Is trying to get published a time waster?

Helga’s Post #101:  What do writers spend most of their time on? Writing?

You may be surprised at the answer. Marketing supposedly takes more time than the actual writing. At least this is what some studies on writers’ behavior suggest. I find that a startling statistic and I am not sure of its validity. What about writers like Ernest Hemingway? Did he spend as much time peddling his manuscripts as writing them? I doubt it. Or take Agatha Christie, the most published novelist in history. She wrote 69 novels and 19 plays and is estimated to have sold 4 billion books. If she had spent more time on marketing than writing, she would have lived to at least double her 85 years.

Nonetheless, we know that writers do spend a fair chunk of time on getting their work out into the world and trying to make money from it. More time than most of us can imagine. Take the example of Amanda Hocking, an American writer of paranormal romance young-adult fiction. (You can read about her on Paula’s blog post of Dec. 18, 2014, ‘Top 10 Gifts for Writers’). Hocking has sold over a million copies of her nine books and earned two million dollars from sales, previously unheard of for self-published authors. In early 2011, Hocking averaged 9,000 book sales each day. Has it been easy?

“The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn’t writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.”

While most of us won’t need to be quite as involved as Amanda, it begs the question: What is the most efficient way to market one’s writing? Much has been said and written on the topic. Some excellent advice, as well as a lot of rubbish that only befuddles our poor writers’ brain.

Perhaps an even more fundamental question than ‘what is the most efficient way for marketing’ is this: How does a writer decide whether his or her work is marketable in the first place? Don’t you wish someone could tell you if you’re wasting your time trying to be a writer? Or if you’re at all close to getting traditionally published—assuming that’s your goal?

That question showed up in a Writer’s Digest article of a few years ago. While traditional publishing may have become a lesser goal for many of us, the question about wasting time trying to be a writer is still valid. At the risk of stating the obvious, it might be useful to quote WD’s 5 time wasters that writers should avoid:

  1. Submitting manuscripts that aren’t your best work.
  2. Self-publishing when no one is listening.
  3. Distributing your work digitally when your audience wants print—or vice versa.
  4. Seeking New York commercial publishing deals for regional or niche work.
  5. Focusing on publishing when you should be writing.

The article goes on to ask two questions most relevant to the publication path:

  1. How much time did you put into writing? Have you put in enough time to get good at it?
  2. How much time did you spend reading quality, published work? This helps you learn how to write better AND understand where you might be on the spectrum of quality.

When is it time to change course?

  1. Honestly assess whether your work is commercially viable. Not all work is.
  2. Are you getting bitter? If you find yourself demonizing people in the publishing industry, taking rejections very personally, feeling as if you’re owed something, and/or complaining whenever you get together with other writers, it’s time to find the refresh button.

But there is hope, compliments of Jane Friedman, the WD article’s author (I prefer to call it a reality check): “If your immediate thought upon reading this blog post headline was something like: I couldn’t stop trying even if someone told me to give up, then you’re much closer to publication than someone who is easily discouraged. The battle is far more psychological than you might think.”

I am convinced most of us fall into that category. We love what we do and nobody and nothing can deter us. We know the rules of good storytelling. We know when too many rules get in the way of good writing. And we can laugh at ourselves when our stories get silly. Or when we really, really screw up. Like this:

Credit: Tom Gould

Credit: Tom Gauld

20 thoughts on “Is trying to get published a time waster?

  1. My biggest problem is forging a cohesive, compelling plot. I will copy this article, blow it up and pin it to my wall. Thank you.

    • Janet, we are sharing the same challenge, as do most writers. Best of luck finding a plot that works for you. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I do sometimes think that the time it takes to submit to agents and hear from them means that it is potentially going to be years before I get any interest from traditional publishers, even if the novel is definitely publishable! I have had success with short stories though, so that gives me hope 🙂

    • Andrea, for the reasons you outlined in your comment, more and more writers realize this. Taking the self-publishing route is a way around it, for better or worse. Great to hear about your success with short stories! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Hmm, I started my fourth novel just over a year ago. I have not worked on it for nine months. In the meantime I have published my third novel. This has involved an awful lot of writing (apart from the hundredth revision) to do with marketing, blurb, press releases, Advance Information sheets, endless semi-related blog posts etc. The novel was published in December and I am now at least writing again, but on my non-fiction manuscript (Far East POWs needing much research), but I am also the whole distribution office behind my last novel, so self-publishing takes vast quantities of time. You’ve got to love writing, full stop. Love the plot structures.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Hilary. You confirm what lots of writers face (and fear) when we are ready to send our manuscripts out into the world. Putting any future writing on hold for a good while is sort of counter-productive to our writing career. It means writers morphing into marketers. I hope it gets easier in the future, perhaps with newer technology or whatever. Regardless, we have
    got to love writing. Congrats for publishing your third novel (it’s ‘Borderline’ I assume?), and all the best for your non-fiction work. Sounds like a worthwhile project. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. In conjunction with my blogging hiatus to focus on writing, I’m purposely not thinking about the publishing/marketing end of the equation. I think it’s too easy for writers (especially those who are unpublished or new) to get caught up in what should be the end game before they’ve reached a good level of writing and storytelling.

    Of course, publishing was a completely different beast even 10 years ago. But the constant advice to market ourselves before we’ve completed even a draft manuscript seems short-sighted and probably ineffective in the long run. Or so says an unpublished writer who’s cranky with the current situation. 😉

    • JM, spoken from the heart! And I could not agree more, though others may differ. Or not. Who knows? Either way, time waster No. 5 above states the blindingly obvious: Focusing on publishing when you should be writing. What’s the point of becoming experts in publishing when we have nothing to market. The priority has to be writing above all else. Period. Full stop.

    • Good to hear your “voice” JM! I think a preoccupation with getting published while you’re trying to write does produce a lot of distracting angst. It’s totally understandable to take a “cross-that-bridge-when-I-come-to-it” approach. At the same time, I do think that writing is becoming more of a “do-it-yourself” profession — spanning the whole process from concept to production and sales — than it used to be, and there’s probably no getting away from it. Maybe educating ourselves about future publishing choices while we’re writing is a good thing, if priorities are kept in balance. Having published a very successful blog, you’re actually far ahead of the game, so give yourself a pat on the back! And then get back to writing. Which is what I should do right now 😉 …

      • Oh, so true! Gone are the days when the traditional presses would handle all of the publicity and marketing chores for an author. Today, the work load and responsibilities aren’t that different for a traditionally published author and an independent one. That’s a major factor in so many writers choosing to go indie, and I certainly understand it. Why let a press keep so much of the profit when it makes the writer do work the company used to cover?

        When I look at the incredible changes in what writers need to do—and the ways in which to do it—even since 2011, I’m amazed. It’s another reason I’m not rushing into marketing and publicity research—so many things might change before I’m truly ready! But I do pay attention to some of the broader discussions and try not to fall too far behind. I just hope I’m ready before another 4 years go by! 🙂

  6. Helga, I don’t know where you came across the “4 Undramatic Plot Structures”, but it’s brilliant! I laughed until my stomach hurt. You bring up such great points in this thoughtful post — it really gets to the heart of the matter. You’ve crystallized the thoughts of many “emerging” writers, myself included, as we wrestle with our waxing and waning confidence and enthusiasm. It’s like having (instead of a devil and an angel) a cheerleader on one shoulder and a naysayer on the other, both whispering in our ears. In the end, it’s our own creative urge that drives us — and that spark needs to be constantly fed. Mine likes Godiva chocolates.

    • Thanks, Silk. That’s precisely our conundrum. Which creature has the louder voice? Cheerleader or Naysayer? It really does come down to how much confidence and drive the writer in us can muster, not to mention how many plates we can spin in the air at any point of our career. Great comment!

  7. Helga, Helga, Helga! How did I miss this blog post!! Just read it now, over six weeks late. Oh wait, I know now! This came out the weekend I picked up the incredible Ms. LuLu and drove my new 8-week-old (now 14-week-old) puppy 2500 kilometers through 3 states while watching the Australian Open and the Super Bowl and eating take out pizza and putting the puppy in hotel bathtubs to pee. But damn, girl! That’s a great post!

  8. Pingback: The Tech-Savvy Writer | 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months

  9. I can identify with this. I’m currently trying the route of a Kindle Scout campaign for my third novel. The first novel I sent out some queries on, and of course I quickly became depressed by the easy rejection. As any other authors who have tried the traditional publishing route know, agents don’t even read your manuscript before rejecting it. And really, it’s understandable. Who would have that kind of time? If you join any author communities (like the young adult Figment for example) you’ll see there is tons of work out there that isn’t worth the ink with which its been printed. It’s frustrating that good authors, with moving characters, and strong plots fall to the wayside while celebs like Kim Kardashian can make millions on a book of selfies.

    Heres my Kindle Scout campaign if anyone is interested:

    I’ll also be writing a blog post about the topic if you want to know more.

    • I love your title ‘Die by Night’ (a wolf will do anything for his mate). And I totally agree about your comment re good author falling to the wayside while Kim K’s book of selfies makes millions! Thanks for commenting, and I would love to read that blog post you mentioned. Send me the link please.

      • Hi, Helga. I’m sorry to say that with work, a family vacation, and the kindle scout campaign, that I never got around to writing that blog post. However, my novel was chosen for publication by Kindle Press. So I will be writing a blog post about the total experience – complete with results as soon as I get over this bug. It seems all I can do right now is sleep! It will be on my website blog here:

        Hopefully that’ll be up in a few days. I’m waiting on those antibiotics to kick in!

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