Perhaps the most fascinating (and sometimes exhausting) conversation to come about as a result of the ease of self-publishing is this one: who should be allowed to publish, and worse, who should be encouraged?
As an editor, my job has always been to point out areas of the craft that aren’t working and help a writer improve upon them. Just because I make suggestions doesn’t mean the writer will take them—once a manuscript leaves my desk, my ability to influence that manuscript diminishes. I have given comprehensive, multi-page critiques that suggest radical revisions, even scrapping of the current project in favor of rebuilding it anew. I’m thorough. But I would never, ever say to someone: You should not pursue this.
Is that irresponsible of me? I guess if you strictly see writing/publishing as a product-based end result, then you might think I should shut down the obvious beginners, those who struggle to improve, and only push forward the ones with “talent” (a great American myth if ever there was one). Alas, I’m a person who believes the creative path is a worthy one, even if the product doesn’t turn out to be a masterpiece, or even “worthy” of publication. I’ve seen it time and time again that creativity deepens our experience, thus our presence. Among my local friends, even, an incredibly crafty, creative bunch—most of us will admit: if we aren’t “making,” we aren’t happy (our spouses and children will agree). Does that mean we’re out there changing the world with our work? Maybe, maybe not. We definitely make our own small worlds better when we’re flowing the creative mojo. What I do know is that the “making” is worth it. Sometimes, it’s even life-saving. I had a client who came out of a terrible abusive situation. She wrote novels to process what had happened to her, and out of that emerged a rough but worthy story I felt others would want to read.
Yesterday on Facebook, literary agent Jill Corcoran made a fabulous point–she requested that people stop referring to agents, editors and publishers as “gatekeepers”—as if they are attempting to keep people out of the publishing world due to meanness. “The books that are not chosen are books agents/editors/publishers did not see as a good investment of their time and money. It does NOT mean your book is not fantastic…and if you choose to self-publish you are investing in yourself…”
What I loved about her post was that it asks each writer to take responsibility for our choices. Invest in yourself! That means: if your goal is to write a book that agents/publishers will invest in, the standards to get your book in that kind of shape are, perhaps, higher than what average readers will accept in a book. Which means: you might not have to reach that level of craft to get readers, but you will to get an agent and a traditional publisher. And if that’s not your bag, baby, then whatever path you choose to take will give you a result that will give you information you can use to make future choices. Lots of people self-publish, then realize they want a traditional publisher and work harder to get that. Similarly, tired of being at the beck and call of their publisher, there are plenty of authors who defect to self-publishing for the ability to control the process.
Only you know what you want. So I’m going to keep doing what I do best: encouraging writers to keep at their writing process, to keep writing, to stop worrying so much about your “talent” and hone your craft. All worry does is waste energy you could use for writing. And if you want the nitty-gritty, to know if your work has reached a level in which someone outside of you is willing to invest, I’ll tell you where in that process I believe it is.
But I will never, ever tell a writer to stop writing. Who am I to do such a thing?