Publishing is Slow

I’m fully in conference travel season now: I’m just back from Boston for the Grub Street Muse and the Marketplace conference and the Futurescapes workshop out in Utah. I’ll be at the Las Vegas Writer’s conference in May and doing SCBWI in Las Vegas the same weekend. Then the Kickstarter Next Page conference before heading off to LA for the Nebulas. In June I’m teaching a workshop for the Highlights foundation with Tiffany Liao and then in Austin for the Texas Writer’s League conference. In August, I’m at Willamette Writers in Portland doing a master class and the conference. And then in September I’m doing the Writing Excuses Cruise.

What I’m saying is, I do a lot of conferences. At these conferences I meet a lot of writers. Like, so so so many writers. And after all of these conversations, in hallways, at the bar, in a buffet line, at pitch sessions, in critiques, after all of these ad-hoc, planned and paid for, or casual meet and greet chats, I have one thing I always come away wishing more people could find a way to internalize and make peace with.

Publishing is slow. Success in this business is an investment of months, years, decades. This is frustrating. I literally have a sweatshirt that pleads “Make publishing go faster.” But on doing some recent reflection, I’ve come to understand that the slowness of the business, while not an unalloyed good, does provide a purpose and is an essential part of the process. Maybe it doesn’t have to be. Maybe it won’t be forever. But for now I’m learning to not only make my peace with it, but make it work for me.

It takes time to make a book the best book it can be. Editing is a slow process. Writing is a slow process. And word of mouth is a thing that builds bit by bit, tiny accretions of good will, until suddenly it’s an avalanche. Cover design, marketing plans, publicity plans, all this coordination takes time. Sometimes it’s good to give a book the space to breathe and let things come to fruition at their own pace.

For writers, I so often find myself watching the choices people make and wishing they had been more patient. There are so many mistakes that descend from rushing. Sending out a manuscript before it’s ready. Taking the first offer of rep on the table. Signing a bad deal because you want your book out there.

Instead, I wish people could learn to be strategic. Research agencies. Talk to people about what their deals look like. Learn what a proper book launch looks like and make sure you’re giving your work over to someone who knows what they’re doing.

Listen, I get it. Waiting is hard. And publishing is 90% waiting by volume. But first and foremost, you need to have a plan. Figure out what’s important to you and then chase that thing and don’t get distracted by false promises along the way. Also, be ready to throw your plan out the window at the drop of a hat if a good opportunity does come along. Knowing the difference is hard, I know.

You’re going to have set backs along the way. It’s going to feel hopeless. And I can’t promise there’s light at the end of that tunnel. Maybe you won’t ever get that dream book deal. But I can promise you the only way to find out is to keep going. You’re not done until you say you are.

Do the work to make sure the manuscript is right. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid of the work. Build your network. Find answers to your questions. Be patient.