When we read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in high school, our teacher was quick to point out that Shelley had written the story when she was just 18 and gotten it published when she was 21. Everyone else nodded, made some scratches in their notes for the inevitable Mary Shelley quiz that was coming, and moved on. I, on the other hand, began to panic.
If she was published by 21, then I needed to get moving to do the same–or beat her record. I was 16 and I already knew I wanted to be a writer–and yet, at the time I was merely attempting some very bad poetry and the occasional short story. Later when I, of course, did not achieve this goal, I comforted myself with the fact that people used to die at 45 so 21 was really more like 41 for her!
What I didn’t realize then was how unusual Shelley’s publication story is. For every fresh-faced 20-something who sells her debut literary novel at auction for six figures, there are thousands of writers quietly dying a thousand deaths trying to get their passion projects published for years on end. No one believes in them, not even their dogs.
About a month ago, blogger Alice Bradley of Finslippy fame wrote about her path to publication for Babble and I was struck by the post. (Granted, I’m always struck by her posts. She’s a fabulous writer and I’m a big fan.) Alice was already a blog super-star when she had the idea for the book. Her co-writer Eden Kennedy is also a famous blogger. Their book was commercial and had an obvious hook. (It’s a joke parenting book called, Let’s Panic About Babies.) In short, this is what the publishing industry says they’re looking for and still, it took them three agents and several years to see the book on shelves. They even had to first launch it as a stand-alone website to get it the attention it deserved.
Alice’s story is certainly not an anomaly and in my opinion, that’s okay. It’s supposed to be hard to get published. Just because it’s hard to get published doesn’t mean the system isn’t working. I do still believe in the process of writing a book, shopping it around to editors, and crossing your fingers.
However, I’m also excited about the new paths to publication for authors. While the old publishing stories will continue to exist, there’s a new one that’s emerging: author self-publishes, finally finds audience, then gets book deal.
If you haven’t followed the career path of Amanda Hocking, it’s worth checking out. Amanda wrote SEVENTEEN NOVELS in her spare time and tried to get them published in the traditional way, but no one was interested. Instead, she self-published them and worked hard at marketing them. They began to catch on to the tune of millions of copies sold. This garnered her the attention of the book industry and in March 2011 she signed a four-book contract with St. Martin’s Press for two million dollars.
Publishing will always be hard. It requires a blind faith in your work and untold hours of writing, editing, and marketing your books. And more than anything it demands a kind of bravery so bold that it looks a litte bit like delusion. But personally, I think that it’s good that it’s hard. It’s a big dream and they are so rarely achieved without great hardship.