It’s easy to get published . . .

The-Reader-(Young-Woman-Reading-a-Book)            It’s easy to get published, but hard to be read.

Advances in technology have made it possible for anyone with access to the internet to self-publish. Unfortunately, finding readers is not as easy – especially for those writers who do not have a specific audience in mind. Worse, the ease with which one can rush work into public on a blog, eBook or even print-on-demand (POD), can easily compromise the quality of that work – so that no one will read it. While the stigma of self-publishing has waned, the flood of impatiently published work continues to mar a great deal of that work. Impatience is the bane of self-publishing.

Consider my friend Abe (not his real name), who contacted me recently for advice about publishing his poems. He had “35 poems which are almost at the stage of showability,” and he’d contacted iUniverse, CreateSpace and ExLibris. He wanted my advice about which one he should use.

His request raised two red flags: 1) “showability” is not the same as “ready for publication,” and 2) these self-publishing giants make publishing easy and profitable – for them.

In an effort to be both gentle with Abe and protective of my time, I suggested he read Sonja Hakala’s, Your Book, Your Way, which clearly spells out a variety of self-publishing options, including publishing independently.

I also asked him how he planned to market the book.

“If people aren’t delighted by my poems, or haven’t taken the trouble to know about them, that is their problem. If I have to market my stuff to get it read, I probably shouldn’t have written it in the first place!”

I replied, “Abe, I’ve known you for eight years, and I never knew you wrote poetry!”

I asked Abe if he belonged to any workshops, ever read any of his poems in public, or did any of the other legwork involved in building an audience. And I told him how engrossing and exhausting my own marketing journey was with Into The Wilderness. I’d like to think I’m a realist, not the pessimist Abe reacted to:

“Gosh, Deb, you make it sound like so much fun! If I didn’t have to manage a full psychiatric practice and a full teaching load, if I weren’t rowing and singing in operas, if I didn’t have nine and a half grandchildren strewn all over the northeast – I would dig right in!”

In the end, Abe chose to go with CreateSpace. “At $2.15 a copy, I plan to distribute at least 100 copies to friends and other key people, asking them to spread the word.” He also thanked me. “Our vigorous dialogue was helpful,” he said.

Abe can easily afford the monetary outlay for this publishing venture, and he will gain an audience for it. He will be read, and that is, after all, the point of being a writer.

But is all writing suitable for publication? Just who is it we write for?

As a published writer with a growing audience, I can tell you that hearing from readers who have been moved by my work is both extremely gratifying and humbling beyond belief. Hearing from readers reminds me that publication brings with it responsibility, a responsibility to write with honesty, clarity and grace – all of which take patience, revision, time.

DLLDeborah Lee Luskin is a regular commentator on Vermont Public Radio and the author of Into the Wilderness, winner of the 2011 IPPY Gold Medal for Regional Fiction. Learn more at



56 thoughts on “It’s easy to get published . . .

  1. I like the Abe story. It’s a good cautionary tale to print out and stick to my bulletin board. I’m re-titling it “Be Not Abe.” In the future when someone asks me to read or review (critique) their writing I’m going to ask them first thing ~ What do you want to do with this _____? Then I will reply in context. If they want to pass it out to their friends, I can respond with that in mind. But if they want a wider audience, I think I will have them read about Abe before they see my “mark up.”
    Thanks! I’m hitting “print” right now 🙂
    Kassie aka “Mom”

  2. This is so true. Polish, Polish POLISH!! I also like Kassie’s thoughts on knowing the writer’s audience. Some people have dreams of Pulitzer’s, Pushcarts or RITA’s, others just want SOMEONE to read their work.

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  4. It’s one of the first lessons I learned at college, in various and very diverse courses: ALWAYS KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Which indicates the necessity of having one. I like to think I sort of have an audience, which on its own is already really gratifying. And the knowledge of that audience being out there pushes me to always try and deliver the best posts I can manage 🙂

  5. Thanks for all of your insights and love…and hard cold truths! here is a link to my little tip book please check it out just to see how much you hate it…well, hopefully like a little 😉 T

  6. Hi Deborah, this is very good advice. I think there’s an interesting balance to be struck here. In some cases, I find excessive perfectionism can stifle creativity (perhaps more of a problem for a less experienced writer?) On the other hand, polishing clearly leads to improvements and gives the reader a better experience. I’m wondering whether you set any rules for yourself to help strike a balance. For example, have you ever made a pact with yourself to polish a piece for at least xx days/months/years(!) before thinking about publishing? – Alex

    • Alex,
      Thanks for your comment and question.
      I’ve been at this for a lifetime and have developed a sense about when something is ready to send out. With my essays (I have three regular gigs and publish/broadcast about 5 essays/month), I always try to finish a draft in advance of my deadline and let it ferment for a day or two or three. (You might be interested in reading my post on this blog, “Fermentation”.)
      It also helps that I have an editor/producer who vets my VPR scripts before we record, and an editor at the independent newspaper I write for.
      With my novels, I learned the hard way, sending them out too soon. I revised INTO THE WILDERNESS countless times over six years before it was published. Since then, I’ve found skilled colleagues willing to read my work and ask hard questions about it. I can’t tell you how many times (or years) I spent revising ELEGY FOR A GIRL, the novel currently with my agent – and I made two sets of revisions for her!
      It’s one of those cases where the more you practice, the better at it you get. That and sharing your work with skilled readers, not just flatterers.
      Hope this helps.
      Good luck, Deborah.

  7. As someone who just finished the first draft of her first novel, this is timely advice for me. I went into my writing project decided that I would self-publish – no ifs, ands or buts. I attended a writer’s conference in the fall where I attended a few sessions on obtaining an agent, and rethought my decision. I may still end up self-publishing, but I feel like I need to go through the exercise of marketing my piece to agents and taking the time to hone it to perfection either way, rather than taking the quickest road because I am so anxious to see my work in print.

    • Thanks for writing.
      There are pros and cons for each route, and revision and polish is necessary for both! If you do self-publish, I hope you will hire both a copy editor and at least one professional proofreader before you hit “print”. A good book design also makes a difference.
      Good luck, Deborah.

  8. This is a pet peeve of mine so I’m glad you’re talking about it. I’ve been writing all my life and only in recent years decided to pursue this professionally. That said, I can’t believe the ego-driven pretentiousness so prevalent in the industry, made worse by individuals who assume publishing (in any form) means they’ve produced something meaningful and worthy of the world’s attention. Sometimes I find it a little sickening, disheartening and occasionally shocking.(Fifty Shades of anything makes me want to grab a barf bag.) Conceit makes some people think they can take shortcuts and still come out with work that will hold up against quality standards, offer them admiration and oodles of financial success. I suppose they feel justified; after all, we are surrounded by work that is sub-standard because of the options out there that allow anybody to call themselves a writer. Heck, some actually DO make money too! (Fifty Sha…aww, never mind!)

    Our intent MUST be for the work. I agree with you wholeheartedly – at all times we MUST incorporate honesty, clarity and grace in the process of telling a story and like all great things, the effort that involves is immeasurable and can never be on the same plane as the false gods of self-pride and money. In the end, we should be mostly honest with ourselves so that we can be proud of what we create, knowing there were no shortcuts we took to line our pockets or build ego. In the end, it’s about the story. Nothing. Else. Matters. This is what gives us the stamina to endure the endless revisions, the patience to put the time into the work.

      • I agree. We need to live, to pay bills and there is nothing wrong with a pragmatic approach in terms of planning for the successful presentation of your work. But in terms of the actual writing, creativity in storytelling is not guided by pragmatism. It’s guided by love of the work and desire to be a pure and honest storyteller, no matter how many revisions it takes us to get there! 🙂
        And let’s face it, most writers never get rich enough to justify the time they invested. It takes two, three or sometimes even four books before they build up enough readership to turn a reasonable profit on their time spent before, during and after publication.
        Self-publishing is a definitely a viable option to help authors make more profit than they would in traditional publishing, but it’s also a shamefully easy way for an ego-driven author to take shortcuts.

      • Hi Laura and Lisa,
        You both raise important issues. At the risk of making Laura sick, however, nothing is simply Black and White . . .Self-publishing has its value, especially given the current state of mainstream publishing, which puts out an awful lot of dreck, too. And writers with specific audiences (I’m thinking mostly non-fiction here), have a much better chance of seeing their book in print and making money by publishing their work themselves.
        Literary work is different – as in the story of my friend Abe and his poems. Worse, self-publishing has made it possible for amateurs and hobbyists to entertain dreams of grandiosity. Abe, for instance, has no idea about revision, audience, marketing; he thought the world was going to wake up when they read his poems; he’ll learn differently.
        For a writer with a good story, told well, copy edited, proofread, professionally formatted, reviewed and marketed, self-publishing is an option. This writer also needs a bit of capital to get the project off the ground, as well as the time and stamina to market the book.
        Laura – writers who put poor quality books out there irk me too!
        Thanks to both of you for reading the blog and contributing to the discussion.

  9. I can’t believe the irony – I’m going to post almost the exact same comment I just posted on another blog about a completely different subject – but it is your last few sentences that really resonated with me:

    “Hearing from readers reminds me that publication brings with it responsibility, a responsibility to write with honesty, clarity and grace – all of which take patience, revision, time.”

    As I stated in another comment on another blog, I like to think of writers as the Peter Parkers (Spidermans) of the world. We should all heed Uncle Ben’s advice that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Our words are powerful tools used to persuade, affect, and motivate – all emotions which we don’t take lightly – so when we evoke these emotions through words, we should take these words as seriously as we take the accompanying emotions.

    Thanks for the reminder 🙂

    • Stacy,
      Thanks for the connection to current culture and Spiderman. Writers are a kind of super hero. Have you ever read Leon Leonini’s child’s book FREDERICK? It’s about a mouse who stores colors for the winter, and his poems sustain the colony when they run out of food. . .
      Best, Deborah.

  10. You are so right 🙂 I will keep this in mind if I ever decide to go that far (and by that I mean, if I ever work up the nerve to try). I’m also going to check out Into the Wilderness. 🙂 Thanks for this.

  11. The first sentence says it all. So very true. I hope Abe finds the path his poetry needs to follow in the way that works best for him. But I also hope he listens carefully to you and reads the book you recommended. Great advice said in a very caring way.

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  13. Terrific insight and a reminder that just because we’ve written a story doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ready for prime time consumption. There’s so much more to it and getting feedback on your work and strong editing/critiquing is probably the biggest part of it. Thanks for a great post!

    • Deb,
      I hope I also make it clear that there is a place for self-publishing – and we writers are in charge of upholding the standards we expect in this arena. As I said above, mainstream publishers put out less than excellent work, too!
      Thanks for being such a loyal reader and commenter of this blog.

  14. I used to “self-publish” a lot of my own work on a blog. I did gain about 5-10 regular readers this way, and those readers have been invaluable sources of help in improving my work. I don’t regret doing that, but I also don’t consider it to be legitimate, published work. I feel like part of the process of publication involves gatekeepers. It involves someone else saying that your work is worthwhile. I can easily decide that all of my work is perfect, but that doesn’t make me right, or mean that anybody else is going to read it. Self-publishing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it relies on your own opinion of your work, which is biased, and as you say, can be attempted out of impatience rather than readiness.

    Thanks for the interesting post. 😀

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  17. Hi Deborah – this is a great post and very timely. I noticed in one of your comments you said “we writers are in charge of upholding the standards we expect” and this brought to mind the amount written lately about authors behaving badly. I really think because it all happens so fast these days (people can self-publish on a whim) that those who publish quickly and for the wrong reasons (thinking there’s money in it) are unaware and unprepared for the less than flattering reviews. When I started writing there was no option to self-publish and I dealt with publishing houses who would tell me in no uncertain terms if they liked my work or not. In those days (now I’m sounding old) authors had the time to develop that ‘skin’ and to realise that different publishers had different tastes and none of it should be taken personally because to them it’s just ‘business’.
    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across an ‘Abe’ who has fallen in a screaming heap. I’m reminded of a friend who once said, ‘I’m going to write a bestseller!’ I cringed. Writing is about the passion but people seem to have have moved into the mindset of ‘I’ll write this book, publish it and then become rich’ which a disaster waiting to happen.

  18. Seriously helpful post. Thank you so much. I’m just starting out “formally” although I, like Abe, have written for years. Always appreciate hearing from someone as experienced as yourself. And always remember – you inspire.

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  22. I have always said my goal is not to get published but to write a book that’s good enough to be published. There’s something incredible about the idea that one day someone, whose job it is to know about literature, will risk their professional reputation on my book. Anyone can self-publish, but what is the reward in that? It would be cheaper to send a word document to all your friends and ask for donations.

  23. Hello Deborah,
    I like this article. It is kind and refreshing. I am one of those people who loves to write. Long ago I dropped any expectations of a career in writing. It always seemed so competitive and I have no illusions about making it as any sort of medalist. So I do it for free.

    Would you share this?

    September 21, 2014 is a great day for inviting people to cooperate to build an arts-friendly community.

    At this season of year many of us are busy preparing for those long winter months. By the time May 2015 rolls around we’ll be ready to get out there and do something.

    Gardening? If the weather is cooperative, yes. Perhaps not in Bathurst, however. In our part of New Brunswick, Canada, Spring arrives a wee bit late and there isn’t a lot to do here in May.

    Hence the idea of Spring Garden of Artists. So we have planted the seeds of this idea and on September 21 we are asking people in the community to come together to discover more about this project and hopefully they might consider volunteering a bit of time over the fall and winter months so that by spring we will have mini-arts projects sprouting all around us.

    This idea is basically to have the whole community, businesses, organizations, individual artists, etc. devote the month of May 2015 to promote our area as an oasis of art with at least one artpiece in every store front, every bank, every business office.

    We would support and promote individual art exhibits and as many small musical venues as we can find artists to fill. Every restaurant could become a potential coffee house or piano bar for one whole month. Every church and seniors’ home could become a small concert hall. We would also hold professional music, art and craft workshops, interesting job opportunities for retired professionals, career experience for newly graduated arts students and a welcome to outside artists to explore the potential of our community.

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