Expectations -- Dreams vs. Reality

So you’ve decided that writing is for you. You are convinced your story is so original, your writing so compelling that publishers will compete for the privilege of bringing your masterpiece to the public. You are excited and can’t wait to get started.

Good. Now a word of caution.

There are a handful of famous writers who achieved success with their first endeavor. Most papered their walls with rejection slips before that first breakthrough came. For every one of those who made it, there are literally tens of thousands whose work has never seen the light of day. The facts are discouraging. You can’t simply send your manuscript off to the publisher of your choice because the vast majority do not accept “over the transom” submissions. They only read manuscripts that come to them from reputable literary agents or by recommendation of other established authors.

Assuming you don’t have a famous author lurking among your acquaintances, you would no doubt conclude that your best bet is to find an agent — a task equally fraught with difficulty. As the publishing world’s gate keepers, agents receive hundreds if not thousands of submissions per week, only a small fraction of which they find interesting enough for a second look. To make matters worse, more and more of them are unwilling to look at unsolicited manuscripts. They gain their clients through recommendation of other authors and personal contact at writer’s conferences.

Okay, so check those lists of conferences and plan to attend one or more. This is a good idea if you have the necessary time and resources — and the ability to promote yourself. There is the potential to meet agents and editors, to network with other writers, and to attend classes that will improve your writing skills. You may thus increase your odds of eventual success, but it is important to remember the road is long and arduous and uncertain.

So where does this leave the aspiring writer?

One of my favorite quotes comes from Langston Hughes. “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.” I have held fast to my dreams more times than I can count. Whenever I breached the first defenses of the publishing world — obtaining the services of an agent — I was delirious with hope. The subsequent disappointment was crushing. Yet any fleeting determination to give it up soon yielded to the sweet lure of the written word. And so, the beat goes on.

I encourage you to scratch the itch we writers have. Write for the love of it. Create a story that reflects your world view and satisfies your soul. Despite the reality of the publishing world, don’t let that be the final word. Never give up your dreams.

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