Recently, I was talking to a friend who is also a writer.
She’s been on a more traditional road than I have. She grew up wanting to write. She wrote books in journals as a kid. When it came time to go to college, she earned a degree in English. Since college, she’s started multiple books but never finished one because they aren’t good enough. She does intense research on her topic, reading one book after another on crime and mystery and police procedure. She goes to conferences and networks with other writers. She even teaches a class at the local library. She’s a “real writer.”
Last time I ran into her, I asked her, “How’s your novel coming?”
She said, “I think it’s almost done, and I’m getting ready to shop it around.”
I was genuinely excited for her. After congratulating her, I asked her, “What do you plan to do with it?”
She looked at me like I had three heads and said, “I’m going to start querying agents.”
We’ve discussed publishing in the past. She’s made it clear that she doesn’t think of me as a “real writer” because I publish my own work. I don’t take it personally. I understand. She’s put years into a system that she believes in that I’ve rejected. I kind of hoped that once she finished a book, she’d be more open to getting her work out into the world on her own. It’s not like I didn’t try that route too. I queried more than 50 agents after finishing Mencken and the Monsters. I never got more than a auto-responder email back.
“That’s great,” I said. “You’ve got the right pedigree for it, and you’ve been doing the right stuff. I hope you get some traction.”
Although I hadn’t intended to offend her, she was clearly disgusted by my comment. She said with a dismissive look, “Well, it’s about the quality of the work.”
“Oh, um, yeah. Of course,” I said with the best affirming smile I could manage.
Part of me wanted to explain how gatekeeper based systems work; how someone is going to have to pick her work out of the slush pile of thousands of manuscripts before anyone will know if it’s any good or not; how even when professional people have the best of intentions when the gates get flooded, the gatekeepers let through the people they know because there isn’t anything else they can do; how, while it is not malicious, the system of publishing is unfair and that’s okay, because it’s a business, and it’s not designed to be fair, it’s designed to make money.
Another part of me worried about her. If she truly believes her work will be accepted because it is worthy, what happens when she is rejected? I’ve never met an author who didn’t have to wade through a thousand rejection letters before getting picked up by a traditional publisher. If my friend believes the acceptance of others will decide whether her work is worthy of being published, I don’t think she will survive the mountain of rejection she is going to have to climb.
Then part of me really hoped she is right; hoped that there is an office filled with well-meaning interns who are combing through all the manuscripts sent to them, looking for the perfect one; hoped that she will be accepted because of the years of effort she’s put behind this book; hoped that she will send it in and be embraced with opened arms by the publishing community. I honestly want that for her. I think it would be amazing.
Not sure which of these to go with, I told her that I’m excited for her and that if there was anything I could do to help, to please let me know.