Thursday, June 11, 2009

You Have No Business Writing

Some time ago I posted a letter from a reader in which she implied that there were certain people visiting writers forums who had “no business writing.” This comment, more than anything else in the letter, caused quite a stir. Many criticized the author for being a snob and not giving a break to newbies.

I have no idea where this statement came from, whether it was based on seeing writing samples or just on the questions people ask. What it got me thinking about though was the entire writing v. publishing discussion. I disagree that there’s anyone out there who has no business writing. In fact, writing can be a wonderful form of communication, therapy, or just plain fun and anyone who wants to write should grab pen and paper or keyboard and computer and get to it. Part of the joy of writing this blog is that I get a chance to write, something I don’t typically get to do.

What I wonder about this reader’s question though is not whether she meant people have no business writing, but whether she meant that there are people out there who have no business seeking publication, and for that I wonder if she might be right. We talk frequently about how busy and inundated agents are and the huge influx of queries we are all seeing. What we rarely talk about however is how many of those should really be seeking publication. Despite what many writers seem to think, not every word you write is brilliant and not every book should be seen by the world. In fact, I spoke recently to a writer at a conference who wanted to write and share the family stories told to her as a child. She was getting older and thought the stories would be lovely to share with family and friends. She wanted to know from me if I thought it was worth getting an agent for. I suggested that in this case she might consider self-publishing. She didn’t want to fictionalize it and really wanted it for the purpose of a family legacy. It seems like a great idea, but not likely something that would sell thousands of copies in a bookstore or appeal to a mass audience.

I think one of the problems the Internet has created for publishing is that everyone thinks every book written deserves to be published, and let’s face it, that’s just not true. I’m not saying that the people the reader was talking about have no business being published ever, but I do imagine there are a lot of books written that aren’t ready to be queried and may never be ready to be queried. The problem often is that there is no way to know that until you actually try.