I've had a few friends with great news lately, and a few with some disappointments. Also a few with steps toward success. Celebrating, listening to chatter, and mopping up some tears, I know it seems as if a lot of getting published depends on luck. And it does. Luck and timing are all big parts of publication.
But even with the best luck, we have to be ready to take advantage of opportunity when it comes. We have to be smart enough to see opportunities present themselves, and saavy enough to handle the opportunities gracefully enough to turn them into success.
The funny thing about the publishing process--and I can't put enough emphasis on the word process--is that there are many other steps we have to take before we are ready to write a publishable work, to go through the process of publication, and to prepare ourselves for what happens when the book is out in the world.
Part of that process is learning to disassociate from the work enough to understand that everyone who reads our manuscript is going to be bringing their own set of biases and experiences with them. Agents and editors have to look at work through a variety of different lenses, only a few of them related to the actual writing in the manuscript. That may feel frustrating. But in reality, no reader is coming to a novel without their own agenda.
When it comes to our books, we have to remember that we are just the writers. We create only part of the reader's experience. Our job is to tell our story clearly enough that it has integrity regardless of the reader's baggage, and further, to leave room enough for the reader's baggage to enhance the book instead of taking away from it.
How do we do that? We solicit a lot of opinions before the book goes out into the world. Before we query. Before we submit. We ask and we thank heaven for every critique that we receive. And we value every critique equally, regardless of whether the critiquer loves the work or hates it. We give every question, every comment, every suggestion equal weight, and no matter how much the critique may hurt, we set it aside until we can evaluate it objectively and in context of our overall goals for the story.
Face it, we are going to get opinions one way or the other, before we query or after. Before we publish or after. We can catch ambiguities and inconsistencies before people pay good money to buy our work, or we can let them catch the weaknesses, cliches, plot holes, and pacing issues after they've paid and expose them in bad reviews that will keep others from buying the book or future books.
Fiction is art. There is no right or wrong. But there is a canvas we have to paint on, and we have to make sure that when readers look at that canvas, they see what we want them to see. That means we have to look at it ourselves from as many different perspectives as possible.
I've seen so many writers ignore criticism because it doesn't mesh with what they want to hear. Heck, I've done it myself. Sometimes it's because something is too hard to fix. Sometimes I would rather believe the positive feedback. Sometimes I honestly don't believe that a piece of feedback will work for me or for the story.
I'm not saying we have to accept every suggestion or take every criticism to heart.
I am saying that we need to seek as many opinions as possible and consider every single piece of input that our readers give us.
Our critique partners, our beta readers, the people and other writers who give us the gift of their time considering our manuscripts are our training wheels on the road to publication. Not just for the first book. For every book.
We never stop learning to write better. We must never stop seeking input for our work, reading the manuscripts of other writers, and most of all, reading every great book we can find time to devour.
Today, I just want to say thank you. Thanks to every beta reader, critiquer, cheerleader, and tough critic out there. Thanks to everyone who reads and loves the written word.
Reading rocks! Right?