Landing a publishing contract is the dream for a great many aspiring writers. They see books on the shelves of libraries and shops, and dream of the day their own book will be up there. Okay, I can empathise with that.
What I can’t empathise with is a sense of entitlement.
While browsing Y!A a few days ago, I came upon a question asked by a young aspiring author. She had just finished her very first book and was planning to immediately self-publish it. When some other, more seasoned writers, advised her that her first work was unlikely to be good enough to publish, the aspiring author proclaimed, “Regardless, I DESERVE publication because I have worked very hard on this.”
Frankly, Ramblers, I find this person’s sense of entitlement rather sickening. On one hand, I want to applaud the author for recognising that writing is, in fact, hard work. On the other, I want to leap into the internet and smack the attitude out of her.
The thing that many hopeful writers don’t or won’t acknowledge is that publishing is a business. Agents and publishers are looking for books that will sell. They couldn’t give a rat’s left toe if you think you have ‘worked hard’ on your manuscript. They couldn’t give a donkey’s right nut whether you’ve worked on your manuscript for ten days or ten years. They certainly won’t agree that you ‘DESERVE’ publication simply because of your hard work.
Anyone that wants to get anywhere in the writing/publishing industry needs to work hard. It’s not as if most authors just coast by and only one or two special snowflakes really, REALLY work hard and therefore deserve more than everyone else.
And has the young author in question really worked that hard? I’m not denying that it’s not easy to write a book and I applaud her for having the dedication to see it through till the end. But writing a single book often only scratches the surface of learning to write, especially if you’ve never written anything else. There is so much more to the process than most people can learn from writing just one book. Most authors have at least one – usually more – ‘bottom drawer books.’ These are the first unpublishable manuscripts that an author produces while still negotiating all the tricky hurdles that come with learning how to write. Those authors who DO sell their very first novel frequently have some background in writing, whether it’s a form of journalism, or a proven track record of selling things like short stories. They have experience and usually years of it.
It takes the average person 9 – 12 months to write a novel. So let’s say this young author is part of that average. That would mean she has worked for about a year on her book. Sounds like a lot, right?
No one can estimate exactly how long it takes someone to learn to write to a publishable standard as everyone is different and everyone learns and develops differently. But there is a saying in the writing world that rings very true.
‘You have to write a million bad words before you start writing the good ones.’
I’ll give you all a moment to let that sink in.
One million bad words. ONE MILLION!! That’s a lot of crap to sift through. Unfortunately it’s a necessary process, just like that professional violinist who picked up his first violin and produced a noise that sounded like a cat being strangled, or that Oscar-winning actress whose first production in a kindergarten Nativity play resulting in her wetting herself and screaming for her mummy. Everyone has to start somewhere but if they want to get somewhere, they have to acknowledge that it will take time.
The length of time it takes to write a single novel is not usually enough time to learn how to produce work that is of a standard where people are willing to pay for it. Most authors work for years and years and years before they write anything good. So for this author to proclaim that she deserved publication simply because she felt she’d worked hard, well…it sounds bratty. It sounds like a child stomping her foot and expecting Mummy to pat her on the head and tell her she’s done a good job.
The real world isn’t like that and the publishing world certainly isn’t. You are not entitled to be published simply because you feel you have worked hard. Many people who work hard in their chosen field will never see success. That’s life. Refusing to acknowledge that makes you look like a brat. There are many hopefuls authors who have worked for years to learn to write and still aren’t published. Nor are they on the internet claiming they deserve anything. Thinking that a year’s work somehow puts you ahead of everyone else that’s learning to write makes you look like a brat.
I remember starting my first proper novel – a fantasy epic – at the tender age of twelve. Do you know how long I worked on that bad boy? Five years. That’s right, FIVE YEARS! No one can possibly say I didn’t work hard at it. But at the end, when it was finally finished, it never once crossed my mind that I deserved publication simply because I’d put so much time and effort into it. I remember the crushing disappointment when I received my first rejection for that novel. It still didn’t cross my mind that I deserved publication simply because I’d worked hard. Even as a teenager, I didn’t have that sense of entitlement.
The reality of writing is that it takes most people several years and often several practise novels to start producing anything good. At no point during that learning period do they automatically become deserving of publication simply because they’ve invested some effort. Thinking otherwise is demonstrative of the entitled attitude that a lot of people today seem to have.