Getting Published Is Different For Everyone: Two Paths Among Many

One obvious question that can get overlooked in the process of seeking publication is, Why do you want to publish this book, article, story or poem? Most likely, the answer involves some combination of artistic or spiritual vision, desire for recognition, need to communicate an idea or body of knowledge, feeling a compelling urge to shift consciousness around a particular topic, seeing a knowledge gap in the general society and feeling called to fill it, and of course receiving a little or a lot of financial compensation for one's efforts.

As writers, as creative people, it can be difficult to join the artistic and spiritual sides of what drives us with the practical and business concerns. However, the union needn't be a shotgun marriage, and it needn't be done alone. Let's look at some examples.

Cassie, 23, is a recent college graduate with an English major. She is working as an editorial assistant in an academic publishing house. For the last several years, she has been keeping a journal of poetry and prose. In the last six months, she has been reading at open-mike nights throughout the Bay area, and has begun to receive excellent feedback and recognition for her work. Thinking she might be ready to publish a book, Cassie showed her work to one of her colleagues at Scholarly Books, Inc., who told her her work was not commercially viable. What should be Cassie's next step?

First of all, Cassie should get other opinions about the viability of her work, and from people with more relevant backgrounds. An editor at an academic press does not necessarily know the market for poetry and literary fiction, and even if she does, any author would do well to learn a bit more. Right now, Cassie is making enough money to live on, and has time left over to pursue her writing.

Though most writers of poetry and literary fiction do not earn the bulk of their livings through publishing their work, Cassie's main goal is self-expression and elevating her level of participation in her literary community of choice. This would give her increased recognition and acknowledgment, which a few years down the road, could in turn translate into a cash advance for her next book. Even without a published book, Cassie could possibly attract enough students to offer a successful creative writing workshop through a local venue.

Cassie might also want to consider some of the many alternatives to mainstream publishing such as zines, e-books, subsidy publishing or self-publishing. A knowledgeable and qualified publishing consultant will be able to help her make the best choice at the optimal point in her writing career.

Here's another, very different, path:

Bryan, 47, is a nurse-practitioner who spent time before and after nursing school working in nursing homes. Now he works in a clinic for the elderly with doctors and social workers. He is known in the office as the "New Age Guru," and often refers his clients to homeopaths, osteopaths, and other practitioners of alternative medicine. He was even instrumental in starting an ongoing yoga class for the elderly at the local "Y."

Bryan has kept up with gerontological and alternative medicine health issues by reading both trade journals and consumer magazines, for years. He is familiar with some of the psychological challenges some elderly people face when considering alternative care. For example, having relied on western medicine exclusively for so many years, many elderly patients are understandable skeptical about undertaking something unfamiliar, and in their eyes, marginal. Bryan wants to write a book that would serve as a guide to holistic health care for the elderly and their families, but isn't sure how to begin.

Having never published before, Bryan might well choose to write an article to begin with (as opposed to launching into a full-on book), for several reasons. One, it will be a good exercise in writing itself. Two, he will see whether he feels satisfied with the amount of writing in an article, or feels he has a great deal more to say. Three, he will introduce himself to potential readers as an expert on his topic, perhaps even creating a website to include as part of his byline.

Let's say Bryan decides to go ahead with his article, entitled "Holistic Health Care for the Elderly." Now Bryan needs to decide what audience he wishes to reach: Health care providers? Elderly patients? Families of elderly patients? Aging Baby-Boomers? His publishing consultant sends him on a mission to the library and through the Internet to find a small handful of publications in which he would love to see his work appear. To his surprise, Bryan finds that the topic has been fairly well-covered already, however, no one has adequately addressed the issue of coordinating multiple health care providers for the elderly patient, something Bryan has much to say about. Bryan decides on two gerontology trade journals and three consumer magazines geared toward baby-boomers, who are likely caring for an aging parent. He crafts one query letter for the trade journals, and another for the consumer magazines, which his writing consultant helps him polish. Should both a trade journal and consumer magazine accept his query, he'll be able to recycle some of the same material for different audiences, provided both editors approve. Once published, Bryan will be much better situated to decide whether and how to go about writing his book, if he still feels called to do so.

While their situations differ, both Cassie and Bryan, like other writers, needed to consider the question of audience: Who will be interested in reading this work? They also need to consider their vehicle: What is the best way to reach this audience? Are there multiple routes to various audiences? Should an author put all his energies into one route, or explore several avenues simultaneously? What are the advantages and disadvantages to each of these choices? Finally, both Cassie and Bryan had to do some work to establish credibility in their field: Readers want words that come from experience, knowledge and recognized talent. Both Cassie and Bryan are well on their way to moving their writing careers to the next step. Their weekly meetings with their writing consultant help them clarify their options each step of the way, make the choices that are best for them, and groom the query letters and proposals that help launch them into print.

The above are fictional composite characters extrapolated from typical client situations.

You are welcome to reprint this article any time, anywhere with no further permission, and no payment, provided the following is included at the end or beginning:

Author Jill Nagle is founder and principal of GetPublished,, which provides coaching, consulting, ghostwriting, classes and do-it-yourself products to emerging and published authors. Her most recent book is How to Find An Agent Who Can Sell Your Book for Top Dollar

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