So, before I get to the question of the week, I’m gonna stand up on my soapbox for a second. I’m gonna stand up here and glare at everyone else that’s standing on their soapboxes, telling people what they should and shouldn’t do, must and mustn’t do, and politely but firmly tell them to fuck off.
How’s that for setting the tone? Yes, I’m grumpy. Strap in, dear reader.
The question that many people seem to be asking/answering when addressing the submission/publication question is: What is a writer?
Is it someone that earns a living with their writing? Because if so, there are next to no writers left on the planet. Even the most successful, prolific authors in publication today would likely tell you that their novels do not pay their bills. Their books serve as a supplemental income to their careers as scientists, teachers, cashiers and cubicle dwellers. Sure, some authors strike gold. Unfortunately, some of the authors that do manage to earn a living wage writing fiction are…not very good.
Does being a writer mean you’ve been published? Uh…self-publication is so easily accessible in the year 2012 that describing oneself as a “self-published author” is roughly equivalent to saying, “I use the internet.” Yeah, congrats. So do the rest of us. Go sit back down.
Maybe being a writer means you’ve been published by a major publishing house? No, that can’t be right. We have all read books that clearly refute this criteria. Yes, there were pieces of paper between the books covers, and those pages were dotted with ink that appeared to forms words and phrases, but the end result was not writing. What heinous acts must’ve occurred behind closed doors at the publisher’s office in order for this particular piece of drivel to become a published work, we’ll never know. We can only shudder at the thought.
I know a lot of people make the argument, “Critiques, especially from people you don’t know, are invaluable.” Really? Invaluable? Maybe. But only if you’re incredibly lucky. Unvaluable, is much more likely. Someone who doesn’t know me will just as likely give my work a cursory glance as an actual, well-considered critique. (I have personal experience with this one. A few years ago I submitted a manuscript to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. My manuscript made it to the quarterfinals, and then met with a critiquer who admitted, “I don’t like science fiction,” and then proceeded to declare terrible things about my novel that were wholly untrue. Entirely unrelated to my work. It was obvious they hadn’t read my manuscript. But they still commented. Relentlessly. Needless to say I found the experience frustrating).
I guess I have a very particular, and very forgiving stance on this entire topic of being a writer: if you write, you are a writer. That’s it. Anyone that tells you differently is entitled to their opinion. But their opinion is wrong. If you write stories that no one ever reads except yourself, and the process is valuable to you: cathartic, stress-relieving, informative, invigorating, whatever, then fantastic! You’re a writer, and you’re writing for the most important reason: YOU.
As for the rest of it: seeking critiques, submitting for publication, etc., I think it’s all well and good if that’s what you want. If it isn’t, you won’t hear a peep of criticism from me. And on the flipside, if my approach to writing doesn’t match with yours, I kindly request that you keep your unsolicited opinion to yourself.
Now, as for my own, personal, non-judgmental approach to my own writing: I very much value critiques, both from people I know and people I do not know. People I know and respect as writers get a lot more attention from me than some anonymous buffoon shuffling through a slush pile or contest entries. That said, critiques from impersonal professionals can be absolutely invaluable, and when I get one of those critiques, I treat it as a rare and precious gift.
Yes, I have submitted a few things to publication houses, albeit sparingly. Unfortunately, I only get to seriously write for 30 days a year. I rarely have time outside of that window to even edit my work, and as a result, much of my rough drafts are not yet ready for prime time. I believe in them. I just know they’re not ready yet. I would very much like to get multiple manuscripts rewritten, edited, and sent out to agents and publishers, and I have the utmost respect for folks that do it, with even busier schedules than my own. I hope to join them someday. I aspire to having my work published by a serious publisher, and put out their for the masses to, hopefully, read and enjoy.
But if I don’t? if I never become a published author? That’s fine! I enjoy writing. I reap enormous rewards sharing the experience with others. Because they, like me, are writers. And I’m good with that.