One of the first things I saw when I logged into Twitter this morning was a conversation between a writer friend of mine (who, incidentally, is also a professional editor and teaches workshops) and another writer who was essentially lambasting her (and all other professional writers) for not helping new writers. Digging back through the conversation, this evidently centered around the issue of queries, but it definitely had broader implications. My friend handled things in a very calm, professional manner, stating quite rationally that she couldn’t be held responsible for every writer who wants to write, as it simply wasn’t possible. To which she received this in reply “Your reaction is why so many writers feel worthless. No one wants to hear from them. No one cares.”
Frankly, the whole exchange pissed me off on multiple levels.
Now I know nothing about this person who initiated the conversation. Looking back at a sampling of this person’s tweets, it sounds like they are probably struggling with depression, which is an affliction that many writers suffer from. I’m not dismissing the seriousness of that as an issue but that’s not what I want to talk about.
Here is a single, profound, unvarnished truth about publishing (traditional or self):
Nobody owes you a damned thing.
Agents don’t owe you a request for a partial or a full. They don’t owe you personalized feedback on why your query tanked. They don’t owe you representation just because you want it.
Editors don’t owe you a contract. They don’t owe you a “yes” just because your manuscript showed up (in an agent’s hands or unsolicited).
Successful published authors (be they traditional or self pubbed) do not owe you their time. They do not owe you a hand up or the secret password or handshake that will get you through the door to join that exclusive club. Because, guess what, there is no password or handshake. It’s called busting your ass with a healthy dose of luck.
Readers don’t owe you a read or a review just because you threw your opus up on Amazon.
Book bloggers don’t owe you a review just because you sent in your book.
Nobody on Twitter or FB owes you a RT or a share of your content just because you put it out there.
All of these things are earned.
You put in the work to hone your craft. Read books on the subject, read blog posts, find a critique partner, join a writer’s group, attend conferences. Bust your ass. And when your first or second or seventh book doesn’t get you anywhere, set it aside and WRITE ANOTHER ONE. Always strive to improve.
You be a cheerleader to others, modeling the behavior you would like to see the Universe reflect back at you. If you love a book, say so. Spread the word so others will know. Not with the expectation of getting anything back in return but just because it is the right thing to do and it’s positive karma. Never do anything with the expectation of quid pro quo.
You be professional and respectful of others at all points in the process. You follow directions and accept criticism with humility and an open mind.
You earn all of these things by NOT BEING AN ENTITLED DOUCHENOZZLE.
Publishing is a business–whether it’s being run from New York with multiple players or from your own computer with you handling all the details. The business world isn’t personal and it’s often very harsh and unforgiving. Because so much of publishing is subjective, it’s even harsher and more unforgiving than many other businesses. That’s the nature of the beast and believing otherwise is setting yourself up for disappointment. Publishing isn’t for weaklings and if you can’t handle that, you’re in the wrong business.
It is imperative that you find some inner measure of self worth that’s within your power to control. Don’t depend upon external validation from agents, editors, or readers. You are responsible for your own happiness. It’s asinine to put the onus of that on people who probably don’t even know you and it is an abdication of personal responsibility.
If you feel alone and like there’s no help out there, it’s time to OPEN YOUR EYES. Use the freaking internet. Despite the fact that the vast majority of authors do not write full time and have to shoehorn in writing among all their other responsibilities in life, a great many of them do take time out to pay it forward in whatever way they can. They give workshops or teach classes (I teach one on how to format ebooks). They offer the benefit of their experience in advice on their blogs or on Twitter or FB. They offer community and motivation (I started and run A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writer’s challenge that knows you have a life). There are resources out there (many of them free), if only you bother making an effort to look.
So cowboy up, cupcake, finish up that pity party, and get your ass to work or go find a new career.