I’m pursuing a M.S. in Written Communications and I’m at the tail end of a class I had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, the class is geared towards more of the beginner than I need. On the other hand, the teacher is awesome. This created a wonderful opportunity for me to explore. So, I found myself writing pieces for the class that involved taking my usual non-fiction subject (autism) in some different directions. I’ve had fun with it and even have a few pieces that I’m fairly confident I can get published in appropriate venues.
Our last assignment involves writing a query or submission letter to use to submit one of the pieces we created during the class. We’re all encouraged to submit something to the university’s magazine, which I will do, and that can be our default target if we so choose. I’m probably not going to use the default, but then I’ve submitted and published more of my work than most of my peers in the class.
But this got me thinking. Most of the marketing I talk about has to do with marketing our books. Most of us writers want to write, publish, and sell books. After all, books are (or seem to be) a much more promising way to make a living and develop an audience.
Unfortunately, a common theme in marketing one’s work is the need for credibility. This is absolutely essential with any form of serious nonfiction and even true for most forms of non-serious nonfiction. It is also often true with fiction, though the nature of that credibility differs.
So, how does one go about getting credibility? The truth is that there are lots and lots of way to build credibility, just as there are lots and lots of ways to build platform. In fact, if you’ve looked into the matter at all, then you’ve probably noticed that they are almost always (but not quite) one and the same.
Platform usually equals credibility. Credibility usually equals platform.
Publishing shorter works in one way to do both. You gain platform by exposing new readers to your work. You gain credibility by having your work approved by “gatekeepers.”
Ah, and see that’s the thing! Gatekeepers. I hear a lot of writers telling me how absolutely horrible having gatekeepers are. They want to publish their blood, sweat, and tears and have readers find them and fawn over them and love their babies for who they are even if they can’t spell or punctuate or tell a story at a professional level.
I’ve said it before and I’ll undoubtedly say it again. There is ONE really good reason to self-publish your work: You’ve made a sound business decision to do so.
Your fear of rejection is not a sound business decision. Your inability to secure an agent is not a sound business decision. Your inability to get past the gatekeepers is not a sound business decision.
If you’d rather self-publish because you can’t face the gatekeepers, then how are you going to face readers who leave harsh reviews of your book on Amazon?
Smaller pieces are a stepping stone to courage. Write a story or an article. Submit it. Accept the decision. If necessary, submit it again and again and again. Work on another story or article. Keep going. Toughen up. If you’re good, you’ll find a place where you fit. If you don’t mind not getting paid, then you’ll find a place where you fit even if you’re only mediocre. If you’re down right bad or not persistent, then you won’t. With gatekeepers and short works, there’re only two things that matter: quantity and quality. If you think your quality is good enough, then it’s simply a matter of submitting enough pieces to enough markets before you find a publisher. If you think your quality might not be high enough, then you need to keep working and improving your quality until you’re ready. Even then, though, you should still submit your work. You might get lucky. If not, you’ll get tougher, you’ll face rejection, you’ll survive the experience. Eventually, you will break through.
I started submitting my work when I was twelve. Yes, I was that naïve. Yes, I was crushed with each rejection. Yes, I’ve racked up a whole lot of them over the years. I kept at it. I kept writing. I kept submitting. I did improve. I became mediocre. I became good. Some people even say, “great,” though I know there’s still plenty for me to learn—enough to last me my lifetime and then some. The point is I’ve been published because of my efforts. I’ve had nonfiction, fiction, and poetry published.
In short, I have credibility and I have platform.
Now, I have a book contract that I didn’t even have to ask for. I accepted, not because I was desperate, but because it was a good business decision. My first fiction novel will (most likely, unless I get a really good offer I’m not actually looking for) be self-published, because it is a good business decision.
The point is this: Writing just for the hell of it (or for class) is not a waste of time. You might discover something new. You might experiment in a way you’ve never done. It might work. It might not. But it won’t hurt you either way. Submitting what you write is not a waste of time. If you’re rejected, move on. If you’re accepted, decide if you like their offer. You’re not obliged to accept them if you don’t. (Yes, I’ve turned down opportunities to be published. I’ve even turned down opportunities to be paid to be published. Sometimes the offer isn’t acceptable. When that happens, say no and move on.)
The worst thing you could learn from these experiences is that shorter pieces really aren’t for you. I’ve published short stories, but they’re not my forte and they are not my love. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the point is that I tried. I kept trying. I got good enough to be published. Then, I discovered that the best stories I have are destined to be novels, no matter what my initial intentions are, so I moved on
You need to find where you fit. That means you need to try before you decide something (typical and expected) doesn’t work for you. Rejection isn’t a reason to quit. Fear of rejection isn’t a reason not to try. The simple fact is that there are enough publications that want quality material that, if you can’t get published via a gatekeeper, either you’re not trying hard enough or you’re not good enough yet. YET. (This is true of short pieces, but not necessarily so of full-length books.)