Why Do We Publish?
July 28, 2008

“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?