Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"How Many of Us Will Actually Get Published?"

As any careful follower of my blog will know, I was at LTUE (Life, the Universe, and Everything) last week, a symposium on science fiction and fantasy writing. After one of the first sessions I attended, the lady on my right asked me a very interesting question.

“How many people in this room do you think will ever get published? Zero?”

It's an interesting question because it forced my appreciation for realistic, objective predictions to confront my subjective hopes.

“Well, I plan on at least one,” I responded. Which I thought to be pretty clever; at least clever enough to put in my blog.

However, I definitely understood what she was seeing, thinking, and feeling. There were maybe 100 people in that room, all there, ostensibly, to learn how to get published. And there were even more people at the other concurrent sessions. But realistically, we're all not going to get successfully published. I even caught myself deciding which ones had a chance as I looked at them: are they wearing a fedora? If they're not already published, they're not going to get published; the fedora is a post-publication hat. Are they not taking notes? Nottachance. Do they look younger than me? Then they've got to be too inexperienced, amirite?

Shoot yourself now, sir. You'll never get published in a hat like that.

These silent categorizations of mine show a couple things: firstly, that I'd probably make for an awful agent or acquisitions editor, and secondly, that I worry way too much about other people's chances. I suppose that publication is a competition, but not to that degree.

Additionally, if I decide that most people who come to these cheap writing conferences have practically no chance at actually making it, that they're deluding themselves, where does that put me? Does being cynical and critical of others raise my own outlook in any way?

I think this lady's speculation, as well as my own, were instinctual. We've created visions in our minds of accomplishing our goals and dreams, and in this narrative, we're special and solitary. When we're suddenly just one more member of a huge blob of people, all of whom have simply copied our dream, we don't feel as special anymore. We're part of a deluded herd—-or at least, that's the creeping fear.

It's not useful at all to think this way. Publication is not a lottery, no matter what anyone may say. There's no spectrum of skill in lottery participants. And I don't like when people refer to the “chances” of publication. Granted, there is a lot in this process that you can't control, at all. But the amount you can control—-you know, the actual writing-—is such a deep, complex task, we have no room to complain about our chances. As aspiring writers, we already have so much we can do.

And as writers, isn't that So Much We Can Do the stuff we actually want to do: the writing?

I can't know why everybody else went to LTUE. And I certainly can't control whether any of them get successfully published.

But I can write better. So I'm just going to do that.


Erin Shakespear said...

I have to say....I love your response to the lady, too. Pretty quick, mister.

Great post! (stumbled across your blog from inkPageant

Carl Duzett said...

Thanks! I am really clever 5% of the time. The other 95% of the time--let's just say I don't blog about the other 95%.

Jayrod Garrett said...

At my university the teachers universally all tell you that you better get something to support your writing because the likelihood of you making it is small. And they are right. Because most people give up too early.

All of the folks who make it do it because they work on their craft constantly, they keep submitting until they find the right editor or agent. At LTUE L.E. Modesitt himself said there were only three editors in the field who like what he writes. And he has an audience of over 2 million. Those of us who want it will get published. And the others we can't worry about.

Carl Duzett said...

"Those of us who want it will get published. And the others we can't worry about."

I think that puts it better than my whole post does.

Chase said...

That quote is a great statement - I think that the so called "chances" of being published are really varying degrees of determination. If someone really wants to get published, they probably will, because they'll keep writing and improving their writing until they do (and past that). The problem is that many people let their determination fizzle out before they get to that point.