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What Virtue Is There In Waiting to Publish?

What Virtue Is There In Waiting to Publish?

by Mike Duran · 37 comments

I recently had a conversation with an author who has been waiting years to be published. She’s gotten an agent, shopped her novel, and had it go to committee twice, with no success. And she still keeps plugging away. I asked her why. Why don’t you just self-publish? She said,

I want to know my writing is good enough that somebody else will foot the bill for it.

I realize I may be in the minority, but I applaud this author’s patience.  And her reason for waiting. As a writer, patience used to be a virtue. Now it’s an option. Thanks to self-publishing,  you never again have to wonder if your book is “good enough” for someone else to foot the bill.

So needless to say, I found it refreshing to hear this novelist and screenwriter extol the writerly virtue of… patience. In his article 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing, Chuck Wendig offers this advice at #5:

Stop Hurrying

The rise of self-publishing has seen a comparative surge forward in quantity. As if we’re all rushing forward to squat out as huge a litter of squalling word-babies as our fragile penmonkey uteruses (uteri?) can handle. Stories are like wine; they need time. So take the time. This isn’t a hot dog eating contest. You’re not being judged on how much you write but rather, how well you do it. Sure, there’s a balance — you have to be generative, have to be swimming forward lest you sink like a stone and find remora fish mating inside your rectum. But generation and creativity should not come at the cost of quality. Give your stories and your career the time and patience it needs. (emphasis mine)

If “stories are like wine,” then authors are like winemakers — both require time to “age.” Thus, the “virtue” of waiting to publish is two-fold:

  • Waiting gives the author time to grow in her craft and career.
  • Waiting gives the author time to deepen and hone her stories.

Yesterday, I announced I’ll be releasing a second self-published book. (Though, after some of the comments, I’m considering re-working the cover.) Point is: I have nothing against self-publishing. Nevertheless, the suggestion that waiting to publish can be virtuous always seems to tweak some authors the wrong way.

A while back I posted about a friend of mine, Jessica Dotta, who waited 10-years before finally being contracted for her Historical trilogy with Tyndale House. I used Jessica’s story as an example of the virtues of waiting to be published. Of course, there was a lot of dissent. Some even called her stupid for denying her readers, handing her rights over to a publisher, and conceding to potentially meager royalties. While the debate was interesting, it was fascinating to hear what Jessica personally learned by waiting so long to be published. In her comments on that post, she said this:

Had I been published earlier, I never would have mentored several writers, many whom have gone into print, some bestselling.

I would have never started working with ministries and gaining a whole new perspective of what a well-lived life means.

I never would have worked for a film production company, or an artist management company. Had I been so focused on fiction, I never would have written non-fiction on behalf of Media Change and been invited to join them.

During the wait, I learned how to write deeper with stark honesty. I started to chronicle the rawness of healing from a divorce and what it means to find grace.

I might not have taken the opportunity to use my PR skills to join the fight against a genocide….

Something much bigger was taking place in those years. God had a fuller, richer life in mind. Had I not waited for Him, I would have missed it.

Something much bigger than just getting her story into print was happening in Jessica’s life: She was “aging,” growing as person, growing as a writer, becoming something she may have never been if she’d rushed her story into print.

It makes me wonder how many of us writers miss personal growth and career opportunities because we are too anxious to get published.

No. This isn’t an argument for traditional publishing. This also isn’t an argument against self-publishing. This is a reminder that not hurrying — in life and writing — is a virtue.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Cindy McCord October 23, 2012 at 8:01 AM

Well said. That covers a whole lot of ground besides writing. Everyone is in too big of a hurry nowadays and it is too easy to miss what you are really supposed to be accomplishing.

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Nicole October 23, 2012 at 8:11 AM

Mike, I think the virtue of patience in getting published is admirable and desirable, although it probably doesn’t ring completely true from this self-published author. I think the virtue lies in obeying God, in whatever he has for you (generic) to do with your work.

Here’s the only disagreement I have with some of the general commentary regarding this topic. While I agree it’s certainly personally validating for a publisher to accept and publish one’s work, and in the practical sense it’s definitely less expensive than using a vanity press, it doesn’t mean the author writes great stuff. So I think having a book “professionally” published is no guarantee of quality in some/many cases. I’ve read too many lousy novels with all kinds of typos/errors and poor writing and story from the big publishers to give a blanket endorsement for published work.

Those faults definitely apply to some/much of self-published work as well.

I admire people who get published, who weather all the storms, wait out the contracts, jump through the hoops, and improve all along the way. It’s all valuable. Especially if it’s God’s choice for the writer.

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Jill October 23, 2012 at 8:19 AM

At some point, an author who is good enough to publish should just admit it without a so-called authority’s reassurance. I no longer have doubts about whether my writing is good enough and, oddly, that realization came after I decided to give up a fiction-writing career. Everybody may need affirmation now and again, but in a world where truth isn’t relative, but nuanced and complex, the nuanced truth of confidence in one’s own abilities needs to gird up an author after awhile. I’ve never been much of an authoritarian yet, for some reason, I was shackled as one for a long time when it came to my writing career. But now I’m just as much an anti-authoritarian non-compliant misanthrope in writing as elsewhere. And it feels great!

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Katherine Coble October 23, 2012 at 12:59 PM

Maybe they could find affirmation from good (but slow) beta readers… ;)

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Jill October 23, 2012 at 2:17 PM

Yes, my betas have been awesome, and I would highly recommend that aspiring authors find good readers!

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Michael Snyder October 23, 2012 at 9:18 AM

Indeed, patience is a publishing virtue, regardless of the means.

Everybody seems to be in a hurry to do everything these days (me included). And I certainly don’t want to add fuel to the self vs. traditional publishing debate. (I’ve done one and plan to do both in the future). However…

I do think the proliferation of self-publishing has caused a LOT of writers (certainly not everyone) to skip a few really, super important steps. Namely…

a) Critique, lots and lots of critique from peers. There should be numerous sets of eyeballs on our work–other writers, readers, family, friends, editors, then more and more writers. This is not a one-time thing. It takes several rounds of critique for any story to graduate to…

b) Editing. Macro edits, micro edits, story edits, content edits, line edits. Not all writers make great editors. Again, this is not an event, but a long series of waves. Some will be pleasant, warm and swirly and ticklish. And a few of them should knock us on our butts. All of them should all propel the work forward.

When you think about it, these categories may or may not require patience. They do require discipline and time. Traditional publishing forces both of these issues. In my estimation, the disciplined writer takes the time to vet his/her work, regardless of how or when it gets published.

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Jon Mast October 23, 2012 at 9:24 AM

Can I just like this comment?

You called it, in my opinion. It’s not a matter of self-publishing or traditional, but of discipline. Discipline necessitates patience! The decision of how and when to publish also calls for wisdom: “This is good enough now after so many rigorous edits, I will let it fly whether through traditional or self-publishing.” When has a manuscript hit that level?

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Michael Snyder October 23, 2012 at 9:37 AM

And I’m going to like this comment right back. You said it better and with less words, proving yet again the virtue of time and discipline!

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sally apokedak October 24, 2012 at 5:21 AM

But less is not always better. The “pleasant, warm, swirly, and ticklish” paragraph was worth the extra words, in estimation of at least one set of eyeballs.

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Iola October 25, 2012 at 12:12 AM

“When has a manuscript hit that level?”

I’m told that’s when neither you nor your critique partners or your editors or your proofreaders can think of anything that will make it better.

Of course, when that is might well depend on the quality of your writing (and the ability of your critique partners, editors and proofreaders).

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R. L. Copple October 25, 2012 at 1:37 AM

Problem is with that guideline on when a manuscript has “hit that level” is I don’t think I’ve ever had one that I didn’t think I could make one more pass, find another tweek, a better word here, snappier dialog there, another typo to correct, etc. I’ve had stories that have had a dozen different eyes on it, and I can take it and find things that still need fixing or new typos everyone else has missed.

There is a point you have to say, “Okay, I’m done. I’m not going to do another pass on it.” Because rare would be a perfect manuscript, and if you find one, no doubt it would take a lifetime to write. Rather, the cut off point should be the point of diminishing returns. Each author has to figure out for them and their skill level where that is before shipping it off to an publisher or readers.

But I don’t care how many times I edit my manuscripts, I can always find something to make it better. So by that definition I wouldn’t have published anything yet.

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Alan O October 23, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Wendig said it–and you elaborated on it–perfectly. (squalling word-babies… ha!)

It’s not about publishing…it’s about life. It’s about maturation, and experience, and growth as a person and a believer. It’s about slowing down the rush of words, long enough to actually find something worth saying.

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R. L. Copple October 23, 2012 at 11:56 AM

Certainly patience is a virtue, in writing and in life. I do think we tend to pre-judge based on our own experience. For any one author, any one book, the question is always what is too long, and what is too quick? Self-publishing may *appear* quicker simply because you don’t have to wait months for a query/manuscript to be accepted, if they do, and then sending them off to another publisher/agent if they aren’t. A lot of those 10 years were spent waiting months for an agent or publisher to get back to you. And we’re not even thinking about the months from acceptance to actually coming out in print. The story itself probably isn’t maturing during that time to any significant degree, though the author may very well be maturing. Yes, there will be edits, burst of improving the story, but most of that time what doesn’t exist in self-publishing is just waiting, doing nothing on the story. Time that a self-published book doesn’t have, so even if the author takes the same amount of patience and care in the book, it can appear quicker.

I do agree that a lot of personal growth can happen during that time, and should no matter the timeline of any one particular manuscript. But I don’t see that as a reason to not get one’s work published when it is ready…to wait just so you can mature.

Your analogy of a vineyard and wine making is a good one. It also illustrates what a lot of authors tend to do. When a vineyard plants grapes for wine, it will take two or three growing seasons before the grapes are ready to make wine with. The first couple of harvests or so, the grapes haven’t matured enough to make decent wine.

Authors tend to take their first harvest/book and work it, rework it, trying to get it good enough to be published, when the truth is, they should consider that first harvest practice, and move onto the next book. Maturing as a writer isn’t writing one book and then editing for ten years. It is writing books and learning until you are producing mature work, which in itself can take years. But too many sit on their one book they wrote, trying to make wine out of grapes that will never produce good wine instead of working to harvest the next growth.

My first novel is still sitting on my hard drive, unpublished. I don’t know whether it ever will be. But I didn’t sit on that first book and keep working it over and over again, trying to get it published. Too many new writers don’t realize there is a lot of practice and learning to take place, and that first book or two, at least, are probably not ready for prime time, and may have so much wrong with it that you’d be better served writing a new story than trying to doctor up a patient on life support.

I’m not saying that a first book can’t be good. There are obvious exceptions to the rule. And sometimes that first novel or two, with some work, will sell to someone, agent, publisher, or reader.

So, again, I go back to the subjective judgment of how long is too long, and how quick is too quick when it comes to whether a book is ready for consumption? I think each author needs to decide that for themselves. Granted, some will move too quickly, trying to make a quick buck in self-publishing or mail it to an agent/publisher when their book isn’t ready for it, while others will put in the time and practice to present to their customers (whether reader, agent, or publisher) a mature and well-fermented work. Then some will belabor a manuscript for years when what they need to do is let that one sit, and move onto the next story.

Making those decisions is what is so hard for writers to do, and why we’d rather just send it to someone else to validate, “You’re ready,” for us. That is entirely understandable and depending on the author, necessary. My only beef is that it isn’t so much how long it takes, but the quality of the product. There is time that is needed and impatience can end up short-circuiting the process, whether self-published or traditionally published. But there is also a point at which any improvements in the work will be minimal, and might even end up making the work worse by editing one’s voice out of it, another issue new writers tend to do who edit too long.

I don’t think we should look at how long it takes as evidence of either patience or lack thereof. Rather, whether the resulting product is of good quality. That said, there is a greater propensity for impatience in self–publishing as far as getting into print because you don’t have a publisher telling you, “No.” An author certainly learns a lot of patience going through the “gates” of traditional publishing.

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Jessica Thomas October 23, 2012 at 12:16 PM

I’ll play devil’s advocate and say that for some writers it’s just a job. They’re concerned with quality only in that their novels are good enough for a large handful of people to want to read them. They don’t particularly care about being remembered or about their reputation as a writer, they just churn words out. They enjoy it and so do their readers. Then they toss the latest project aside and start on a new one. For those types, self-publishing seems like an ideal route. I don’t see why they should wait.

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Katherine Coble October 23, 2012 at 1:06 PM

I had planned to self-publish some works while still trying to get my “main” work tradpubbed. There is more money more immediately in selfpub, assuming you do it well. But after talking with friends who selfpub I just realised that my health doesn’t permit me to “do it right”. And honestly I’d rather spend my time writing or reading. And I’d also like my interactions online to feel genuine, not driven by the need to self-promote.

I know a lot of selfpubbers who are excellent at self-promoting while remaining genuine (you, Betsy Phillips, Kathleen Valentine, Lyn Perry, Patrick Todoroff) but I would personally feel like I shifted from “hanging with friends” to “working the room”. It’s for those reasons that I’ve backed away from selfpubbing.

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Lyn Perry October 23, 2012 at 5:32 PM

*blushes* – thanks kc – my take on patience is to keep writing, keep getting better, keep interacting as genuinely as I can and wait patiently for people to find my work and buy it. My opinion about self-promotion is that the best type is to write more, mention it, and then keep writing/publishing. (This is an unabashed fan ripoff opinion based on Dean Wesley Smith’s writing blog – I buy into his philosophy wholeheartedly…I’m just not writing enough to see the results yet!)

So, therefore, I disagree with this opening statement: “As a writer, patience used to be a virtue. Now it’s an option.” Patience is still a virtue, it is not an option. Even for self-published folks. All those of us who self-pub do differently than those on the traditional route is that we are shopping our works to a wider “agent” – we have no guarantee the “agent” (read customer) will like/buy/promote our work. Just like the person going the legacy route.

I want this too: “I want to know my writing is good enough that somebody else will foot the bill for it.” Exactly. That’s why I self-publish. And Kevin (below), you can afford it. All it takes is time. I use no software, I get free images from iStockphoto, I edit and use beta-readers. I’m not throwing any cash away. You don’t have to either.

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Lyn Perry October 23, 2012 at 5:34 PM

oops – I do use Word, which *is* software, lol, but it came with my computer ;)

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Kevin Lucia October 23, 2012 at 3:28 PM

“I want to know my writing is good enough that somebody else will foot the bill for it.”

See, and this most basic, plain reason why I’ll never self-publish.

I simply can’t afford it.

Because to do it right, self-pubbing requires some sort of disposable income. You need to pay good money for the right software, for a standout cover, for an editor…

All with no guarantee of ever making back a dime.

And I just don’t have that kind of cash. And probably never will. It makes much more sense for to pursue traditional publishing. Even if I never make any money that way, at least I don’t throw my cash away….

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Jill October 24, 2012 at 8:42 AM

Money doesn’t write a good book. You uphold a strange ethic.

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Kevin Lucia October 24, 2012 at 10:56 AM

I never said that money wrote a good book.

I said, I don’t have the money to self-publish the RIGHT way.

I could self-publish something to Kindle tomorrow. My writing probably wouldn’t be that bad, but it would have a crappy, royalty free cover – because I can’t afford anything else – and the editing would be done in Open Office, as well as the .pdf formatting, instead of in something more professional.

So therefore, writing for traditional publishing makes a lot more sense. Doesn’t seem so strange to me…

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Jill October 24, 2012 at 11:09 AM

Your argument is based off the assumption that you wouldn’t have to put out any money if you published in the traditional market. But I think that’s wrong. Over the years that I’ve tried to go that direction, I’ve put out far too much wasted money. If I’d known I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting published that way, I wouldn’t have bothered. And that doesn’t even include what I might have put out if I’d managed to get a contract.

An independent, creative thinker finds low cost/free resources.

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Lyn Perry October 24, 2012 at 11:11 AM

>>”it would have a crappy, royalty free cover”

Why? Are you drawn to crappy, royalty free covers? I like professional, royalty free covers, myself. Plenty of ‘em out there. As for Open Office or Word, etc., no need to get anything “more professional” – you can format using a template downloaded from CreateSpace for a paperback version and follow the Smashwords instructions for formatting your document for an ebook.

So I think I hear you saying that the learning curve for you, at this moment in time, has a perceived cost (in time and frustration level, etc since the actually monetary cost is very little, if nothing at all) which outweighs the benefits. I don’t have that perspective at all, but I understand that one can feel that way.

Kevin, read this article and let me know what your objections are after hearing what it has to say: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=6347

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xdpaul October 24, 2012 at 8:46 AM

Kevin – wrong thinking. It costs me a total outlay of $50 ($10 cover image, $35 for expanded distribution, $5 for a printed proof copy) to have a print and digital book available worldwide at virtually all outlets. Of course, that meant I have to become a cover designer (new skill) but that pleases me more than waiting for a publisher to give me a loan against my future earnings (at a discount to them.)

If your work isn’t worth the “risk” of a night out at the movies, then something’s wrong with the work.

I suspect you are simply way overestimating the costs out of pocket of professionally self-publishing.

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Kevin Lucia October 24, 2012 at 10:52 AM

Actually, I think you’re underestimating the state of our finances…

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Kevin Lucia October 23, 2012 at 3:29 PM

And, I’m sure we can all see how much I need an editor…

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JOE LADOSKY JR. October 23, 2012 at 4:16 PM

Mike, you are awesome….I love all of your works. I thanks God for you and for all of your writing. You are awesome. So often you look for a brother in Christ who is not a fake and in you I feel that I have found one. Thank you sir. Joe

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Mike Duran October 23, 2012 at 6:32 PM

Well that’s nice of you, Joe. Glad I can be a source of inspiration.

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sally apokedak October 24, 2012 at 5:26 AM

Good post, Mike. I agree.

I also agree with those who say that self-pubbing right requires patience.

I’m seriously thinking of self-pubbing because I think one of my books is good and should be published. And I have been patient with it and I will be patient longer. Because I don’t plan to rush to market with a book that’s not professionally edited and designed.

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Patrick Todoroff October 24, 2012 at 5:41 AM

I agree entirely. The need for patience, maturation and climbing the learning curve is essential most arenas in life.

I’d submit that “perfect” is the enemy of ‘good’. Meaning, I think it’s critical to have traction and not get paralyzed polishing, waiting for a single ship to come in. After all, you have to write your first book before your can write your second one. Of course the first one isn’t going to be as good. And your third should be better. The lessons learned in the going are the ones that stick, that work, because they have legs.

The marvelous and scary thing these days is that the models for all manner of creative endeavor, production and marketing are changing. Tectonically.

In a recent TED Talk, a speaker noted “We spend our time responding rationally to a world which we understand and recognize, but which no longer exists.” (Eddie Obeng) I wonder to what extent people are clinging into yesterday’s paradigm.

In my experience however, “growth” comes by action. Diligence. And I’m still uncertain how the TradPub logic applies. As noted above, TradPub isn’t an assurance of Quality. I’m glad for Jessica and other Trad authors, but they grew because they persisted in honing their craft – not because a Big House finally noticed them.

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Linda Clare October 25, 2012 at 9:10 AM

Hi Mike, Miss Writerly Crankypants SO enjoyed this post–especially the part about the hot dog eating contest! Read her tribute and have a laugh here: http://bit.ly/Tij4GS
Thanks and have a great day! Miss CP

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Vicki Hopkins October 25, 2012 at 12:56 PM

Waiting is good, if you’re in your 20′s, 30′s, 40′s, or maybe early fifties. At 59, I self-published my first book, after wasting my entire life “wishing” to write one. Now at 62, I have five works out, about to release my sixth, working on my seventh. I hate to think if I had started looking for an agent at 59 and waiting ten years, where I’d be now. At my age, the idea of finding an agent looks much different to me. I won’t lose anything if I try the traditional route in the future, because behind me I’ve had a fairly good run at the self-publishing side. It really depends upon a person’s long-term goals, I think, whether you’re willing to wait for years on end to achieve something in life. Others need the validation of the traditional route; some of us do not.

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Jessica Dotta May 19, 2013 at 2:30 PM

Man, am I slow to join this conversation or what?

I’d like to add something else I learned by having to wait to publisher. Those years on Novel Rocket, forced me to learn HTML (at least an understanding of how it works) which also prepared me to run a website and help set up a blog tours.

Thanks for featuring my words, Mike!

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