The Pros and Cons of Getting Published

Do you ever worry that getting published—that worrying about the business of writing—might sully the purity of your artistic expression and dampen your passion for the craft? Many writers struggle with the concessions required of the publication process, but you needn't fear them; it's all part of the experience.
Publish date:

Do you ever worry that getting published—that worrying about the business of writing—might sully the purity of your artistic expression and dampen your passion for the craft? Many writers struggle with the concessions required of the publication process, but you needn't fear them; it's all part of the experience. 

One of the more interesting things Alice Hoffman told me when I interviewed her for the first time many years ago was how “strangely pure” her MFA experience was. There was no talk of publishers or agents or markets, no talk of genre or trends or readership. According to Hoffman, in her MFA program they only talked about writing.

By the time we met, Hoffman had published over 20 books and I’m sure she had had a lot of conversations about those books that had nothing to do with writing. It’s inevitable. As Don, my very first writer friend often said, “Don’t forget that publishing is a business!” I knew he was right about that, but when we became friends I had not yet published anything and so the whole business thing felt very abstract.

This was just fine with me. I did not see myself a businessman, which in my private lexicon was a dirty word. I considered myself an artist, and artists, I believed, were more interested in what they made than what they made was worth. Except I also very, very much wanted to be paid for what I was writing, and I hoped that when I did get paid I would get paid a lot because, you know, food on the table and all that.

Image placeholder title

There were, you see, some advantages to not getting published. As long as what I wrote wasn’t published I would not have to sully the pure writing experience with the ugly, businessperson’s question of value. As soon as someone bought one of my stories, I would have to contend with the number assigned to it, would have to decide if that number was it’s true value. I liked numbers, but the problem with them is that there is always one larger. If my story wasn’t published, its value could remain unmeasured.

This was hardly the only advantage. If I didn’t publish my stories, I would also never have to work with an editor. If you work with an editor, you must allow someone else to have input on your story. You spend your whole life dealing with other people and their ideas. You go to the page so you can hear your ideas. Then along comes this editor and you’re back to listening to other people. If I didn’t publish my stories I would never have to subject my writing to society’s ceaseless idea competition.

Don't miss William Kenower's presenations, "Fearless Writing" and "Fearless Marketing," at the Writer's Digest Annual Conference, August 10-12, 2018, and check out his book on the same topic.

Image placeholder title

And if I didn’t publish my stories no one would ever be able to criticize them. I would never have to read a bad review in a newspaper or blog or on Amazon. I would never have to decide whether this stranger who didn’t like my story was delusional or incisive. No one would get to tell me my stories weren’t interesting, or funny, or useful, or profound. As long as I didn’t publish them, the only opinions about my stories that mattered were mine.

Finally, as long as I didn’t publish the stories they would always belong to me and me alone. I knew what happened when you read a story you loved: It became yours. It didn’t matter if you didn’t write it. If you loved it then you’d imagined, you’d felt that story’s grief and joy and desire, and no one could possibly tell you that that experience didn’t belong to you. As long as I didn’t publish my stories, I would never have to share what I loved; I could have it all for myself.

There was, however, one significant disadvantage to not publishing my stories, and it wasn’t the lack of money or recognition. As long as my stories remained unpublished, I would never understand that the publishing was less important to me than the writing. Until I began publishing my work regularly, the question of whether my stories would be published, and where they would be published, and what people would think of them when they were published, dominated my writing experience. Until all those questions were answered, I felt as if I was forever waiting for test results from a doctor.

When those results did come back, when I sold my first story, worked with my first editor, received my first bad review, heard from my first appreciative reader, you could say I did not bother to read my diagnosis. Nothing that happened after I began publishing my stories actually changed my relationship to writing, which had been my greatest fear all along. The real question I wanted answered was, “What if writing’s not fun and interesting and inspiring anymore? What if it just becomes another job?”

I am happy to report that writing is still a pure experience as long as I allow it to be. As long as I only think about writing while I’m writing, I enjoy it as much as I ever have. But if I think about writing and publication, or writing and my platform, or writing and my bank account, it’s no fun at all. In fact, if I try to think about two things at once I usually want to quit everything. That’s okay. The instant I forget about the business of being an author and bring my attention back to the story I want to tell, I remember where I want to be and who I have always been.

Learn more in William Kenower's online course: Fearless Writing — How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence

Image placeholder title
Poetic Forms

Rannaigecht Mor Gairit: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the rannaigecht mor gairit, a variant form of the rannaigecht.


The Writer, The Inner Critic, & The Slacker

Author and writing professor Alexander Weinstein explains the three parts of a writer's psyche, how they can work against the writer, and how to utilize them for success.


Todd Stottlemyre: On Mixing and Bending Genres

Author Todd Stottlemyre explains how he combined fiction and nonfiction in his latest book and what it meant as a writer to share his personal experiences.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Take a Trip

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character take a trip somewhere.


Making the Switch from Romance to Women’s Fiction

In this article, author Jennifer Probst explains the differences between romance and women's fiction, the importance of both, and how you can make the genre switch.


Stephanie Wrobel: On Writing an Unusual Hero

Author Stephanie Wrobel explains how she came to write about mental illness and how it affects familial relationships, as well as getting inside the head of an unusual character.


Who Are the Inaugural Poets for United States Presidents?

Here is a list of the inaugural poets for United States Presidential Inauguration Days from Robert Frost to Amanda Gorman. This post also touches on who an inaugural poet is and which presidents have had them at their inaugurations.


Precedent vs. President (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use precedent vs. president with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 554

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a future poem.