It may be 2016, and there may be thousands of writers who are independently building their careers as book authors, but for some reason a myth continues to persist that the only way to succeed is via a contract with a traditional publisher.
Dr. Harriet Lerner reiterated that myth last week in a column on Psychology Today. In a piece which falsely claims that "the line between a New York Times bestselling author and someone who never gets published at all is a very thin line":
The Dance of Anger was rejected for five years. I’ll always remember that long stretch of frustration and sorrow, when I sat hunched over a gray typewriter, the speediest technology of the day, with scissors and scotch tape as my cutting-and-pasting editing tools.
I couldn’t walk into a bookstore without getting depressed. There were countless relationship books sitting on the shelves, none about women’s anger, and few based on a solid theory of the process of change. I couldn't make sense of it, because it didn't make sense.
Did I toughen up as the rejections accumulated? No. I wanted to put on armor (or at least a wet suit) to protect myself from the pain of rejection, but I never toughened up.
Is there a psychiatric term for a refusal to connect with reality or see how the world has changed?
If there is then this doctor needs to heal herself.
Dr Lerner's first book was published in 1985, a time when there was no other option besides traditional publishing. At that time it made sense to continue to submit a manuscript year after year, rejection after rejection, because that was the only way to reach the market.
But thirty years have passed since then, and it's no longer true.
In 2016 authors have every option of publishing their book themselves. There's no need to spend years waiting for the approval of a publisher, and any author who does that is giving up on years and years worth of sales.
By all means, authors should pursue a publishing contract if that's what they want, but they shouldn't let a book sit in a drawer for all that time. Instead they should self-publish the work, start marketing it, and then move on to the next work.
There's no need for authors to wait for a contract to be handed to them when they can take action and put their works on the market themselves.
The simple fact is Dr Lerner is wrong to put a dividing line between best-selling authors and those who never get published, and in fact her very viewpoint is flawed. When it comes to publishing she has a passive viewpoint where the act of being published is a gift authors receive, when in reality it's 2016 and now publishing is an act which authors can do for themselves.
And that is the real lesson here, not that suffering through years of rejection will pay off.
To be fair, Dr Lerner does briefly mention self-publishing in the second to last paragraph. She devotes a total of 39 words to the topic, out of 414 words in the article, before going on to say that the many rejection slips she has received over the years is what makes her "a real writer".
No, writing is what makes one a real writer; measuring one's success by rejection slips identifies one as, I don't know, a masochist?
As much as it is nice to have readers and/or a publisher, that validation doesn't make a writer. Becoming a writer happens through self-determination; validation is irrelevant.
image by U of M Libraries