Why Do We Publish?

“I smile when you suggest that I delay “to publish” — that being foreign to my thought, as Firmament to Fin. If fame belonged to me, I could not escape her — if she did not, the longest day would pass me on the chase — and the approbation of my Dog, would forsake me — then. My Barefoot-Rank is better. You think my gait “spasmodic”. I am in danger, Sir. You think me “uncontrolled”. I have no Tribunal … The Sailor cannot see the North, but knows the Needle can.”

Emily Dickinson in an April 25th, 1862 letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson. 

Emily Dickinson

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on this subject, lately, as I continue the query process. Why that thrust toward publishing our work? How are we sure we have something worthwhile or meaningful to say?

Since I finished my novel in May, my world has shifted from writing, or creating, to research into the business end of writing and the query process. Related facts and rumors, exchanged amongst writers, perk my ears and cause me to compare and contrast my own work, process, and motivations.

In reality, the query process casts a spell upon me that is both dark and grouchy; as soon as I find an industry insider explaining the perfect query letter format, I find another (and another) with a whole different take on this important letter (that may open the door enough for a crack of light to fall upon your work).

The fact is, I’m a writer. I’m an artist, a creator, a thinker, not a businesswoman. I only travel as far as I do down Query Road by pushing on, regardless, and due to my stubbornness — it really comes in handy during the query process.

Thinking on this further, I miss the writing part of my novel. I miss my main character. She grew into a close friend whose mind I snuggled up in and whose vision conjured up my inner champion. With her struggles being very relatable to three to five million human beings in the United States alone, she taught me the basics of human existence: how we all struggle toward love and acceptance, from others and from ourselves. On some levels, the query process isn’t immune to this truth.

I miss my days being creative and light, since the business side of writing feels like an uphill mountain trek complete with mental thunderstorms and shifting confidence. Actually, I’m supposed to be taking the summer off, spending my time reading and riding and kicking back after two years of hard work, seven days a week, rewriting and editing my novel. Only, I can’t seem to let go of it. Frankie is counting on me, and for the millions of people with eating disorders, there’s no vacation for them, either.

Just like tomatoes are actually fruit, (berries, to make the concept even more bizarre), like it or not, so are artists business people. Why do we publish? For many, many reasons. Because we want to show off our hard work, because we’re writers and that’s what writers do, because we have something important to say and to share, and even because of the difficulty of the process, in its artful mix of skill, hard work, and fate.

In 1886, upon Emily Dickinson’s death, 900 (unpublished) poems were found in her dresser drawer tied up with string, and the rest is history. Maybe she was right; if fame belongs to us we cannot escape her, not even in death. Just like Emily, with or without recognition, or even publication, the writers I know write anyway because they are writers. What else would we do?


8 Responses

  1. Mirror Mirror of my mind, where, my thoughts did you find?!

    Publishing has been a dream for many many years for me.. and the reason im holding back from even sending my work to a publisher is because i am very scared of the sales machine i shall have to become!! People who read about the lives of characters expect the authors to be brilliant and sensational to have come up with such writing – but i am a complete mouse and dont want to face literary critics who are waiting to pounce on me and judge me 😀

    Im a lot happier just being in my mousy-hole with my laptop and my brain!!

    love your writing!! Keep us updated!!

    btw, i dint know the tomato was a BERRY!!??!! 😀

  2. Aarabi.

    I say ditto, ditto, ditto and ditto to what you wrote about publishing. As I query, (and I’ll definitely keep you updated), I have the same fears and worries. What a dichotomy it is.

    As for tomatoes — I know — strange to think of tomatoes as berries! On top of that, they are part of the nightshade family — think deadly nightshade, a.k.a. Belladonna, which, according to legend, is a plant that belongs to the “devil”.

    Sure makes cheese and tomato sandwiches much more interesting. : )


  3. Ah, you’ve touched on something so true! I too am not the business type. I’m really not. Can’t stand it at all. I’m not a marketer, self-promoter, shouter on the sidewalk (get yer editing here now!), etc. I don’t even want to write my own website text.

    So many books scare me off telling me what kind of crackerjack marketer I have to be to be successful. Needless to say (and I could say more on that), I understand what writers feel when they suddenly have to switch gears and become business-minded. I’m working now on an ebook on how to get published, hoping to simplify the process and take out the intimidating aspects of it (like editors!) :).

    People would have you think that gone are the days when writers get lucky, but I know that’s not entirely true. The author of *Gods Behaving Badly,* recently published, has a fantastic story, and by fantastic I mean it’s the stuff of fantasy. It’s true, though, that most of us have to try and try and try again, and put on hats that are uncomfortable for us. But like all of life, there will be things we don’t want to do along the way of reaching our goals.

    We just have to keep the goal in mind first and foremost.

  4. Again, I have to say ditto. : )

    One of the things that keeps me trying, besides stubbornness and the challenge, is knowing the process itself is rich with important lessons, personal growth, and personal stretching-strengthening-championing.

    I can have all that, stick with it, and eventually publish, or just publish. I’ll take the former (even with the “scary” editors, wink.)

    Also, I’m fascinated by the people who keep at it until they publish. That may be the one thing differentiating those who publish and those who don’t. I think of it like, scared and vulnerable and uncomfortable and all, if they can push through, so can I. Why not?

    For me, also, the biggest discomfort is tooting my own horn, and wearing the business hat, when I’m only used to the writing hat, and the cowboy hat. : )

    Even writing the sentence in the post, “I’m a writer, an artist, a creator” was like, woooooooo.


  5. For me, all steps of writing are tough, but it’s because I am far too self critical. During the querying process, I always doubt if my work is truly good enough. Should I *really* be sending off that query? But during the writing process, it’s the same thing. Sometimes it’s tough for me to get back into writing something, because there’s always that little voice in the back of my mind that says, “Wow! That’s awful!”

    Yet despite all this, I keep writing and I keep seeking publishers. I guess it’s just in my blood. 🙂

  6. Good for you, Dube! : )

    I’m really starting to believe that what you describe, describes most of us who call ourselves writers. I feel the same self-doubt, and yes, the whole process is tough.

    For me, the querying part is the toughest of all. I don’t like the whole set-up/system of querying and publishing, yet, like other things in life, one grouches privately, and professionally follows the system.


  7. Check the article this week in the New Yorker on a biography of Higgenson. He was ambitious for his own writing, tried to correct Emily Dickinson’s. Now his only fame is that he feared loving her or being loved by her. She’s the greatest mind in American literature so far. I revere her passion and her strength. Would I had a bit more of both.

  8. Yup, Emily D. rocks! : )

    I cringed reading some of her correspondence with Higginson — her genius made her writing very different, in a world where “different” often doesn’t convey a positive connotation.

    Higginson was wrong, of course, and I was left wondering how much his judgement of her writing came from a place of comparison to his own, in the sense of not being as gifted. I mean, why would a writer want to champion a better writer when that writer wanted to be the best, himself?


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