You see a lot of posts on social these days from people spending a lot of time and energy trying to put together a pitch and/or query agents and/or land an editor & get a book deal, and a lot of words around how hard this all is*.
[*Fair enough. It is hard, no doubt. But to put some reality around this perception, (a) I heard publishing guru Jane Friedman say on a podcast just this morning that there are more books being acquired today than ever before, and (b) it has always been hard—my wife had ten years of rejection over the course of three or four novels, and pretty much every published author I know (including yours truly) has a not-dissimilar story. So don’t lose sight of this amidst the current pub-doom scrolling.]
But also, you see a lot of musing on whether or not it’s “worth it,” and whether or not they should keep doing it.
On one level, the whole question is a self-correcting issue. I mean, if you want to do it, you’ll do it. If you don’t, you won’t.
But this is simplistic, and avoids the real issue here: What is it you actually want to do? Not as a stepping stone, but as a terminal objective?
Get an agent?
Land an editor?
Get a book deal?
Sell a bunch of books?
Win a big award?
All those things largely depend on the decisions and tastes of someone else.
Now, hypothetically, what if your primary goal was dependent on only you… what if your primary goal was simply to write the very best book you are capable of writing? Period. Not comma.
What would you end up with? There are no guarantees of course, but if you really put your heart and mind to the above goal, there’s a reasonable chance you’d end up with… the very best book you are capable of writing.
There are also no guarantees this would get you an agent and an editor and a published book. But if you were to get those things at some point, which factor would probably be more important… starting with a clever pitch, or starting with the very best book you are capable of writing?
Not that your query doesn’t matter. Of course it does—you have to have that in place to get them to read your manuscript, so you obviously want to make sure it does its job. But even the best query in the world won’t make them sign a mediocre manuscript.
One thing agents and editors say over and over: it needs to be good enough for them to “fall in love with it.” These words mean different things to different people, but one thing we can be fairly certain of—once you get their attention, everything else falls away and it’s all about the writing.
The perfect pitch, the carefully curated mood board, the well-researched comps… they can’t help you at this point. They’re like an Uber driver who’s taken you to a job interview. They’ve done their job, and now it’s all down to the actual words on the page. Once the agent or editor starts reading your pages, all they care about is… does this have “it”?
At this point, what you really want them to have in their hands is (wait for it…) the very best book you are capable of writing.
And in my humble opinion, the way you get that is to focus on that—rather than the whole marketing aspect—until you’ve written and revised and edited and polished your manuscript (and probably beta/rev/beta/rev… and more polish) to the point where it represents the best work you can currently do.
Even then, your agent (probably) and your editor (absolutely) will have multiple suggestions to make it even stronger. But they need to see the potential in your writing before you’ll ever get to that stage.
And you can give that to them, by giving your writing the best chance to succeed.
In light of all this, the “should I quit?” question doesn’t even come up. Quit writing? Why would you quit something you love, something you’re driven to do, something that costs nothing to do, something that no one is stopping you from doing?
I can’t imagine that.
Not if the goal is to write the best you can.
But if the goal is something second-hand, then maybe so. Because when it comes to motivation, intrinsic beats extrinsic every time, hands down.
In my admittedly-finite data collection on this, the ones who want to write… who need to write… are the ones with the best chance of getting published. Because they’re more likely to be doing the thing that editors want… they’re putting something on the page that means something to them… and thus it’s more likely to mean something to the reader.
To put it in mathematical terms:
The more you want Z, the less likely you are to get it (because you’re distracted from what it really takes to get it).
But the more you want X and Y (the precursors to Z, namely: a burning desire to put words on the page and tell your story, and a long-term dedication to the craft of writing) the more likely you are to wake up and find Z pounding on your front door.
Funny, isn’t it?
This is where I write about things that are of interest to me and which I think may be of interest to you. I’m assuming most of you are here due to an interest in reading, writing, editing, publishing, etc., so that’s the primary focus.