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!”