On Publishing: 3 Reasons Why None of it Matters

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.