What if you never get published?

Mark Twain, 1907

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“Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.” -Mark Twain



Picture this:

There is an old style fair set up in your town. It is a glorious summer day and you have nothing planned so you decide it might be fun to go check it out. Colourful tents rise high above you on either side of the pathway. The smell of popcorn mingles with cotton candy and lingers in the air all around you. You hear the screams of delighted children terrifying themselves on the rides in the distance. Your steps begin to match the tempo of the carnival music being played in a nearby tent.

A woman dressed in a billowing white blouse steps in front of you. She smiles as she greets you. You are stunned that she knew your name. Before you can recompose yourself she grabs you by the hand. Her long skirt is edged in bells and which jingle as she leads you to her tent. She pushes aside the thick burgundy velvet and guides you to a chair. In front of you burns a slender white candle which provides the only light in the small tent. The woman grabs your hand and turns your palm up. Her eyes narrow and after a long pause she says, “I see you are a person of many talents but writing is not one of them. Give up on your dream. You will never be published.”

What if you knew for sure no matter what you did you would never become a published author? Would you still write? Would you put the same effort into your writing?


About Billie Jo Schinnerer

Born and raised on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment in eastern New York. Formerly a primary and middle school teacher. Moved to the North West area of England in 2003. Now a mother of three and a wannabe author.
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31 Responses to What if you never get published?

  1. I don’t even allow myself to consider it. It’s called ‘faith’. 🙂

  2. Carole Bell says:

    I would still continue to write. A day without writing would be like a night without the moon and stars.
    I write because I have to. Like I have to eat, drink and sleep sometimes.

  3. That is a great outlook on it. I wish I could say I am the same but I am not. I sometimes spend hours on end rewriting or editing my novel and then wonder if I am crazy. I think of all the other things I could be doing. I think of all the times family rolls their eyes when I say I am off to write. I wonder if I have the skill. I wonder if I have the talent. I enjoy doing it though. Even though I have doubts about my works ever getting published, I would never give up on writing. Writing to me is like breathing, I just have to do it. I do also have persistence and I suppose I will use that to my advantage in a few months when I start querying. I just lack confidence.

  4. tamarapaulin says:

    I realized about three weeks ago that I would not be traditionally published. The rejection emails were my fortune-teller. So I had a little cry for a day and then got to work self-publishing.

    Writing is not crazy. Playing a video game for 3 hours a day is crazy. Watching TV for 3 hours a day is crazy. Writing or editing for 3 hours (or 1 or 5 or whatever) is not crazy.

  5. Sonje says:

    Well, I wrote for about 15 years without trying to get published, so I’m pretty sure I would write no matter what. I do like having people read what I’ve written. I do want to share my writing with people and hear what they think about what I created, but in that 15 year period, I was able to satisfy that desire satisfactorily by having a few friends read the novels and shorts stories I wrote.

    Also, as Tamara points out, it’s a bit of a moot point in this day and age. Since self-publishing is so easy now, “never being published” is completely within the writer’s control. Of course if you’re asking if you would write if you would “never be traditionally published,” that’s another ball game.

    • Growing up I shared my writing at school with classmates. When I became a teacher I wrote stories for my students. As an adult I became shy about sharing my writing until fairly recently when a very good friend asked why I don’t do more writing. I told them that I still write and in fact have a few novels that have been working on. He encouraged me to go more public with my writing. That was when I decided to get my feet wet through blogging.

      I will still write no matter what but would look towards self publishing if I thought my work was good enough and my situation didn’t fit the traditional publishing route.

  6. Getting published is the gravy and the icing (mmmm…gravy icing!). It’s always nice to be so acknowledged, but my existence is not tied up that way.

    • I think that is certainly a positive attitude to have. I think in 20 years how I raised my kids, how I lived as a person will define my life more than whether or not I got published. I suppose for some, traditional publishing defines who they are as a person. I do enjoy the journey that I am on though.

  7. Jo Eberhardt says:

    In that situation, I would laugh at the fortune teller and leave, glad that I hadn’t given her any money for my “fortune”. Then I would go home, channel my inner teenager for an hour or so (OMG! What if she’s right? I’ll, like, totally die!) and get back to writing.

    Laugh in the face of adversity. The strongest sword is forged in fire and water and pain.

  8. I would say that maybe getting published in the traditional way isn’t all cracked up to be what people say it is. A first time author might make around $5000 (or less). Personally, I’ve decided to choose a different path and be an indie writer (what people here are calling self-publishing). With all the work I’ve done on writing, editing, working with readers to build a platform and network with other writers, I’m scratching my head thinking: Why would I give up all my sales going the traditional path? Granted, it’s harder but the world is changing. Publishing is changing. I need to learn all these skills anyway so why shouldn’t I put them to work for me now? I believe in my writing and my work and I’ve decided to not wait for traditional publishing to bless me with their magical powers only to realize that I’ll still have to push my book anyway. When I published “Cinderella’s Secret Diary” last month, I did so knowing that I have a good book. Sometimes it’s important to see we can make our own path and that united with other authors–we are not alone.

    • I think having a community of writers behind an indie publisher such as the WANA community is a great way to go. I have found my twitter/blogging community to be full of knowledge and support already. I think self publishing or going indie may be a choice I make for one of my novels which I believe is a great story but does not fit with what publishers are looking for at the moment and therefore may not make it through the slush piles. I also think it is something that people would like to read. I think it is fabulous that there is choice out there now for writers looking to get their stories out into the world.

  9. Oh yes I’d keep writing! A friend of mine, who writes short stories, made a comment recently about how could I possibly stand “just” being a novelist, because if one book doesn’t sell, it’s onto the next book. No publication credit, no kudos for all those years of work–just another round of blank pages to fill. I didn’t really have a good answer for her except this: I write novels. That’s what I do. It would be nice to have a collection of credits like she does, but I don’t. I have another novel-in-progress. And when I wake up every morning looking forward to writing, that’s what matters.

    • Beautiful way of putting it Laura! Perhaps for many of us the real success is truly in the process and not in the outcome.

      • Very true, Billie Jo! And that’s really interesting, because there are two types of knitters–process knitters and project knitters. While I enjoy the process, I want the finished object. That’s what motivates me. But apparently I’m the opposite kind of fiction writer, doing it for process, not the end result.

      • That is interesting, it shows it is not a personality trait but a reaction to the type of work you are crafting.

  10. Selena says:

    I would still write, and with as much passion as I do now.

    • I would as well. I didn’t reveal it in the post but the question was prompted by an article I saw that seemed to imply that most writers only write novels because it is easy to do (I bed to differ) and with self publishing they can publish just as easily now too (it said nothing of how hard it is to sell the novels). Quite a few people had commented that if their novel did not get published they would take that as an indication that they lacked talent and would quit writing instead of self publishing. I feel pleased to find that my circle of writing friends has responded much more positively. It seems we are a collection of true writers that work from the heart and soul.

      • Selena says:

        I agree. I have, on more than one occasion asked myself, why am I doing this? Publication and money would definitely be up on the list, but the first response is always because I WANT to! I just can’t let some publisher determine what my worth is. That one is up to me.

  11. Chris Otto says:

    The creation of art is what should be the motivator to keep creating. Everything else is just the gravy on the cake. As long as it makes you happy and scratches that “I MUST create” itch, keep at it. As amazing as it is to have someone say they like your stuff (or, GASP! pay you for it), I find myself much more satisfied when I look at something I’ve done and smiling, thinking, “damn, I like that!”

    • Thanks for stopping by and for your input Chris. I agree with you, I have a compulsion to create which is why I write. I have yet to be “published” aside from the odd short story here or there (of course I haven’t queried my novel length works yet either) and yet I still write. I am sure it is something I will always do.

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  13. I’ve been writing fairly consistently for forty years, and “getting published” (however that’s defined these days) has never been my dream. Actually, I don’t think I have a “dream.” I just like to write, and it’s more fun if you do it well enough that you can read it later without cringing. I do like it when people read my stuff, but people do read it, and most seem to enjoy it.

    I think I learned that from my parents. My father was a playwright, and my mother painted. They just did it because they enjoyed it. My father tried to get a play produced a couple of times, unsuccessfully, but he kept on doing it anyway. I still remember the sound of laughter from the other room when he came up with a line he really liked.

    • It must have been fantastic to grow up in such an artistic home with parents who used their art to nurture themselves instead of nurturing their art at the expense of themselves.

      I love when I put stuff away for awhile and then read it again and totally get sucked into the story, it is during those times that I like my writing the most.

  14. Well…when we put our stories on our blogs, we’ve published them. 😀 But, if a fortune teller told me I’d never have more readers than I do right now…I’d still write. I love the writing. I love sharing it with even just one other reader.

    • That was why I took a step into the blogging community. I think it is fabulous how many people have said they would continue writing. That is in contrast to the comments below an article I read.

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