What writers need to know about marketing and publishing.


Do you feel like you don't know what you're doing, fear that you're falling behind or working slowly, and can't tell if your writing is good or bad?

You're feeling all the normal feelings.

When I sit down to write in the morning I feel like I don't know what I'm doing either. I'm not being glib: I honestly feel like I'm starting from scratch every day. The thought crosses my mind as soon as I pick up my pen: Can I do this? Really? How?

The thing to know is always within the act of writing itself. I remind myself of this. I remember that I love writing, and that it requires me to work with intuition, and that's why I feel so uncertain.

Once I remember that, I can feel myself relax, because I know that everything else will fall into place. The mystery of making a real story and characters out of nothing requires my full attention. For as long as it takes.

Working creatively day after day requires a different kind of knowing — it's not like other jobs.

If you're starting to explore your creative writing again and you want to be an author, for real, please try not to think about the business and marketing and publishing side of things.

Not right now.

I know this sounds counterintuitive, especially if you're coming from a field like engineering or sociology, where preparation and research is crucial for success. Why would I advise you to not prepare yourself for the market?

Because it's one more way to squander your precious writing time.

Thinking about sales and marketing will distract you from your creative exploration. It could set you off in search of external motivation, which is not where your story lives. The publishing market operates on different machinery than your story does. Protect yourself from that machine right now — do not confuse your creative work with marketing.

The most important thing for you to do is write something you would love to READ. Marketing and publishing come later.

Give yourself permission to delve into process, and create something you are truly interested in. Read. Read more than you think is necessary.

This won't feel as productive as you think it should, and you won't have much to show for it for a while. You won't know how to talk about your work at cocktail parties.

There's no business card for what you're doing right now.

That's why pre-planning the business side of your writing career is seductive: because it's figure-outtable in a way that mysterious, creative work is not. Your pen name, your acknowledgements page, your author photo, the writers who will blurb you: whatever it is that you're planning, just leave it.

Stay in the creative, mysterious place as long as you can, until you have a solid practice that you trust, and you finish a manuscript that surprises you even when you've read it one hundred and twenty times.

You get to learn how to write for the rest of your life.

Once you come to terms with this, you can celebrate it.


Sarah Selecky

Photo credit: Kévin Langlais on Unsplash

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Sarah, these letters to writers are treasures. I thank you I have been living with Lyme disease that has scrambled my brain and slowed me to a crawl. Now that I have diagnosis and recovery plans , I look forward to getting back to writing practice, and your gifts are saved and ready for when the doors open. Blessings Claire
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Rea Tarvydas

thanks for this, Sarah. i dunno. writing is hard and mysterious and there are intangible threads. sometimes i just want to finish a piece, really finish it, you know? the business end is weird. i'd rather stay with the creative end but it's painful. rea
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Ayema Eyalit

I think both aspects are important but they should be dealt with at different times. Writing time should be focused on honoring the creative process, while learning about marketing and publishing is important for networking and for promoting a book after it's written. But sometimes, having a plan about genre and market could help inform the writing process so you're not writing in a vacuum(especially when it comes to thinking about what people would want to read after a long day at work). However, if the only thing driving the writing process is: 'will this sell' , then it's time to put that thought aside and write from the heart. I think separating the two thought processes can be challenging, but it's definitely necessary.
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