Why do you want to be published?

I was reading a discussion on Writerface the other day where the poster wondered about getting published. He was having quite an ordeal, having received numerous rejection letters and the like, and as I read through the forum thread I received confirmation that everyone deals with the same issues. It has always been difficult to get published, but with the current state of the economy and the decline of print media in general, publishers are even more hesitant to put work into print, especially for untested authors.

Being the sort of Internet-junkie I am, though, I couldn’t help but wonder why people want to get published so much. Yeah, I fancy myself an author, or at least I will do once I finally finish writing a book, but I’m doing it because I like to write. As I read through the forum, the fight to be published was portrayed as a fierce struggle, but for what?

Why do people want to be published? I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who not only intends to self-publish but who gives his work away for free online, so my thoughts are probably more cynical than accurate, but I could only come up with the following two reasons.

1) For the money

Shakespeare got to get paid, son, and I recognize that. I also recognize that publishing companies have far greater marketing capabilities than an individual, and one shouldn’t expect any marking from a Print-on-Demand (POD) Publisher. It’s hard to get your name out there and get noticed, and having a real publisher pick up your book and print/advertise it makes a huge difference.

But I can’t help but notice all the independent online businesses that are doing pretty damn well, and in particular I look at webcomic artists for a lot of my business inspiration. They put their work online for free, sell art and merchandise, and I read a great many who make a living off it. But even if you don’t make a living from the work, you can at least supplement your income. They do their own advertising, their own work, and most of the webcomics I read have visitor counts in the tens of thousands every day.

2) For the recognition

Maybe it’s just gratifying for a publisher to select you for publication. I could see feeling like you’ve really made it as an author when someone gives you the external feedback of publication + money, and that pat on the head would go a long way towards legitimizing one’s work. After being published, you can be secure in knowing that you don’t just think you’re a good writer. You’re good enough that someone else was willing to pay you for it and stake their own name, money, and time on your writing.

Part of me can’t help but point out that you can get that same recognition by working independently, if that’s what you really want, but seriously… if that’s your motivation, you should probably close your laptop and stop turning out crap just to make people like you. Write what you want because you want to write it. Communicate something you’re passionate about, and if it’s good, people will read it. If it’s not, well, at least you tried, I guess. Maybe learn to write better?

Recognition will come if you deserve it.

There’s no Rhyme or Reason, or is there?

Part of me can see the following logic. You wrote this because you want to communicate something, so you want that to get to the most people possible, and a publishing company can do that a lot better/easier/faster than self-publishing. Most self-published work gets read by only a few dozen people due to lack of advertisement, so if you really want to get your words out there, you have to go through a publishing company. Self-publishing, either through POD or on the Internet, just makes your message part of the noise, and you’ll get lost in it.

That’s a valid argument, but I don’t think it’s true. There are more books published in a single year now than in all of history, so being in print doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get noticed. Obviously, advertising makes a huge difference (do you really think Twilight would have been a hit if it had been POD published with no marketing?), but there are plenty of examples of run-away-hits (such as The Shack, apparently) that spread due to word-of-mouth.

You can’t account for what Makes It and what doesn’t, so I’m inclined to think that good work will be rewarded. If what you write happens to be good and liked by people, you’ll get noticed regardless of where you are or how you’re publishing. Just make sure you’re enjoying yourself along the way and the rest will fall into line.

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