An Honest Look at Being Published

by Anthony Huso

When Amy asked me to guest at PLC, the first thing I did was go to the site and read how the group started.  What I found was an earnest story about a few people standing in an empty parking lot, pouring their hearts out to each other about their hopes and aspirations.  These were people that desperately wanted to write.

She also let me know that the majority of PLC’s readers are aspiring authors.

It’s a bit daunting then to try and compose a blog post that’s inspiring to writers but I felt I should try because I thought I understood these folks, at least partly, since I too had come from this stock.  When I was in my twenties I wanted to see a book in a store with my name on it so badly that I couldn’t even explain the desire to my friends or family without sounding crazy.  I lived in a small town.  My writing group consisted of one.

I think it’s because of these solitary roots that I love Cyril Connolly’s assertion that it is, “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”  Sounds brave, doesn’t it?  There’s a bit of spit in there, projected at the face of the world (if you take it the wrong way). But I believe the spirit of the thing resides in a fundamental commitment to honesty which I believe (unless you are a profoundly good liar) fuels all good writing.  In other words, “writing for yourself” is writing honest.

And so?  That means it’s ok to have no public?  To have no book on a shelf?  Yes, I realize that the essential counsel is drown out by the longings of an unpublished writer.

Nevertheless: having a book on a shelf at B&N is not so different from *not* having a book on a shelf at B&N (even though, yes, you can want that and, yes, you should keep trying).

I’m not a new writer.  The only thing new for me is having published my first novel and attained the life-long aspiration of seeing it at the book store.

When this sort of thing happens to people, I’m sure there are those out there who believe that they have finally “arrived.”  After all, the hard cover first edition is like the birthing of your masterpiece into the universe, isn’t it?  Some may think they’ve transformed or transcended to some celebrity status and that they are now truly and unequivocally “professional grade”.

I’m not going to pound those people but…

You see, it’s all quite a bit less rapturous.  I think of it more as a wedding rather than being drawn into the media’s heavenly rays of light.  I mean, it is a big event full of euphoria and celebration, but it’s also tinged with worry.

You’re thinking, “Well, here I am.  Found a partner who’d have me.  I wonder where it goes now.  Like another story: I wonder how this will turn out.”

The publisher is your partner.  They’re quite nice to you because, of course, they believe in you: else they wouldn’t have bought your stuff(s) see?

But you do tend to have some anxiety over reviews, sales, etcetera.

“Yeah, but those are good problems to have!” you yell at me.

Sure.  You’re correct.  But I’m just saying it’s not magical bliss.

Once the novelty of the thing has worn off, the bliss still comes from writing, from assembling words and sentences and so on.  That’s your joy.  Your joy is not in a spot light somewhere or even in the best review of the year.  Good and bad reviews both affect you only momentarily.  The only thing that is permanent is the craft itself and what it does to you while you are doing it.

On the shelf, your book is looking back at you with all of its polished stiff-spined sheen, a thing to be consumed.  It is an object fit for consumption, just as easily mass-produced as it is returned and mulched.  It is a brand, fit for derision and adoration and everything in between.  And now, congratulations, so are you.

But it is not (unless you earn your bread from writing) the thing that matters.  Thank God I don’t earn my living from it.  If I did, I’m afraid it would thoroughly suck the joy from it.  Because what I want is to savor words and mess about with ideas and construct wild realities.  I don’t want to try and guess what I think will sell and then write that thing.  Sorry Tor, it’s the truth.

In that regard, there is no telling how long I will be “in print” as it were.

Yet, the fact remains: I have written.  Like you, I have slaved over that sentence, that paragraph.  I have literally sweated it out, agonizing over the words, knowing that no matter which ones I choose, they will be wrong for some readers.  That’s when you have to stop caring and start writing.  I did and so have you.

And that’s what it means to write for yourself.  I don’t look at my book on the shelf and see it like other people see it.  For me, it is not a consumable. For me it is the proof of my struggle to create something and learn something and tell something that for me was true.  It is like a monument now, a stone graven with some obscure message I have left along the road.

Passersby may pause at it, marvel, or try to hurl it into the weeds.  But for me, its heft goes through my palm along my arm and into my soul.  For me it represents things that I do not expect it to represent to anyone else.

Getting published will bring you a set of fans and critics.  Admittedly, this is fun: to be loved and hated.  There’s something cosmically *right* about it.  You get your emails and your reviews and you experience a margin of fame.  You realize that for better or worse, the world at large has to some degree noticed you and responded.  But this is nothing to do with writing.

The thing you keep is the battle fought in the pages, before they were polished (published or not), before you called it “done.”  You are a writer if you write because you must.  This is the truth.  When your truth is solid enough that other people feel it in your words, then you will certainly be published.

Until then, you carry on.

Anthony Huso is a video game designer, “self-described nerd” and the author of The Last Page, published by Tor Books.