Tip # 3 Listen to the Naysayers (Or are those sour grapes wine or vinegar?)

Tip #3 in the 52 Ways Not to Get Published series

Anger Controlls Him

Anger Controlls Him (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More than any venture outside of running for public office, writing attracts naysayers.  Unfortunately, naysayers come in a myriad of disguises.  You must learn to recognize these allies in your efforts not to get published.

The first brand of naysayer is the Statistician.  This is the person who will spout statistics all day long, mostly to show the slim likelihood that you will ever get published.  For instance, I’ve heard rates revealing that anywhere from 5% to 1 in 5,000 (that’s .02%) of submitted manuscripts ever get published.  There are statistics on the high commissions taken by agents, the low royalties seen by writers, the rate of fiction publication to nonfiction.  The reason for having all these statistics is presumably to give a dose of reality regarding the industry.  Regardless of the intent, the result will discourage you from ever attempting to reach such improbable success.  Who can argue with such odds?

Another naysayer is the Teacher.  The Teacher is a sly creature.  You will believe the Teacher is there to help you hone your writing skills and get published.  It may be a while before you notice that the Teacher is merely patting you on the head with condescension, meting out just enough encouragement to keep you coming back for more tutelage.  Beware the Teacher, however.  The Teacher may not actually have your best interest at heart and may actually get you on the path to publication.  You want to find the Teacher that keeps you spending all your time, energy and money on workshops and classes.  After all, that’s the way the Teacher makes a living and you remain unpublished.

Then there’s the Bureaucrat.  The Bureaucrat loves rules.  Most of the Bureaucrat’s rules involve absolutes—what you either must do or can’t do to be published.  It is fortunate to have these rules about openings and endings and point of view and prologues (don’t!) and clichés and formatting.  Otherwise, writers might actually be creative and explore new territory and try new things.  But thank heavens for the Bureaucrat, as he gives you all the rules you need to break in order to assure you won’t get published.

The final character in your circle of allies is the Writer.  Often the Writer has neither published anything nor even finished a writing project to submit.  As such, the Writer can be a reincarnation of Eeyore, the depressed donkey from the Winnie-the-Pooh books.  Even after you’ve taken a mere sip from your glass, Eeyore will see your cup as half empty.  The Writer has a similar view on writing.  Whatever you write it will never be good enough, and the Writer wants to make sure you know it.

If you want to make sure you never get published, learn to recognize these naysayers.  Surround yourself with them.  They will suck the will from your soul and leave you without the courage or ambition to ever even submit for publication (see Tip #1 Never submit.)


Check here for a great article from Carolyn Kellogg on the naysayers against NaNoWriMo.

I also enjoyed this article on why publishers reject manuscripts.  Be aware that author Richard White’s approach is to actually get you published.

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Tip #2 Refuse to be a grammar bigot. (Or what did that adverb ever do to you anyway?)

Tip #2 in the 52 Ways Not to Get Published Series


Adverb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am amazed at the number of times I’ve heard that one should never have more than two “ly” words on one page.  Writer’s workshops, books, tutorials and web pages have all expounded this simplistic piece of advice to the novice writer.

Most of my amazement centers on the fact that it’s always worded just like that—‘avoid “ly” words.’  Um, those are adverbs (usually.)  Perhaps if you don’t know the basic parts of speech, you shouldn’t be giving out advice on writing.  Just a thought.

This “rule” is also blatant discrimination against an entire group of perfectly legitimate words.  Adverbs fill an important function in our language, yet they (along with their close cousins, the adjectives) are anathema to writing instructors and editors throughout the English-speaking world.

I get the point—by avoiding the over use of adverbs, writers are forced to choose stronger and more evocative verbs.  But why should verbs have all the fun?  Sometimes, verbs just can’t do the job alone.  “I tip-toed across the ice” evokes images of me subsequently on my backside.  “I stepped gingerly across the ice” may actually get me to safety without major mishap.  Thank Webster for that adverb!

When you read classic literature, you find many of the great authors of history wove their prose like a tapestry with threads of many colors.  They crafted vast sentences that seemed designed to be hung on the wall and admired.  In today’s world of instant gratification and text messages, we are expected to make our point in the most clear, concise method we can manage.  Modifiers must pay the price.

Granted, “Jesus wept” is commonly considered not only the shortest sentence in the Bible, but also the most powerful.  But were it surrounded by sentences of similar construction (Mary birthed, Eve ate, David romped, God scolded…) one of our most widely read texts of the western world would read like a Dick and Jane textbook.  While a host of Sunday school children would delight in their easier scripture lessons, I doubt many others would find religious inspiration.

Those of us who are following the path toward non-publication have the freedom to cast off the restrictions that published authors are bound to follow.  We have the entire playground of written language in which to seek our recreation.

For a writer’s greatest tools are words, and there is often little difference between a tool and a toy.  Words are our toys.  We should be allowed to play with them.  All of them.

(Unless I have miscounted, 7 “ly” words were used in the construction of this blog post.)

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Tip #1 Never submit anything for publication. (or you cannot fail what you do not try.)

English: J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter ...

English: J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at the Easter Egg Roll at White House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tip #1 in the 52 Ways Not to Get Published series

When expounding the trials and tribulations of breaking into the publishing industry, people like to use JK Rowling as an example of tenacity.  Apparently, her agent sent Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to 12 publishing houses. It was rejected by each prior to being picked up by Bloomsbury.

I’m sure people like to share this statistic in the hopes that it will be encouraging to the new writer.  But let’s face it, I’m no JK Rowling.  I have no delusions that anything I write will become the cultural icon that Harry Potter became.  If even Ms. Rowling struggled (although I’m betting that most published writers would not see a dozen rejections as much of a struggle,) what hope is there for me?

I think there is this fallacious theory floating around out there that if you have your writing rejected enough times, you eventually become immune to the rejection.  Really?  Rejection hurts.  I don’t care how many times you experience it.  You might learn to take it less personally, but that doesn’t lessen the sting.

The only foolproof way to avoid that sting is to avoid the chance of being rejected.  As long as I have not submitted my work for publication (or to solicit an agent, or for critique, or to writing competitions…) I can be secure in my fantasy that if I were ever to allow the world to see my creation, it would be an overnight hit.  If nothing has shattered my fantasy, I have in my hands a best seller, a story that will be quoted and alluded to for centuries to come.  I can be the unrecognized author of a modern day Beowulf.

Yet as soon as I put myself out there and face the risks of rejection, reality will strike.  I will be just like hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers–slightly better than some, but far worse than many.  The chance that I, amongst all those novelists, will catch the eye of an overwhelmed editor, is somewhere in the vicinity of nil.  Why chance it?

So, dear reader, I implore you, follow this foolproof method.  If you never read another of my postings, you will be safe with this one.  Never will you have to endure the pain of failure if you keep that manuscript tucked away in a dark closet or password protected on your home computer.  In fact, the safest thing would be never to take that brilliant story idea and write it down.  But then, what’s the fun in that?

(For more detail on the story of JK Rowling’s experience in the publishing industry, read The JK Rowling Story from the June 16, 2003 edition of The Scotsman.)

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52 Ways Not to Get Published

They say you should write what you know.  That’s easy for them to say, since they live in complete anonymity.  We can’t exactly hold them accountable if they are wrong.

When you’re like me and know a very little bit about a lot of things that most people care nothing about, this is useless advice.  When I set about trying to find that one subject upon which I have enough expertise to write, the results were dismal.  I am moderately proficient in driving a car, making a pot of coffee and grilling a ham and cheese sandwich (yum.)  Somehow, none of these topics seemed of interest enough to share with anyone over the age of sixteen.

Then it struck me, the one thing that I’ve been doing all my life and could share with the world.  For nearly 40 years, I’ve practiced the art of not being published.

Perhaps to some this seems an easy feat.  Billions of people on this planet have managed to go unpublished.  But to write as much as I do and so expertly avoid publication must be an unrivaled talent.

For the sake of full disclosure, I will admit that I have allowed some license in my interpretation of publication.  I do not count inclusion in scholarly journals while a graduate student nor magazine articles for which I received no payment.  Nor do I figure monthly columns in a local newspaper as publication.

No, by publication, I mean that dream of all aspiring writers—the novel, the short story, the book of poetry, the nonfiction.  It is the publication that is the ultimate affirmation of the creative project I have labored hours to birth.  It is that vulnerable piece of myself that I release to the inspection of the world.

As a service to all other writers who recognize the risks of this kind of publication, I commit myself to the weekly task of offering my own personal tips on how not to get published.  At the end of one year, at my 40th birthday, I pledge to have offered 52 original ideas for the shy and retreating writer.  In the process, perhaps I shall find a way to undermine my own expertise.

Here’s to a year’s journey and the lesson of a lifetime!