Why not you?


 I participate sporadically on an email loop populated largely by serious, aspiring writers. Recently there was a deep discusion about the difference between writing and publishing, with an emphasis on writing for the sake of writing, the love of writing, because publishing as a business is uncertain and upsetting and unstable. I’m reproducing my post to that list here, for a little New Year’s encouragement for any aspiring writers who might be reading here.


What I noticed this morning, reading through the notes on the list, was the “long-odds” emphasis–the statistics that illustrate how difficult it is to break into the publishing game and keep going. Those kinds of articles, warnings, etc, used to give me the willies when I was an aspiring writer. I heard them everywhere–from my father, who wanted me to be “sensible” and find some way to support myself, from the aging, die-hard cook at the bowling alley where I worked for six months, who was sure I was going to get my heart broken, wanting something so huge, so different, Not For People Like Us.

So, for anyone out there who might be getting the willies, who hears too much of the “long odds” talk from people in his or her life already, I want to say:

Writing and publishing books is a great life, and it’s worth pursuing. For all that publishing makes me crazy some days and the way the money flows is not for the faint of heart, it’s a great life. Writing is excellent, and so is seeing the work in the world, doing whatever it is going to do.

It is lovely to write for the love of it, and of course you should love the work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to publish, too. I burned to publish. I had no desire whatsoever to write in my garrett all alone. I burned–still do–to communicate ideas, thoughts, dreams, hopes to others. Communication is not completed until there is someone on the listening end. I was determined to figure out where I should be writing, and just kept trying venues: literary short stories, articles, novels, science fiction, then finally romance, which fit my voice and passions like Cinderella’s glass slipper.

Sometimes, I despaired. Sometimes, I cried a lot over it. Sometimes, it was hard for me to believe enough to keep the naysayers from undermining me completely. The things that kept me going were a lot of the things I hear others saying here: I could prove to my father that writing novels was a good thing, that everyone would stop looking at me like some pathetic weirdo, and see that I was about something. Publishing would prove something, and it did.

It is true that writing truly is more important than being an Author, and it’s important to keep those ideas separated. But if you are true to yourself and your work, it’s not so BAD to be a Published Author. Most people in the world don’t know a writer. They’re fascinated by it.

Sometimes, publishing will break your heart. Mine has been broken many times–and almost always with books I absolutely freaking adore — but then something happens to put it back together. A good letter or review. A nod from an award committee. A note from a writer I admire, and I come back to the bottom line: the books are still getting out into the world. Readers find them, and sometimes they write to me or post somewhere online and I read it and it’s all worth it. I communicated something. Cool.

And there are perks to offset the depressing parts of publishing. It’s nowhere near as glamorous as most people in the world think it is, but there are some good moments every now and then. I remember sitting with an editor once in a New York restaurant, talking about the plan for an upcoming book: cover, promotions, etc. Two men next to us, business-suited, sleek and scented Masters of the Universe, and they were eavesdropping avidly.

I poured the whole aspiring writer dream into a character in my upcoming book, The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue. There is a scene late in the book where the girl’s mentor writes her a letter about the writing life and publishing, and I cried and cried and cried as I wrote it. It took a lot of courage for the young woman I was to believe she could publish novels and live a life as a writer. I didn’t come from the white-trash world Shannelle is trying to overcome; it was a lovely, blue collar, loving world, but the key word there is blue collar. Security mattered more than dreams.

I say to you, your dream of publishing is a beautiful one. If you believe in it enough, and you are willing to keep learning, not only about your writing, but about where your particular talents go, you WILL publish. It takes persistence, and faith, and you defeat yourself if you write something that’s not true to your own vision to get there, but people sell first novels all the time.

Why can’t one of them be you?

Happy New Year!



  1. Thank you Barbara. I’m also a WU member but I missed this post, so I’m glad I caught it here. I’m a rather recent fan of yours, having been at the WF mini conference in Anaheim in 2012, after which I read Garden of Happy Endings, which I loved. I’ve just finished Black Angel, my first B Samuel book, and it reinforced my love of your writing. I really appreciate your thoughts about publishing and the writing life here as I find that I need some encouragement from time to time, as I’m still ‘aspiring’. And it is the publishing aspect of it that overwhelms me sometimes. Your words gave me the determination to carry on today. I hope you don’t mind if I hold onto your apron strings awhile, in case I need another pat on the head.

    I also loved your post ‘Wild Fertility’ and am ecstatic to learn that you have discovered this lovely place. My own creative energy ebbs and flows too, and I do have ideas and projects on the go all over the place, including different genres. I think though that I limit myself to one WIP at a time because I don’t believe I’ll finish anything if I let myself go too wild. They just simmer in the back of my mind and occasionally get hauled out for a few notes, and quickly tucked away again, before they suck me in. Maybe if I let myself hop around from project to project, I wouldn’t waste so much time ‘gearing up’ before I sit down. I feel like it’s all taking too long. I love to hear that you are so in love with your writing, and that it flows so easily for you now. You deserve it. I’m also intrigued to think that self-publishing has had something to do with this freedom you feel. I am often tempted to self-publish, and like the idea of hybrid publishing, but as I’m still unpublished, the thought of making a career misstep terrifies me, and I’m too easily swayed by dire opinions on both sides. I wish I were 20-something and had more time. If I’m lucky, I could be where you are when I’m 90!

  2. Barbara Samuel

    One thing I would say is, “don’t be afraid.” Whatever you do with your writing is a learning experience and you can always make different choices as you go along. If you are afraid of publishing too early because the work isn’t ready, then by all means take the time to make it ready.

    But if you believe in a project and cannot get any takers in the traditional world, there is no crime in publishing it well yourself. Use a pseudonym if you are more comfortable, but don’t be afraid. This is a bold, fresh, exciting world for writers.

    Do carry on, and grab on to my apron string. Happy to be here!

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