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.