The Golden Unrule

I’m in a writer’s group run by a friend of mine.  It’s called “Paths to Publication” and it’s more about pursuing a writing career than it is about performing the act of writing.  We talk about projects and successes and failures.  We discuss how were pursuing our writing goals and what our long-term plans are.  I guess you could call it a 12-step program for addicts who have no intention of ever quitting.

Recently, my friend posted something interesting in our FB forum:

“When you see people you care about making what you perceive to be poor choices in pursuit of their careers, how do you handle it?   Do you pull them aside and try to start a dialogue on the subject?   Do you let it go, since your friends are adults and their decisions are not your responsibility? Or do you follow my method — wring your hands and have a breakdown?”

All good questions.

I wanted to share with you my answer, because I think it’s important for anyone who was nuts enough to pursue a writing career to at least give it some thought.

Here was my reply:

This is probably going to be more than two cents worth, but….

Folks in the publishing industry, particularly writers and authors, need to be exceedingly cautious about identifying or even thinking in terms of a “right” way versus a “wrong” way of getting published and making it to the C-List or the B-List or the A-List in our respective genres.

Can anyone in this group say with a straight face that there aren’t exceptions to every rule we’ve ever been told or read about “how to get to the top?”  That goes for writing style, content, format, query letters, cons, short stories, blogs, marketing, traditional path versus self-publishing… you name it.  For every rule there is more than one successful exception.  The only rule I can see in this game we’re in is that there are no rules.

Now, if any one of us had cleared a seven-figure deal with movie rights and gotten there in a “tried and true” method that worked for two or three other A-list authors they know and had personally talked to, I might be inclined to say that’s “a right way.”  But that isn’t the case.  There are great writers out there going traditional path who are getting looked over.  There are shitty writers out there going non-traditional path and making millions.  And everything in between.

The reality is that each and every one of us is a slave to the whims of the agents and publishers to whom we send our work.  We are victims of their perceptions and wants and misconceptions and even dreams of avarice, which are as varied as with any other group of humans.  We are victims of the “cackle” of gossip regarding “what’s hot” that sweeps through the publishing world like high collars and bell-bottoms and spangles and high-heels sweep through the fashion-world.  We are victims of the fan-bases we have garnered thus far.   We are furthermore victims of our own muses, victims of our daily grinds, our day-jobs, our relationships and even our own “master plans.”

I can almost guarantee you that for every A-List author you can point to (and what “A-List” means is still a slippery slope) there is a different story… a different journey.  Everyone’s style is different.  Everyone’s daily life is different.  Therefore, everyone’s Path to Publication is different.  The personalities in this group alone are as disparate as any I’ve ever encountered—the nature of the beast, to be certain—and one shoe will absolutely not fit every foot.  Not in this business, anyway.

What I’m trying to say here is that to take your question from the perspective of “You’re doing it wrong and I’m doing it right” begs more questions than it promises answers.  On the other hand, to initiate a discussion about what is and isn’t successful—and compare notes—might be a better frame of mind for such discourse.  Near as I can tell, none of us is doing it “wrong,” per se.  And, as yet, none of us is doing it “right.”  We have all enjoyed varied, modicums of success to the best of our abilities and with the time we’ve been able to invest.  We all have much to learn and years to go in learning it.

I submit that there is no right way and no wrong way in any black and white sense of those terms when it comes to “making it” in the publishing industry.  There is no silver bullet—no one size fits all.  To initiate a discussion based on such thinking is to begin with a fallacy.

Therefore, in my own obviously succinct manner, I’d suggest that one start with “how are you getting there?” just as you did with me the other night.  There was no hint of one method over another.  Had there been, it would have been a very different conversation.  The fact is that it was a conversation between two people pursuing their careers along different paths.  I think that’s how such a discourse should go.  None of us is in a position to take any other track in such discourse, and even if one of us had already made millions, taking it from that perspective is nothing less than hubris.

I just don’t think any of us can suggest to others they they’re doing it “right” or “wrong,” even in the presence of wild success.

Our journeys are different therefore our methods can, will and must vary.




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