I was on a flight home recently after an involuntary extension of a business trip, and happened to be seated next to an aspiring author who felt like striking up a conversation. As we talked, he talked about how he had begun writing to deal with the loss of his mother. That revelation led us down a series of wandering paths, along which it came out that I also write as a form of self prescribed therapy. He asked if I had published anything, and seemed shocked when I told him no (other than scholarly/profesional journals) and that I wasn’t sure I ever would. He seemed surprised and confused. While he agreed that he wrote mostly for himself, keeping the result to ones self seemed inconceivable. Why in the world wouldn’t I try to earn money off of the result. His reaction got me thinking, leading me to analyze why I feel the way I do. The analysis is still incomplete, and probably will remain so, but I have come to some preliminary results that are adequate for my purposes.
I suppose there is a fairly big part of me that dreads rejection. What I write is meaningful for me, and I don’t want to be in a position where I am confronted with the reality that paints my work as a picture of futility, triteness, or inadequacy. I am content with the knowledge that I have captured something of myself, and don’t need the approbation of others. However, once exposed and rejected, that withheld acceptance stings in a way that it would’t have had I not gone looking for it in the first place. In seeking for public praise, I risk losing the satisfaction and joy I would otherwise find.
While I don’t like the prospect of rejection, that kind of pain is something I have dealt with successfully many times, and would willingly face again if I felt it was worth it. So the question turns to one of determining the cost-benefit relationship and weighing the result. To satisfy the engineer in me, I would normally want to evaluate every aspect and understand the failure modes, associated probabilities, costs, alternatives, and system impacts. This desire to tear apart and analyze the situation is unhealthy in many cases since it often leads to paralysis. However, my nature has been moderated by a life that generally forces me to work with something less than an 80% solution. Given the limited time and energy I am willing to dedicate to this pursuit, I think I’ll settle for 30% in this case and hope reality looks something like what I come up with.
The first question that comes to my mind is whether or not anyone who doesn’t have a personal interest in me would find my babblings and musings worth reading. Without an interested market no product can be profitable. This applies to publications just as much as it does to any other product. Unfortunately, I have no clear idea of market dynamics in this segment, and hesitate to even look hard for someone who might have a better read on the situation because doing so risks rejection and unfavorable or nonproductive feedback. Furthermore, marketing myself makes me feel dirty and false while severely grating on me. As an illustrative example, it makes me uncomfortable when my boss plays up my academic credentials in the small environment that is my professional circle. I generally feel that if you need to know that information to take me seriously, you are to shallow for me to waste my time on. However, this kind of self promotion is absolutely required in order to have any hope of success breaking into the publishing world. That kind of self promotion really bothers me.
The costs of self promotion are high, but high costs can be justified by good odds of a high payout. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the odds are particularly good that I could reap a reasonable payout. Very few aspiring authors, even excellent ones, ever make much return on their investment. Even if there were sufficient demand for the type of product I might produce, I have no reason to believe the material I could produce would be competitive. What feedback I receive comes from rather biased evaluators and is limited in scope. To my knowledge, nobody reads what I write with an eye to evaluating its commercial potential. Without credible feedback indicating my assessment of the odds is demonstrably false, I have no reason to believe there is a market adequate to make it worth my time and energy.
Next on the question list is whether or not seeking publication would still satisfy the needs that drive me to write in the first place. I don’t write to please others. I write to please myself, and I question whether I could maintain that perspective if I were to focus on publication. I imagine it would be like golf… I like the game, but would hate it if I had to do it for a living when the pressure of getting it “right” would disallow the hearty laugh that comes with a slice that takes the ball to the neighboring fairway. I question whether pursuing writing would take the joy out of it all. If I take the pleasure of of it I will have nothing worth writing, and in one fail swoop I would have robbed myself of both my dignity in becoming a shameless self promoter, and an element of happiness in ruining one of the few things I can find the time and energy to do strictly to please myself.
Would I like to make money publishing poetry, essays, commentary, and stories? Yes, but I doubt I have what it takes, either from a product standpoint, or from a personal investment in the cutthroat tactics and power plays required to push a good product to market. I am generally happy with what and why I write, and taking steps to make it more than a form of self prescribed therapy would jeopardize that – without a high likelihood of a substantial return on investment. So… After thinking it through, again, I come back to where I started. I don’t plan to look for publication. The three or so people who ever peruse this blog can enjoy it with the added pleasure of knowing they are part of a rather small and exclusive club of initiates. And if you happen to get a chance to read the novel (if I ever decide to finish it) and other short stories I don’t post here, you are in an even smaller and more exclusive club unless something intervenes and changes my mind about publishing.