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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Publishing doesn't validate your life

This is an article I wrote two years ago, based on something a literary agent once said:
Publishing doesn't validate your life.
How true.

I have to admit before I was published, I thought that if I reached that nirvana called "published author," I'd have sweet validation. Every day would be smiles and dancing. You know what? I was wrong. Being published is terrific, mind you, but it doesn't bring happiness or validation. Instead, it adds more stress to your life.

Gone are the days when I could write for the sheer joy of it. Always looming is a deadline. And though I pinch myself because I "get" to write, and I feel like I'm doing what I was created to do, I sometimes get lost in the cycle of publicity, sales and marketing. And I'm tired of worrying about provision.
Maybe I'm the only one (and I'm embarrassed to admit this publicly), but I check my Amazon ratings for the three (Note: now ten, and I don't do this anymore, thankfully) books I have in print. I know, know, know that these ratings mean very little. I know that a high rank (which is bad) just means that during that hour the book didn't sell. I know that if a band of readers (like a book club) went together and bought ten of my books in one hour, my rating would shoot lower (which is good).  

But it doesn't mean anything.

Why do I pester myself with such nonsense? After all, publishing doesn't validate my life, right?
It's like this weird endless cycle of neediness. It evolves in incremental steps of if onlys:
  • If only I could be published in a magazine, even if I'm not paid.
  • If only I could be paid to be published in a magazine.
  • If only I could go to a writer's conference and have an agent show an interest in my proposal.
  • If only I could sign with an agent.
  • If only that agent could sell my work.
  • If only I could have more than one contract.
  • If only I could earn out the advance for the book I wrote.
  • If only I could sell enough books so a publisher would want another book from me.
  • If only a publisher would treat a mid-list author like me kindly.
  • If only I could make a living at writing.

    That's a lot of if onlys!
I remember reading about blocked goals once and it's stuck with me. A blocked goal is a goal that is dependent on other's actions or happenstance. All these if onlys fit, albeit somewhat awkwardly, as blocked goals. I don't have any control over whether I'll get a contract offered. I can't make people buy my books. I can't make my book sell enough to earn back an advance. I can't control the fickleness of this industry.

What I can do is create goals that can't be blocked. Goals like:
  • I will listen to the heartbeat of God and write what He inspires me to write.
  • I will not let writing, by God's strength, overshadow the needs of my family.
  • I will write the best books I can write, always seeking to improve, abounding in humility and teachability.
  • I will be patient when sales wane and trust God's sovereignty.
  • I will promote my books with this motivation: to see the kingdom of God advanced.
  • I will laugh at the unpredictability of this industry and strive to be lighthearted.
  • I will serve others and not let elusive and fleeting fame (if that happens) inflate my head.
  • I will attend conferences, read writing books, and welcome critique.
  • I will serve my readers by praying for them and answering emails when God provides time.
  • I will write for the sheer joy of it, not despising unpublished words.
So, yeah, publishing does not validate me. Sure it feels great to hold my book in my hands. It's lovely when I get a good review. But it's the hand of God on my life that brings me ultimate validation. That God stooped to earth and chose me, a frail, needy girl, stops my heart every time. And by His grace, I will carry on.

Mary DeMuth mentors writers toward publication at The Writing Spa, which now has a brand spanking new Facebook page. Head over to this post today or tomorrow for a chance to win the 2011 Sally Stuart Christian Writers' Market Guide, my fiction proposal tutorial, and a 5 page substantive critique from me (a $200 value!).


  1. Great post, Mary. Being published definitely doesn't validate my life, but I'd say it feels like validation as a writer.

    Very inspiring goal list. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Gina, good point about publishing being affirming to you as a writer.

    Thanks Nicole.

  3. Excellent post, Mary. I definitely agree. BUT, that doesn't mean believing it isn't a struggle for me and probably most unpublished authors. I daily remind myself that I write for an audience of One.

  4. Thank you, Mary, for a much needed goal list. A good one that will honor God not us as writers.

  5. Yes, I wrote about it, Brenda, because I still struggle with it! :)

    Thanks Ane!

  6. I need to be coldly honest.

    I hate this post.

    I hate it because it totally demoralizes me. It takes some of the ideas that bounce around in my head for what I might write, and then it invokes that unwanted voice that whispers, "Don't bother. No one's gonna read it anyway. Go do something constructive, like taking out the trash or repairing the towel rack in the bathroom that's been off kilter for the past 18 months."

    I wanna write. But I wanna write in the anticipation that someone's gonna read.

    (What silences the voice? The fact that YOU wrote this post, and I've read somewhere near half of the stuff you've published. That's hope!)

  7. Jeff,

    I love your honesty and humor. May you find a home for your words, and may many, many people be affected by them.

  8. these words are so very true! TY for sharing.

  9. Ah yes ... what was that Paul said ... I do (and think) the things I know I ought not ...

    Thanks Mary.

  10. Great post, Mary. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  11. Wonderful and encouraging post, thanks for sharing.

  12. Loved this! You are on point.



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