Monday, May 15, 2006

A Discouraging Word

You ever notice how when someone says, "I never do this" it means they are just about to do whatever it is they're speaking about?

Well, I never quote my email. Until now.

I get a lot of email of the, "Joe you're an inspiration" variety. I love getting this type of email, because it means I'm not just screaming into the wind. I used to joke that I was an inspiration to dozens. I now hear from dozens a month.

But this email really threw me, and I'm not sure how to react to it:

I just read your entire ‘tips’ series on your site (including the video). Very informative and entertaining. This should be required reading for anyone considering writing as a career.

Thank you, sincerely, thank you for sharing your experience, and for the sheer volume of useful, real-world information about writing and the publishing industry. Based on what I have learned, I have decided to burn my own book before it is even finished (I will have to print it out first), and as a replacement, take up Everquest as my life’s pursuit.

I will also pick up copies of all your books, as payment in kind for the sage advice on my career path. It was well worth it.

signed, A Future Fan, and Former Almost-Writer

A few things hit me at once when I read this.
  1. I just crushed someone's dream.
  2. Am I really that scary and discouraging when I talk about this business?
  3. That was a really well written letter, and this person probably has talent.

It's not a matter of opinion when I talk about how difficult publishing is. This business is brutal to get in, and brutal to stay in.

Though I only landed an agent 7 years ago, a lot has happened in the industry since then. Silly as it sounds now, when I was breaking in the Internet was still on the fringe of mainstream. Most agents and authors didn't have websites. There were no bloggers giving advice, telling me how the system actually worked. There were no huge writing websites or forums. The only way to talk to pros was through snail mail that took months.

For the newbie writer, the Internet is manna from heaven.

But is this information empowering, or discouraging? Do you require a certain amount of ignorance to slay the dragon, because you'd never even attempt it if you knew every single fact? Or is being forewarned being forearmed?

I've said before that wasting your life on impossible goals only leads to anger, frustration, discouragement, and depression. But in this society, we idolize people who beat the odds. We love the underdog stories, the "you'll never walk again" guy who wins in the Olympics, the "you're an awful singer" who winds up on MTV, the "rejected 500 times" guy who lands a three book deal. And we idolize these people for a reason--they we able to defy the odds and reach their goals, and didn't let anything stop them.

It's important to know your limitations. But it's also important to pursue your dreams. And don't let me, the Internet, or the publishing industry discourage you from trying.

You can do it. I'm proof.