Advice from My Plumber about the Writing Life

More and more often, people show up on my doorstep (well not really) or in my Facebook message box or email with a manuscript for me to read or critique. Often these folks have never published a thing in their lives, attended a writer’s conference, read an agent’s or editor’s blog, read an industry publication, or read a book about writing. But they’re pretty sure they want to publish a book.

I’d like to take this opportunity to offer an analogy. For the past several months the toilet in our main bathroom has been giving us fits — threatening to overflow at the most inopportune moments and refusing to flush even the tiniest scraps of paper. Oh, yeah. Like you really wanted to know about this.

So my husband called a plumber to come and fix the ding-dang thing. Let me tell you something. After months of plunging and splashing for recreation, I for-sure wanted a plumber who knew which end of the  snake went down my bathroom pipe.

Now imagine that you’re a publisher, and you’re looking for a new author. You’re going to sink thirty or forty grand into marketing, publicity, editorial, and all the accompanying costs of launching a newbie writer. You’re competing against every other publisher and book in the marketplace, so you’re looking for the best of the best. You’re looking for someone who knows how to wrangle a snake, so to speak. You’re looking for someone who’s a Picasso of plumbing. You are certainly not looking for someone who doesn’t know a thing about the craft, has never studied the craft, hasn’t invested time and energy in the craft, and doesn’t know the language or the tools of the craft.

So if you want to publish a book, start with studying the craft. Write. Publish. Do the work. Learn which end of the snake to stick down the hole. And remember that writing is like other professions: it must be learned.

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