea, I have to flesh it out.

So few times in our lives do we get to experience raw discovery, and I think writing a story (just because you have the spark) is one of those rare instances.

Teralyn Rose Pilgrim said...

I can't fathom not getting published. I've wanted to be a published author since I was eight, and I sent my first query letter when I was 13 (it was awful, of course, but a good experience). My purpose for writing is to change things, to influence people, to teach and inspire. If no one reads my work, I don't know what I'd do. I would give out my book for free if I had to.

The good news is that I'm young (24), and just because I can't get published now doesn't mean I never will. I read that most authors get published in their late 30's and 40's. I won't stop writing until I'm old, and whenever I decide to quit, that's when I'll accept that I won't get published. Not before.

Golden Eagle said...

Writing isn't absolutely everything to me. It's not the sole focus of my life, and I don't think pursuing writing as a career is something I really want to do. I love writing, and I love creating new things (as Misha said) but if I don't get published . . . well, it isn't the end of the world.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

This is an interesting topic. I agree with the person who said that the only way to fail as a would-be published writer is to quit.

And not quitting is related, for me, to the idea of who you tell about your writing. I don't bug every acquaintance about my writing, but from the time I started writing I decided to share my writing dreams with my family and friends. My reason for doing this is put a little bit of added public pressure on myself to never give up.

Lisa Gail Green said...

I LOVE your blogpost. You are obviously a writer. Because writers can't stop writing. No matter what. And you are doing all the right things. Just hang in there, and never give up.

Ellie Garratt said...

My dream is to publish a novel and, like you, I've never seriously considered what would happen if it never happened. The truth is that I will keep on writing no matter what, because I am a writer. I will never stop writing.

Anyone who stops writing because they failed to get published is not a writer.

BK Mattingly said...

I'm with you...just keep writing. It's too much a part of me to stop now and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sari Webb said...

Great post Shallee. And very thought provoking question. I think if I'd tried and tried again to get published via the traditional rout, and kept getting knocked back, I might looked at other avenues of publishing. Or, just keep writing for myself. I guess it depends how negative the feedback is, because if my writing really isn't getting any better there's no point self-pubbing and adding to published slush.

Anonymous said...

Getting published isn't my dream right now. I know it will take a while for me to find the story that I absolutely fall in love with and then a while to make it even better. Right now I'm focusing on short term goals. I don't feel the need to be published right now.

If I don't get published though, I'd go with a small press publication or even self-publication. It doesn't matter how many people read my story, I just want at least one person to feel my story.

Abby Minard said...

I think about it all the time. But like you, I just want to write. I have a ton of ideas for stories, so after this one, if I don't get an agent with it, I'll write another. And another and another. I talked to my crit partner one time about this and we wondered at what point we'd give up, delete our blogs and pretend all of this didn't happen. We couldn't really answer that because we will always be writing. And if I don't get published, that's fine. At least I can say I wrote a whole 94,000 word novel. Many people can't say that.

DL Hammons said...

I will be published...even if it's the self-publishing route. And depending on how that works out will determine if I continue to write novels. Short-stories, blogging, always...but I don't consider the time and effort involved in writing a novel "hobby" material. :)

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Such a true post. It's necessary to be realistic. The odds are not in any of our favor, are they? But we keep plugging away, simply because we love it.


Anonymous said...

I went through over a decade of rejection. I kept writing no matter what. Writing is part of my identity.

WritingNut said...

I've been thinking about this lately too... above all, I know I want to be published someday, but I know no matter what happens, I'm not going to give up. It won't be the "be all, end all".. first and foremost, I write because I love it.

I only started to become serious about becoming published about 2 years ago, so if anything, at least we'll still have our writing, and our dreams :)

Kristin Miller said...

LOVE everything about this post. I can read the fire behind your words. You'll make it. Have faith.

As for me, I feel like I'm grasping at that ever elusive carrot, just out of fingers reach. I'm not sure at what point I'd give up writing, or if I ever could...but I know one thing...that carrot is going to taste *excellent* in a gigantic bowl of published stew.

Michelle said...

Hi, Shallee. I write for my inner voice to come out and be heard.

Hey, my surprise is finally here! Any author who wants to can add info to my author showcase!


Shallee McArthur © 2013 | Designed by Bubble Shooter, in collaboration with Reseller Hosting , Forum Jual Beli and Business Solutions