Like many writers, I’ve known what I wanted to do since childhood, and I’ve always known I’d need a dayjob. But, I didn’t recognize how hard it would be to break into publishing in the first place. To be honest? This is taking longer than I wanted.
So, let’s talk about one writer’s path — or at least, one writer’s roadblocks.
Roadblocks I’ve Encountered
1. The total upheaval of the traditional publishing process
When I was a kid, e-books weren’t a thing, the only shopping not done in person were orders placed via catalog, and there weren’t a lot of options for publication. There was traditional publishing, serialized novels in magazines, or vanity presses, and they were bought in person. Yeah, I’m getting old.
The consolidation of publishers has made the game sharper, more commercialized, and less willing to take chances on something marketing doesn’t throw in 100% on. Plus, indie publishing! It’s come a long way from being derided as second-tier to breaking new genre ground.
2. The sheer number of writers trying to get published
I missed the heyday of writers, when, even if you couldn’t get a publishing contract, you could sometimes get personalized rejections. Back before agents and publishers were getting hundreds of queries a week — or even a day. With the sheer volume, it’s harder to stand out and your story has to be more polished, nearly ready for publication before you even get your foot in the door.
3. The amount of stories people can read for free
People are struggling to find a reason to pay for your stuff when they can get tons of stuff online for free. Maybe it’s on a fanfic site or someone’s personal blog. Maybe they’re following story snippets on a writer’s Facebook page. Or? Maybe they just have a Kindle Unlimited subscription.
4. I don’t write high-concept stuff
“High-concept” stories are easy to pitch — ‘Alice in Wonderland’ set in the Wild, Wild West or Little Red Riding Hood in Sub-Saharan Africa or ‘What if Pinocchio was an AI’? (great movie).
My tastes are probably dated. I usually write stories that are quieter, less action-packed and exhausting — for both the characters and the readers. I write nice people, trying their best, where things usually work out. It’s not that nitty and gritty, but I love it.
5. My own executive dysfunction
I was recently assessed with ADD (ADHD?) and am going to be tested next week, but I think it’s pretty clear that I’ve got a moderate level of ADD going on here. And that often comes with a heavy helping of ‘executive dysfunction‘ — where you struggle to get started. You want to start, you need to start, you just can’t make yourself do it.
I’m pretty good at tasks that can be quantified — write X words a day, edit X pages, and blog every Thursday. And once I’ve hit a streak, I hate to break it. But, small discrete tasks are easier. You can do them in one sitting, they have an endpoint, and they give you something you can just check off your list.
Plus? The pace I find necessary for making writing progress isn’t something I can sustain long-term while I have a dayjob. Meanwhile, editing — where I decide when my story is done, or deciding what project to focus on next… that’s a little trickier. So I stall, and I edit again, and I binge-read a few more books.
6. My love of over-commitment
From my executive dysfunction, let’s lead straight into my love of over-commitment. Remember how I love a good streak? Well, I’ve got a social media addiction, that I like to call “Ariel syndrome” — I love to be where the people are.
If you’ve been here a while, you know what I’ve been up to. I’ve been blogging for over 7 years, vlogging for 5, and just hit 2 years on my podcast. And I haven’t missed a week since about 18 months into the blog. I’ve added author spotlight interviews (currently backlogged 6 months), weekly roundups, and live stream productivity sprints nearly every Sunday. I’ve started livestreaming query rewrites with my friend Patrick as a fundraiser for reproductive rights.
I run several online writer support groups, and try to attend my local writer groups and monthly Open Mic Night.
Plus? I keep signing up to talk on panels at conventions, many of them hours from home. I’ve helped staff more than one of them. Sure, it’s networking, sure I get to meet and geek out about writing and the process, but it’s still one more thing on my plate, and another weekend away from actually writing.
But hey, that’s not going to stop me from taking a week off of work, packing up, and heading to Chicago for WorldCon (otherwise known as ChiCon8) tomorrow! (I’ll be on 5 panels, 2 virtual)
I’ve talked about this before, but there’s no way for me to know if the problem with my story is the writing, the opening, the market, or the timing. So I get a pile of rejections and then I revise. Or I take several months off of querying and stop sending to agents for a while, taking a breather.
Do I have the hustle required to make a go of it as an indie author? Or even a small press author? Or would I be giving up 5 minutes before the ‘miracle’ — of an agent and a traditional publishing contract.
8. I’m doing a hard thing — the hard way
Writing, editing, and polishing your story for the market has always been a hard thing.
Getting an agent has always been a hard thing.
Getting a publisher to buy your manuscript has always been a hard thing.
Insisting on trying for traditional publishing as their lists of writers get smaller, instead of going small press or indie — it’s the hard way to do a hard thing in this day and age — or at least the one with the most external roadblocks.
This is one writer’s path — so far…
How about you? What roadblocks have you encountered? Which ones have you overcome?
Or are you joining me in grumbling: “this is taking longer than I wanted!”
Excellent points – I can relate to almost all of them. Since you so kindly and honestly shared your suspected trait, ADD-or-ADHD, I’ll share mine: I’m extremely impatient. The only way I definitively know that is via feedback from my husband, and from my late mom (Mom: “Why can’t you be more patient, like me?!” Me: “Cuz I’m more like dad!” “Well don’t be like him!!”). Anyway, impatience is NOT the thing to have if one is sending out a manuscript to various agents or publishers. Finally I took the plunge and self-published. Or, and this sounds a tad better: I became an ‘indie’ publisher – of four books. They’re out there and I’m glad.
BTW: you’ve made a couple of small errors in your post. It’s always good to get another pair of eyes (preferably perfect in English spelling, grammar etc.) before you hit “Publish”… Now I’m wondering if perhaps you’ve inadvertently let a mistake or two slip through in your cover letter, bio, synopsis, or even in the manuscript itself. They’ve all gotta be perfect. In case you’re wondering what your slip-ups are, you have: “2. The shear number of writers trying.,.” It should be “sheer,” which I KNOW you know, because you have it right just a few lines down from there. Also, you wrote “Pinnocio” – but the correct spelling is “Pinocchio.” The best way to check the spelling of famous names, I find, is Wikipedia.
Maybe you’re taking on too many things, and having to rush. I don’t know, but haste might be a cause for typos etc. Just a thought. Don’t you feel sometimes that you’re over-extended? Sometimes I feel tired and/or breathless just from reading your posts! LOL! Take care, Morgan. xox
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I’d like to think there’s a difference in quality between stuff I write at 10pm, proof at 1am, and publish when I wake up and things I’ve edited, reread, sent to alphas, revised, edited, sent to betas, revised, and edited.
You know what that implies? That your blog readers don’t deserve the same attention to “quality” (your word) as your manuscript readers. It’s a little insulting. I do understand exactly what you wrote here, but there is that undertone. Morgan, I’ve been following your blog posts, often liking and commenting, for years. But I don’t think you’ve done the same for mine. I guess this inequity will have to end now. Good luck to you.
I read yours often.
I try to catch my errors and appreciate when people let me know and fix them.
I see a personal blog, where updates and edits can be done at any point, a different type of communication than a published novel that people have purchased. Just like social media is an even more casual form of communication.
I try to put forth my most polished self, but some weeks are more rushed than others, and I can’t do my best every day, and try to grant myself grace.
I understand my approach is not for everyone. Thank you for all your support in the past, and if you find my blog worth your time in the future, I’m always happy to hear from you.
Yes, social media tend to be “casual.” But I just want to point out one thing. Your blog is about writing. You refer to it as a “personal blog” but really, you have many followers who look to you for info and writing advice in a professional or quasi-professional manner. So I think that – aside from just being purely annoying – your mistakes detract from your credibility. If you’re writing about writing, your writing should be pristine.
Ha. I sometimes think I have ADHD too, with my hyper focus on any new tool or method that comes my way. In fact, I sometimes focus too much on the word processor than on the actual writing. I guess it doesn’t matter if it’s taking longer than we expect, as long as we stay on the path. Thanks for sharing!
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I feel this, all of this, in my bones. Thanks for posting, Sis. I can’t wait to share with others who need to know they’re not alone.
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That is exactly why I shared. ❤ I’m usually 100% patience and understanding. But sometimes, I get frustrated.