Yesterday I received an e-mail from a woman who expressed her frustration over the fact that she has been writing for twenty years and her work has yet to receive an interested nibble from a publisher. She said she keeps asking, "Why, God?" She mentioned having read about my success, which she appears to believe came easily--and perhaps faster than was fair to other hopeful writers. It was clear that she believes her own success to be long overdue.
I get a lot of e-mails from people who are working towards publication, and I'm continually amazed by the number of writers who imply that their success is "overdue." They seem to think that after writing for a number of years and completing several manuscripts, the average writer deserves to be published.
Getting published isn't achieved by taking a number and then working hard while you patiently wait your turn. Getting published isn't about averages; it's about you. If Author A sells her first manuscript and Author B sells her twentieth, that means nothing to you. Getting published has nothing to do with how long you've been writing or how hard you've been trying or how badly you want it. It's not even about how good you are. It's about finding a publisher who wants to buy what you're written.
We've all seen books that didn't deserve to be published. And we all know wildly talented writers who just can't find buyers for their novels. It's tempting for a very good but unpublished writer to look at an untalented but published writer and think: unfair. But publishers aren't concerned about being "fair" to everyone on the playground. Writing may be an art, but publishing is definitely a business. So unless you can make an editor believe your novel will make money for her publishing house, you won't sell it, no matter how brilliant it is.
No, I'm not saying that getting published is a crap shoot. If you start with some talent, learn all you can, work hard, and write to a specific market, you'll probably sell at some point. In the meantime, while positive thinking and having a fire in your belly aren't necessary for publication, they will keep you writing, so go ahead and get yourself stirred up. Just forget about calculating the odds and stop studying the timelines of other writers' careers. This is your writing life, and it's as unique as your own fingerprints. Celebrate that.