On Writing: Penning Permission

Joanna Penn, a writer, author and blogger you must find if you do not currently follow her, got mad recently, reacting to “an article that came out this week on one literary agent’s blog about whether your publisher will let you self-publish,” (http://bit.ly/10cXnvu). From the perspective of a Bronx-born writer, her pleasant, positively-toned “anger” was adorable, but her elegant eloquence inspired me to comment on her blog and then expand those thoughts here.

The question explored in these blogs concern whether a writer needs someone else’s okie doke to write and publish. If being “given permission” to write or publish works for some, fantastic, but I would suggest that another way of looking at this is that we have been given an imperative in today’s publishing world.

The last agent who was interested merely in a writer’s novel died alone and forgotten long ago. Today, agents and publishers look at platform, platform, platform. What has a writer already written? Where has that writer been published? (Yeah, they want you to have been published before they consider publishing you; that’s some catch that catch-22.) From this perspective, “permission” may be implied, insisted, demanded. Writers must write, must publish, must build their platform, so waiting for permission, or allowing someone else to hold us back is no longer really a viable option.

We must put ourselves out there with our best work, with the best writing we can muster, and once we or they hit the “publish” button we must take that as the starting pistol for what we are going to write next. From this perspective, I would suggest self-publishing in some form is now required of writers.

We must also be wary of the “What will happen if I publish this?” trap. I understand we must go through this line of questioning as part of the writing process: will what I write hurt someone’s feelings; will what I write damage my career? However, this path can lead us to self-censuring, to procrastinating, to not hitting the publish button. This is the exact opposite of the result we want. So I would suggest the Truth Test.

A writer must ask her/himself whether what is written expresses an essential truth as honestly and successfully as that person can manage, and if that essential truth is being written because the writer needs to express this essential truth and not because sex sells or controversy sells or it’s a hot genre, etc. If a writer is honestly comfortable that what as been written is an accurate reflection of an essential truth that writer believes in, I say there is always room on a writer’s platform to publish that truth.

Can a biography writer a sci-fi piece? Yes, just market it as such. Can a writer write literary genre novels? Of course. Will they be accepted as such? Not your problem. Look at Walter Mosley. His readers love his work, be it detective story, sci-fi, YA, social criticism, or literary, but literary reviewers have at times dismissed his work as genre while genre reviewers have said the same work is too literary to be genre writing. Frustrating? Yes. But Mosley has found an audience and it continues to grow not because he found a comfortable niche to hide in but because his readers recognize an artist being faithful to expressing his essential truths.

I believe all writers can take strength from this on their own creative journey.

Christopher Ryan is author of City of Woe, available on Kindle and Nook, and in print. For more info, click here.

About chrisryanwrites

I do my best to tell fast-paced stories with humor and heart. My fiction work is available on amazon.com. Here, I’ll write about the sources for those stories from what I read, watch, listen to, and observe to my experiences as a former award-winning journalist, high school teacher, actor, and producer.
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3 Responses to On Writing: Penning Permission

  1. I’d have thought unless it’s contractually agreed a publisher cannot dictate whether someone publishes works without them agreeing to it.

    And if I had the oppurtunity I’d refuse to bend to that sort of pressure and overzealous management.


    • I understand and agree, but also recognize some writers are so thrilled to get a contract they either don’t read, miss it, or are reluctant to rock the boat. Joanna Penn was rightly educating writers about who should and shouldn’t have a say in what a writer writes. Education can be helpful, yes?

      Also, many writers need to be educated that they have a right to say no to some parts of their proposed contract.

      My blog was expanding on her thoughtful piece. You comments enrich the discussion. Thanks.


  2. Katie says:

    I think in today’s world you can’t just be a writer – you have to be an entrepreneur. I have a feeling that publishers don’t want you to channel your inner business titan – because then how are they going to put food on the table? And I get it, and I’m empathetic to that. They are becoming more adaptable to the new business model as time goes on (for instance – embracing authors that do have a platform already and launching off of it), but the bottom line is you don’t need them. All you need in today’s world is an internet connection and you can become a billionaire. So, I agree, the only permission you need to write is from yourself, and it is important to be authentic – because that’s what sells.


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