I made a comment this week that newbie writers are not ready to publish.
So we’re clear, when I said ‘newbie’, I meant they have literally just picked up a pen for the first time to write a novel. This may not have been clear on Twitter, where 140 characters doesn’t allow room for such caveats and disclaimers, but I was surprised when someone tweeted me about the comment.

This person found my statement so disheartening they felt they should stop writing altogether. I must confess, I was taken aback by this sweeping statement. Why should someone be disheartened by such a comment? Don’t people already know this?
Apparently, people don’t know this. Which is perhaps a reason for me to say it more often.
But we should know it. We none of us expect to ride a bicycle perfectly the first time – that’s why we have training wheels. My first day at law school, I was not ready to be a lawyer. Hell, my first day in my current job, I was not ready to be a lawyer, and yet, eight years later, I am a senior lawyer. These things take time. Is there anything that anyone can expect to do well the very first time they do it?

If a writer expects to succeed immediately, I would suggest they need to think again. The very act of writing is a lengthy process, even if you can devote your full attention to it, and most of us need to have day jobs as well. I have been working on my current WIP since January 2008. Granted, there was a long time in there when I did nothing, but if we break it down into actual active time it looks something like this:

• Four months to write a first draft and revise;
• Three to six months receiving feedback from critique group;
• Six months revising and editing (three times).
Now that’s very nearly eighteen months, and I haven’t even finished the last set of revisions, nevermind written a synopsis or query letter. Even if I was to land an agent, it would take time to find a publisher, and then it’s something like two years for the book to land on the shelf. We’re talking four years minimum from go to whoa. It can easily be more.
Granted, it’s much quicker if you self-publish. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. But you can see my earlier post on indie publishing for that particular rant.
The reality is a writer’s first ever manuscript is unlikely to be publishable without significant revisions. I won’t even try to rewrite my first manuscript. Or my second. Maybe – maybe – my third. The fourth I will.
Even well-known and best-selling authors were rejected multiple times before being published. Here are a few of the ones I know:
  • John Grisham’s ‘A Time To Kill’ – rejected 45 times;
  • Dr. Seuss – rejected 46 times;
  • Tom Clancy’s ‘The Hunt For Red October’ – rejected 12 times;
  • Patricia Cornwell’s ‘Postmortem’ – rejected 7 times;
  • Mary Higgins Clark’s ‘First Story’ – rejected 40 times;
  • William Stevenson’s 80’s bestselling thriller, ‘A Man Called Intrepid’ – rejected 109 times; and
  • James Lee Burke’s ‘The Lost Get-Back Bookie’ – rejected 111 times over a period of nine years, and upon publication was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won the Edgar.
If it took these authors this long and this many rejections to be published, then why should anyone expect to pick up a pen and immediately be worthy?
  
I’m not trying to be pessimistic. I suggest writers be positive, which I distinguish from optimistic. Optimism is believing the best will always happen. I’m sorry, it won’t. Being positive is believing you can make the best happen, with hard work if necessary. Optimism allows no room for realism, being positive does.
Realism is important, because if you aren’t realistic, you will only be disappointed when the things you expect don’t happen.
Writers, the hard, real facts are, if you want to be a writer, you must be in it for the long haul.
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