I spent a little time on Twitter this morning. My Reporting class is involved in an in-class writing exercise, which gives me time to play. Once again, as I surf through Twitter, I am amazed and floored at the thousands and thousands of would-be writers all saying the same things and dreaming the same dreams. They all want to be published. Not only that, they all believe the book they are working on will be the Next Great Thing and that money will no longer will be an issue for them.
I had a student of mine approach me this morning. She has been self publishing for a while, and is a promising writer. She told me that she is tired of indie publishing and that her next step is to go out and get an agent. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the odds are stacked against her. I have made concerted efforts a couple of times to get an agent with no success. And yet, there’s always the chance that she will succeed where I have failed.
It’s not a lottery out there, or is it? Is it just a matter of writing book after book after book, hoping that one day one of them will catch on? A sort of serendipity? Yes, and for the main part, no. There are a few urban myths of writers who struck gold their first time around, or wrote in anonymity for years and then suddenly were a success. But I know there are thousands more who write and write and write without any success whatever. Timing is significant, I know. I’ve been an editor and have accepted manuscripts for publication, only to have an even better one appear a day later, when my budget for new manuscripts is already gone. Timing is important.
But what is far more important is craft. You need to be able to write a decent story. And that takes either (1) an innate talent that can’t be taught, or more likely (2) years and years of commitment to learning how to write. Patience. Tenacity. Belief that you have a purpose, something to say.
The other part, that I am becoming more and more aware of, is that you have to have a story to tell. That sounds simpler than it is. There are countless stories being told right now that are not unique, not profound, and ever so forgettable. Your story has to be something that haunts the reader for days, weeks, even months after they read it. And often it’s not craft that does that. It’s the story.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and most great novels aren’t either. Hang in there. Be patient. Pay your dues.
And best wishes.