(This is the third post of a three-part series On Becoming a Writer)
So, about publishing. Why do you want to publish? For me, there are several reasons I publish or I strive to publish. But first of all, a word of caution: publishing is not about writing. You don’t need to publish to write. Publishing and writing are different processes and it will spare you a lot of pain and suffering if you don’t confuse both rails of the track: write, always write, never stop writing, but publish only when it’s advantageous to you. Don’t ever wait to publish a text to start working on another text. That is a big mistake, in my view. Publishing or producing a play or a script often depend on others or on different circumstances – maybe you need some money for it, or some time, or someone to help you, or whatever. Writing, on the other hand, depends only on you. And it’s all about the process. The Path requires that you dedicate to writing and to be read. It’s not about publishing.
So why do I publish? First of all, I publish to connect. Writers need readers. Writing is about being read. Maybe some of you like to think you write only for yourself. That is reasonable – but you are also a reader. When you write, you are always connecting with someone – the reader. Publishing allows you to connect with more readers – hopefully, many readers. It gets you closer to the people you want to connect with.
Secondly, I publish to get my work out there. When you work hard on your text, when you invest time and effort, you want to share what you did – not only for people to appreciate what you do but also to be evaluated by the public and by peers. Being accepted by agents, publishers, critics and audiences is important – it means it’s been worth it. It means your story and your characters and your metaphors and your dialogues – are good. Or good enough. On the other hand, it is also a way to learn – all those agents, publishers, critics and audiences will certainly let you know what you could have done better, just as much as what you’ve done right. And that’s precious. If what you could have done better is more than what you did do right, it could be unpleasant. But it’s still very valuable. The worst thing of all is writing badly and continue to write badly forever.
Thirdly, I publish to earn a living. Now, there are huge misconceptions about this particular reason: if your main purpose in life is to earn a living as a writer, forget about it. It’s not a very good way. Warren Buffet always recommends investing in a line of work that has ‘Good Underlying Economics’. Meaning: how easy it is to earn money doing it. Banking has ‘Good UE’. Insurance has ‘Good UE’. Telecoms and high-tech have ‘Good UE’. Writing and publishing have ‘Lousy UE’. It’s just not a good way to earn a living. Don’t expect to earn a lot of money doing it. This said, I’ve earned money writing in several ways: journalism, advertising, commercial writing, ghostwriting, speech writing, playwriting, screenwriting, training writers and screenwriters, selling books. Did I make a living out of it? Barely. Most of the time I have to do other things to earn my keep. But my goal is, in fact, earn a living writing and publishing. I’m still years away from that, though. And I came to this goal after decades of investment and recognition. It’s not for everyone and you shouldn’t try it unless you are reasonably sure you will be able to make it. Otherwise, you’ll get in a hole where writing will be the last of your issues.
Of all the ways you can earn money writing, publishing is not the best way by a long shot. Most published writers don’t earn a lot of money. But for the love of all that’s sacred, don’t ‘pay’ to get published. That’s the worst bargain of all. And for the most part defeats most of what I said in the previous paragraphs: if you’re doing good work you can be successfully published or self-publish and gain an audience. Agents that ask you to pay in advance or vanity presses that ask you to pay to publish you are parasites, pure and simple. They are six-legged animals that jump onto your face, grab your neck with the tail and lay an egg in your throat: sooner or later they will also burst through your belly and kill or damage your chances as a writer.
Fourth: I publish because I am searching for the Holy Grail. I publish because my ideal goal is to write a bestseller or a classic. I want to write something so good that it would be considered to be extraordinary. I dedicate my way of life to that search, even though I know for a fact the odds are against me. I have embraced that goal with all my heart. That’s the way of life that I have chosen. What I call The Path.
In sum, I publish because I am a writer and, as a writer, I need a reader. That’s the Yin and the Yang, the feminine and the masculine elements of that creative phenomenon that is telling a story.
Publishing is not easy. It is a difficult, slow, frustrating process. Self-publishing might seem more achievable, but drawing an audience, selling enough books, is always a considerable challenge. I believe the industry will relinquish to self-publishing and that the new generations of Nobel Prize-winners will come from the self-publishing field. But it’s not an easy ride and don’t expect any quick return.
Also, don’t try to do it alone. Publishing is a collective game. You need people to help you all around: agents, editors, proofreaders, cover artists, beta readers, reviewers, etc. Networking is the bread and butter of publishing. But here are the good news – we are all connected. Remember the six degrees of Kevin Bacon? This is the thesis: everyone in the world is connected to you by a maximum of six degrees. I’ll prove it to you. This is how I’m connected to the last few American Presidents (forget the fact they are all connected to each other):
1.Bill Clinton: my father once organized a conference here in Portugal and he invited Alan Greenspan to speak. Alan Greenspan was Clinton’s Federal Reserve Chairman, thus, three degrees (me to my father, my father to Greenspan, Greenspan to Clinton)
2. George W. Bush: I was once interviewed by a journalist named Catarina Portas, who was the sister of Paulo Portas, Portuguese Minister of Defence in 2002, who met George W. Bush in the Azores. Thus, three degrees.
3. Barack Obama: I met the cousin of a friend of mine. She’s an international actress who performed with actors like John Malkovich. Connect Malkovich with any number of people who met Obama, including Oprah or any number of actors who met Oprah. So: three or four degrees.
4. Donald Trump: a few decades ago I went to Law School. One of my professors was Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who is now President of Portugal. He was at the White House shaking hands with Trump just a few weeks ago. So, two degrees.
Well, if I’m connected like this to four different US Presidents, so are you, in one way or another. And you’re probably just a couple of degrees away from a good agent, a good publisher, a good publicist, a famous writer, etc. Networking works. It’s not easy to get published, but it’s not impossible. Just ask for help and work it out. In the immortal words of Rob Schneider: ‘You can do it!’
Don’t forget: publishing will help your writing which in turn will help your publishing. It’s all about the searching, not the finding. Believe in this, take it in your heart and persevere. Success will follow. One way or another.
I find I have a lot more to say about The Path than I was able to say in these last three posts. Of course, I will write a lot more about it in the future, maybe even next week or the other after it. I want to write about marketing, for instance, or about The Voice. But for now, I hope this small three-post series is useful to you in any way. I hope you can understand a little better the quest you have embraced or you are about to embrace. I welcome my fellow knights. Those who follow The Path. This is an honorable but unforgiving quest and we are all brothers/sisters in arms.