The Evolution of the Modern Writing Dream (part 1)

Ask an author why they write and you’ll get some variation of “to tell a story.” For most of us it started with the wonder of leafing through books picked up at a library or bookstore. We fantasize about the weight of a book in our hands, our name on the cover, picture on the back.

But times in publishing are changing. Traditional publishing isn’t the only way to go anymore. And you don’t have to have an agent to get published.

How are these changes affecting the publishing dream?

This week we’ll take a look at the evolution of the writing dream, an inside look at the thought process of authors at different stages in their writing career. Today, we’re starting with an aspiring author – that would be me. Wednesday, you’ll hear from debut author Laura Drake. And on Friday, multi-published Marilyn Brant will close out the series.

Part 1: The Aspiring Author’s Writing Dream

By Orly Konig-Lopez

A few months ago I was chatting with an author friend who had just self-published her debut. I was a bit deflated from a submission let-down and she asked, “Why are you still doing that? I loved your story. Just put it out there on your own.”

In today’s publishing market that is indeed a viable option. And I know a lot of aspiring authors who go that route—some quite successfully too. Is it tempting? Absolutely.

But it’s not for me. And here’s why: I have a dream. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard that before and more convincingly. Hang with me for a second.

My dream isn’t a lofty one. I don’t expect to change the world. I have no delusions of millionairedom. I’m not running out to buy the perfect shoes for a red carpet appearance. I want to write the best book I can possibly write and see it published. I want to write something that will – hopefully – touch readers.

When I first set out to write a novel, I thought I could just hole up in my office and write. I took a couple of workshops, joined a couple of writer’s groups and guess what I learned? The more I interact with other authors, the stronger my writing becomes.

I belong to two critique groups (yes, two!) The feedback and encouragement I get from both groups is priceless. I’m also a member of three writer’s organizations (even a founding president of one—that’s huge for an introverted troll who really just wanted to sit quietly in her cave and type away a couple of years ago).

My writing has matured since I joined these groups and I’ve learned an incredible amount about the publishing industry. The more I learn, the more convinced I am that my dream of getting an agent and pursuing a traditional publisher is the right one for me.

Why? Because there’s still room to grow.

At this stage in my career I want that publishing knowledge behind me. I want an agent who sees something special in my writing, falls in love with my quirky vision and will help me make those stories that much stronger. I want to work with an editor and publisher who see a gem in my story and will want to share it with readers.

Sound naïve? Maybe. I know the industry is hard. Believe me, I have enough rejections in a folder on my computer to know that landing an agent isn’t what it used to be. But I also have enough encouraging rejections to keep me focused on what can be.

Image by ColinBroug via http://www.freepik.com/index.php?goto=41&idd=665541&url=aHR0cDovL3d3dy5zeGMuaHUvcGhvdG8vMTM2ODY2Nw==#

Image by ColinBroug via http://www.freepik.com

A few days ago, Laura Drake shared this quote:

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”  ― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

I don’t plan on giving up. Will my dream ever change? Maybe. If in a few years I’m still picking at the mortar of my brick wall with a toothpick, yeah, I might reconsider.

For now, I’m sticking with my dream.

What dream are you pursuing? And why?

About Orly

OrlyAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet.

When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly has also joined forces with some amazing women’s fiction authors to launch the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.

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26 Responses to The Evolution of the Modern Writing Dream (part 1)

  1. Vicky Green says:

    Hi Orly,

    Thank you for sharing your writing dream. I’m on the same page as you, to win the hearts of an agent, editor, publishing house, and most importantly, the readers. I’ve taken a brief break from writing (haven’t written a word since March) but I’m just about ready to throw myself back into the crazy world of writing. I’m excited.

    Thanks for inspiring me,

    Vicky Green

    • Welcome back to the trenches, Vicky.🙂
      I just dove back into my WIP a couple of months ago and it feels really good to be writing again. It’s easy to get sucked into the “how do I get published” side and forget why we got on this train to begin with.

  2. Kerry Ann says:

    I love your dream. I share your dream—although you are further along the path than I am. The relative ease of self-publishing can be tempting, and it’s certainly the right choice for some writers. Call me old-fashioned, but there’s just something about earning a traditional publishing contract that sets my heart aflutter. Once my rejections start piling up, I might change my mind.

    I’ve heard so many wonderful things about your work, Orly. Those publishers will covet your gems soon.

    • Awww, thanks, Kerry Ann!🙂

      Glad to have someone sitting next to me! I agree that the rejections piling up can be disheartening but you can also look at them as a learning exercise – at least that’s how I choose to see them. There’s a huge difference in the responses between the first novel I put out there and the one I was just querying. In my warped little brain, that’s already a win.

  3. This is a great post, Orly. I wrote several novels that were sent out by an agent before giving up and self-publishing the fourth one. Two weeks later, my agent sold my fifth novel to NAL/Penguin, so I had the opportunity to be one of those “hybrid” authors with a foot in each camp. I loved self publishing for the control it gave me, and because I had to go to digital marketing boot camp to get my book out and about. It was truly an astoundingly informative experience about everything from social media to what it takes to hook readers and brand yourself as an author. Now I’m bringing all of that to my experience as a traditionally published author, and I have to say that you’re right about there always being more room to grow as a writer. Nobody has pushed me as hard as my wonderful editor, and I love feeling like part of a team as I send my new novel into the world. Keep at it. Doors only open if you keep knocking long enough! You’re taking all of the right steps to get there.

    • Thanks, Holly.
      I think it’s more about having a vision for where you want to go and not letting it get derailed. There are so many options and each one has pluses and minuses. With the changes in publishing, there’s no reason to beat your head on one door forever. On the other hand, I think it’s become too easy to knock once, twice, eehhhh, no one there, moving on and not necessarily taking the time to evaluate WHY you’re moving on. No idea if that made sense. I need more coffee! 🙂

      btw, what I hope most people will get from reading your answer is the importance of being patient and keeping at it.

  4. Because I know WitS works hard to avoid A Certain Range War, I’ll restrain myself. (Yes, what follows is the restrained version.)

    Traditional publishing’s only value in validating an author is “Will it sell?” and NOT “Is it good?”

    An agent MUST be more interested in “Will it sell?” than “Is it good?” because that is the ONLY considering for traditional publishing.

    If a book is lousy, but will sell, a publisher might pick it up (though they still reject +99% of all submissions.)

    If a book is a work of genius, but won’t sell, they will NOT pick it up.

    So getting a traditional publishing deal only says “You’re commercial” and NOT “You’re good.”

    Y’know who gets to tell you “You’re good” ? Two people: yourself, and your fans.

    And it has to happen in that order.

    • Laura Drake says:

      Joel, You are absolutely right. But you’re making the assumption that Orly is seeking traditional publishing for validation of being ‘good.’

      Just because we’re creative, it doesn’t mean we don’t have to also be businesspeople. Of COURSE an agent is only concerned with what will sell. It’s her livelihood! An editor? They could read a submission that is so beautiful, it makes them cry. But guess what? if it’s a tiny esoteric market, it’s not going to sell. The publisher has to make money, or the editor won’t get a paycheck.

      The market dictates. That’s the way it is. And what’s wrong with that? I’m a huge capitalist. You make it sound like ‘marketable’ is a bad word. Indie published authors are seeking to sell their books too, right? The market dictates popularity – the agent or editor is just a gatekeeper. You have gatekeepers as an indie author – they’re called readers.

      I guess I don’t understand the confusion, because for Orly and I (and a ton of other writers,) Traditional publishing has little to do with validation, and everything to do with our DREAM.

      And frankly, if you’re in this for validation, you’re going to drop out discouraged, no matter HOW you decide to publish. IMHO.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Your dream is the same as mine, Orly. I have a women’s fic underway that I’d love to see traditionally published but that I would go indie with. I have a middle grade novel ready to go out to agents (researching them now) because I think it would get the most exposure that way, but also because there is something validating to be taken on by an agent or editor and pushed to do even better. I agree with the above poster that publishers are looking for what sells, and they do publish a few really bad books, but they also look for good ones. I read too many great children’s books to think otherwise.

    My dream started out to write something good enough and lasting enough that when someone found it on a library shelf, her mother could say “I remember reading that!” I may not get that far, but I still want the library shelf, dammit!

    • Ohhh, I like that dream, Jennifer! And at the rate changes are happening in the industry, traditional publishing may not be the only way to get into libraries.

      And of course publishers are looking for what sells, it’s a business. Agents are looking for what sells too – that’s how they make their money. That’s not to say that many of the books that don’t get picked up aren’t good or even great. Some of the books that do get picked up aren’t always what some of us would consider good or even great. But it’s a business. I chose to get into this business and I still believe that agents and editors have a lot to offer authors, especially at a certain point in their career.

      Love this – “I read too many great children’s books to think otherwise.”
      And I’ll add women’s fiction into that category as well!

  6. Orly, there is no doubt in my mind … and there never has been … the direction I want to go is to publish traditionally. I want an agent and a publisher for too many reasons to state here. Laura replied to Joel:

    “I guess I don’t understand the confusion, because for Orly and I (and a ton of other writers,) Traditional publishing has little to do with validation, and everything to do with our DREAM.And frankly, if you’re in this for validation, you’re going to drop out discouraged, no matter HOW you decide to publish. IMHO.”

    I think we are all entitled to follow the path we feel is the best for us and our work. For me that is to become a hybrid. There are shorts, flash fictions and collections of shorts that are not only NON commercial .. .they would have a HARDER sell traditionally. For those I intend and am pursuing indie publishing.

    BUT … my full length novels, both the two series and the two stand alone … will publish tradtionally. Will I hit one of those walls? You bet. I’ll hit them and maybe get hurt a few times. That’s the nature of following a dream. No guarantees if you aren’t even willing to fail and fight back.

    And note: I said “THEY WILL” publish traditionally🙂 Look forward to the next part🙂

    • Great point, Florence, about “other” work that isn’t necessarily bound for traditional publishing. I have a few novellas and short stories that I want to publish and most likely will look at other paths for the very reason you point out.

      “No guarantees if you aren’t even wiling to fail and fight back.” <—– YES!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. marilynbrant says:

    Orly,
    I love your post and, most of all, the way you’re honoring your personal writing dream and holding fast to that vision! Not every writer wants exactly the same thing out of his/her career, even if it looks that way on the surface. Even if it seems reasonable. We simply want what we want, and I think one of the marks of true adulthood is striving to know *yourself* above all and realizing that none of us can really speak for anyone else. So keep following what your heart desires. I think it will steer you well😉.

    • Thanks, Marilyn!
      This is perfect – “striving to know *yourself* above all” … and not just “know yourself” but I’d add “trust yourself.” There are so many ways to do something, so many people who will give you advice, so many people who will tell you how you should do it. After rejections pile up it’s so easy for aspiring authors to listen to everyone but their inner voice.

  8. Yvette Carol says:

    Yes, exactly, Orly, the rejections, the critiques, the plethora of how-to’s available these days, the nay-sayers who harp on and on about how much ‘tougher’ the market is getting, the dire predictions of the declining rate of literacy in our children…the list of others imposing their will upon ours goes on. And because it’s not easy to become a successful writer, it’s even more important to hold fast to our inner truth, our inner knowingness about what we want to write, how we want to enter the market. I’m holding out for trad publishing too! And it doesn’t need to make sense to anyone but myself.

  9. Andrew Heath says:

    Interesting take on this. I can see it both ways. It would be thrilling to see my name on a book that I can hold in my hands (one that wasn’t published by a vanity press anyway), but there is also the argument that times are changing, and that they have always been. There was a time when it was considered rude for a lawyer to send a typewritten letter because it was too impersonal. But times have changed, and maybe that’s not so bad.

    So if we want to touch readers, is it fair to say that if everyone is out at Amazon downloading books onto their Kindle that it’s where we as writers should be too? Well, maybe not the only way to look at it, but fair, yes.

    I agree with you on wanting to touch readers, but I would argue – respectfully – that if we are to touch readers, we have to go to those places where they are. They’re just not in bookstores anymore. They’re on the Internet. That’s the reality, neither good nor bad. It just is. It’s a new day.

    • I completely agree with you, Andrew – we need to go to where the readers are. Traditional publishers are also putting out electronic versions of the same books going into the bookstores. There are so many opportunities for authors these days and all are great options.

      My point wasn’t that one is better than another, only that my vision for the starting point of my writing career is to follow the “traditional’ path – agent first then a publishing contract. Agents are fully aware of the “new day” and how to help their clients. I was at a conference recently and quite a few agents spoke about working with their clients to ensure career longevity and broader reach.

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  11. As one who has just set her feet firmly on the self-publishing track, I read what you had to say with interest. Undoubtedly, my choice was colored by my experience with traditional publishing for my 8 nonfiction books. I had one wonderful editor, two or three average ones, and one complete pig. As I was solidly mid-list (this was back in the days when mid-list existed unapologetically) I got minimal sales and promotion support from the publishers (there were four of them), and sales reflected that because back then I thought your publisher handled them. I was too stupid to know I should have picked up the baton and run with it myself.

    I’m choosing self-pub because I’m writing a trilogy and I want to see all the books come out — I’ve been around long enough to observe that unless the first one sells well (or you’ve been given a whopping advance) the second or certainly the third may never see the light of day. I want to have nice covers, not routine ones. I want to do the books three in a row, one a month, and I can do that next spring if I work hard. And the last reason amuses me: in one of the many many “should you self-pub?” articles that are around at the moment, the writer mentioned the length of time to find the right agent and a publisher, and concluded, “If you’re 55 or over, might as well self-pub immediately.” Well, I saw 55 some years ago, so like all the other doddering, cranky old women, I’m doing it myself.

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