I’ve always loved books and I’ve always loved writing. That’s why I became an English Literature major at Boston University and why I spent the next 40+ years in the publishing industry, why I started writing novels and why I started one of the first hybrid publishing operations.
I’ve worked in senior positions for some of the largest publishers in the U.S. and England, publishing professional references, college texts, academic journals, scientific books and trade titles. In the process, I’ve come across writers good, bad and ugly. It’s the hopefuls, the wannabes, that I’ve been attracted to. Once anyone discovers you know something about publishing, the flood of questions begins. I won’t give examples here because we’ve all been inundated with them.The queries always start with “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” or “I’ve got this book I’ve been working on, and . . . ,” or “My friend/sister/neighbor/ has this book . . .” And then the questions begin, seeking the secret to becoming that coveted honor: A Published Author.
I’ve broken the hearts of the bad and uglies by rejecting their work. But I’ve always tried to let them down gently, giving some glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel with suggestions for finding editorial help, books on writing and sometimes the stiff slap of reality that they need.
It’s the good, not great, but good writers that I am drawn to. Those people who have the basic abilities to write well, tell a compelling story, a witty story or an inspirational story that can move a reader. The writer who, though far from perfect (is there such a creature?), has some writing that deserves to be shared, to be read, to be enjoyed. It’s these writers that I want to be the champion for. Give them a chance in an industry that is too often too quick to dismiss or ignore their nascent talent. The ones who need some nurturing, a helpful hand, an encouraging word. And who, with that help, begin to blossom into not just a scribbler, but a bona fide author.
In writing my own books, I’ve experienced the soul-crushing rejection of my work by agents and publishers, as well as the insulting lack of any response at all to the scores of queries I’ve submitted. And I get it. I know personally the editor’s need to give cursory glances to submissions, eager to find the quickest reason to reject a manuscript and move on to the next one in the towering sysyphusian stack of writings on their desks or in their email.
But somewhere in that pile there is a seed that with some sunlight and watering can evolve into a beautiful plant if just given some time and healthy soil in which to grow. Okay, that analogy is a little flowery, but you get my point. And that’s where I like to step in.
Having basic writing skills is not enough to become published. One needs to learn the craft of writing, and that only comes with years of practice, learning and studying. We as publishers can facilitate that education, and it is our responsibility as the gatekeepers of literature to encourage and show the way to those who truly have the goods. The goods not necessarily to produce the next best-seller, but the goods to hone their craft to produce work that moves, educates and entertains others in a unique and/or meaningful way.
The big New York houses have to meet untenable sales goals, and for that reason, they must reject all but a minute fraction of the work sent to them. And that’s as it should be, I suppose. But in the process, many worthy manuscripts are overlooked, and the humble writer who has put his or her heart and soul into their story has their dreams and talent quashed. I, for one, am honored to ferret those hopefuls out and give them the chance they deserve.
I have a quote from Richard Bach posted above my desk that reads: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”