I’ve been telling you some of the big reasons that you aren’t getting published. (In case you’re wondering, most of the mistakes I’ve covered are ones I’ve also made.) Now I’m going to talk about some things you could do about getting to publication.
Please understand that anyone who tells you, “Do this and you will inevitably succeed” is probably talking one part experience, one part encouragement, and a teeny pinch of bullshit. There is no surefire, extended-warranty, satisfaction-guaranteed-or-double-your-money-back formula for getting published. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. (All right, there’s self-publishing, but I’ll talk about that later.)
In some ways I feel that any advice in this field is rather like the advertisements in Co-ed magazine, a magazine all the girls in my grade nine Home Ec class read. Everything from pimple remedies to sandwich bread was sold to us on the premise that the right products, used in the right way, would increase your attractiveness to boys.
I went all through high school without the least evidence that I was attractive to boys. Bonne Bell and Wonderbread couldn’t change that. It’s equally true that my advice is not going to change who you fundamentally are as a writer, and that is absolutely as it should be.
My very first, best advice is to write what you write. That’s write what you want to write, what you love to write, what you’re happy writing. Writing should be a self-rewarding activity, like eating chocolate or smelling roses. If it isn’t, you need to think about why not, and change what’s wrong.
Yes, there are things you can write that you aren’t in love with. They’ll be published, and they’ll even pay. Someone has to cover the local news, right?
But I know that’s not what you’re talking about when you talk about publication. You want to have A Book published, or at least make it into A Recognized Magazine, one that your parents can brag about, one that even Weird Aunt Betsy who keeps chickens in the back of beyond has heard about.
It’s tempting to write Flavour of the Month, or whatever you think will sell. Oh, so very tempting. I urge you to resist. For one thing, it switches the focus from the act of writing – which should be self-rewarding, remember? – to the end product, which may be something you won’t even want to read. Why would you choose to spend any amount of time writing something you didn’t want to read?
“Write what you know” always sounds like a straitjacket to me. What do I really know about how swans think? But I when you’re in love, everything about the beloved interests you. That exponentially expands the field of what you know right there. Write what you love, what you imagine, and ground your imagination in knowledge.
Write what you write, not what anyone else is writing. If you can do that, and let the publication question rest while you do, you’ll be much closer to writing something publishable at all. Even if you aren’t, you will at least be enjoying the work, which really is the point.