This post is for writers for whom getting published is a critical way to validate their existence, and, really, anyone who thinks that getting published is the grandest of all achievements.
It’s not. At least, not anymore.
Literary ambition is a wonderful and remarkable thing, for were it not for that ambition, we would not see a lot of works that are out there in existence today (a lot of them are good, too!). I have a view of the existence of books in the same way medieval philosophers viewed the matter of the existence of God: existence in itself is a better thing, so it should be.
That goes for crappy books, too, for if there weren’t any crappy books, however would we know which ones are worthy? My philosophy on good and bad books is like the take on a good and bad day: you never know what a good day is until you’ve had a crummy one.
Sorry. I’m going overboard with the philosophizing today.
This post is in response to the depression aspiring writers get into when they get rejection slip after rejection slip. Don’t do that to yourself. Getting published is not all it’s made out to be, and here is why:
1. You can only be so happy before you go back to being your crummy self. The Intern does an incredible job of describing this. She actually managed to get her book picked up, and in the stressful midst of the pre-publishing activities, she found herself realizing that while her situation had changed and she had been ecstatic to find out her book was taken up, she was not really any happier than she had been before. She linked this realization with the concept of the hedonic treadmill. Published or not, in the long run you will only as happy as you’ll ever be. Deal with it.
2. If the public chooses to ignore or reject your book, that fate could be worse than not getting published at all. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather suffer from a dozen rejections than get published and have a very lukewarm response to my book, or no response at all, or be one of the mediocre books that become the scum below the bar defining good books are. I wouldn’t want that for myself. I would want my book–the book I had spent ages molding and perfecting so that it is the most unique and original and incredible work that I could produce–to be met with some response. It doesn’t even have to be positive (we all know what the fatwa on Rushdie did to Satanic Verses sales). It just has to be acknowledged. To be responded to.
One could take a different view that failing in publishing is like failing in love: that it’s better to have gone out there, published, and sold very few copies than not published at all. Nope. That sounds way nicer in theory than in practice. In the real world, editors will be kicking themselves for taking you on and your future prospects of getting published will be even more dismal.
If chances of getting published are a hundred to one, then think of your book actually gaining significant popularity as a one to a thousand. Publishers try their best to gauge the marketplace, but ultimately a lot of book projects, especially fictional books, are a gamble.
3. We’re living in the information age–on speed. No one’s telling you your content can’t be made available to millions. Hello. Internet?
Are you seriously going to mope about the fact that the gatekeepers of the publishing industry are keeping the world from seeing a glimpse of your genius? Grow up. We now have all the tools to be seen and heard. With the right platform and outreach via social media, you have no reason not to get your content out there.
And here’s the real kicker: by publishing online, you’ll be reaching out to people who simply can’t be bothered to set foot in a bookstore. Someone stumbles across your blog and says “Hey, usually these things don’t do it for me, but this one’s onto something here.” Bam. That’s success. That’s all a genuine writer really wants. They want their work to matter, even if it’s for one person.
You might raise the very valid point, dear Muslim reader, that I must think traditional publishing matters, for I after all work in the industry. Much as I love being part of the process, seeing some of the content that comes out and the fact that not everybody is a reader does make me question some things. This is an issue I will explore further later.
But the message you should take away, aspiring writer, is this: do everything you can to get published. But don’t disillusion yourself too much about the merits of getting published, and don’t subject yourself to agony over thinking you are worthless. Tie your camel, and then trust Allah. Know that there is something better for you, and it may come in a form that you couldn’t have conceived of.
7 thoughts on “On Publishing: 3 Reasons Why None of it Matters”
I respect your theory that publishing does not buy happiness–true, it’s not going to cure depression or really change who a writer is–but you offer a rather bleak, discouraging view to aspiring writers out there. Why should someone spend so much of their lifetime working to get published if “none of it matters,” as you say? Do you believe that there are any merits to getting published?
Thanks a lot for your comment. It’s good to know how this work might be perceived by aspiring writers who read this post.
I was motivated to write this post because it saddens me to think that so many writers think that publishing is the endgame and go into a deep depression because of getting rejected. So I didn’t mean in a bleak and discouraging way in the least. I actually meant it to be inspirational, albeit in a different way that may help writers transcend this need. I’ve had a lot of aspirations to be published, but that aspiration has evolved into the desire to have my work known and shared: in whatever way that might happen.
I do believe that publishing has its merits: being published means that your work is selected as something that is worthy of being put forward. It’s like a stamp of approval, a step towards making your work endure the test of time. But just because publishing has those lofty aims, that doesn’t mean it always fulfills those aims, and when it doesn’t, it is definitely even further being the endgame.
So I guess this post is for writers who have tried everything they could to be published and haven’t succeeded, and need to make sense of this reality to themselves. Not all writers need to make that justification, which is fine too.
I hope that makes sense. Thanks again for your perspective.
Yes, I agree with you on that point. A writer’s work shouldn’t end with the accomplishment of being published. And a writer’s efforts shouldn’t end just because someone hasn’t published them yet either. It’s good to refocus on the end game of sharing your writing with the right people, people who will relate and enjoy it. Sometimes publishing doesn’t satisfy that and sometimes you can bypass traditionally publishing and still get to that broader end goal of sharing. Good point, thanks for clarifying :]
That’s an excellent way of putting it, Hannah. Thank you!
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Sorry, I’m nearly two months late with this comment. Salam, sister. I enjoyed this article. For me these three points are very close to the mark. All of these things have gone through my head on at least a few occasions, even though I’ve always tried to pull myself back and keep some perspective. In particular, I’ve reminded myself of my initial intention (to write a book that says something important and is meant for a particular audience – better to benefit the few than reach as many people as possible) but still become frustrated by what I perceive as slow movement on the publicity front. I know that I shouldn’t feel like this, but I often do! Then, when I think about what I could do to improve publicity, I pull back again and tell myself I must be chasing fame! Having a book published can mess with your mind. Ultimately, as you say, it’s not going to make you any happier in itself, except perhaps fleetingly. At worst, it can make you believe you’re something better than you really are.
And to God we return…
There’s no such thing as being too late, Brother. As always, it’s wonderful to hear a writer’s take on my perspective on such matters.
I think the fact that you have to keep pulling yourself back and reevaluating your intentions means that you have ambition, not that you are vain in any way. The people who are completely at peace with the points I highlight are probably people who wouldn’t be very successful in getting published!
Hence it is not only normal, but healthy to be frustrated about your books not getting publicity. Even if you have a very small audience of specific people, how will you get to to those people if not through publicity?
I sometimes feel the same way about this blog. I don’t care if only one out of fifty people genuinely like it. But I do care about reaching out to that one person and making sure they know it exists. So I can, in a sense, relate to your predicament!
But indeed, it is to God we return. While ambition is healthy, we cannot despair over what does not work out.