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Walls on the Path to Publication: a Necessity or a Nuisance?

How can writers know when they’re ready for publication? How can they know when their writing skill has reached a quality that rises above amateur? And likewise, how can they know if they have a story that will resonate with readers?

These are age-old and very sage questions. I wrestled with them back in the days when I was querying. I think any wise writer will wrestle with such questions—trying to gauge their readiness and show caution before plunging into publication.

In the past, particularly with traditional publication, writers would hit brick walls that would cause us to evaluate our readiness. And those walls usually came in the form of rejection letters or agent or editor passes. The rejections would force us to work harder, challenge us to learn more about writing fiction, and push us to take our stories from mediocre to standout quality. If we had any hope of breaking through, we had to strive really hard to become better.

But nowadays, with so many writers opting to self epublish, the traditional wall of rejection has crumbled. The walls of waiting, persevering, and the pain of the journey are no longer barriers either.

The road to publication is wide open. Anyone, anywhere can publish anything without any barriers. Writers no longer have to push through the walls that once stood in the way.

Some would claim that’s a good thing, that the wall prevented too many good writers with good stories from having the chance of publication. Others would claim that the crumbling wall is now contributing to a new problem—a flood of poorly written self-published manuscripts crowding virtual shelves making it difficult for those good books to stand out.

Whatever the case, we would all do well to remember the mantras: Nothing good ever comes easy. No pain no gain. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going (thanks Christy Farmer for that one!).

In other words, walls of some kind or another are worthwhile to each of us. Whether those walls come externally or internally or both, we’re usually better off for having scaled them rather than skirted them.

I liked how my agent Rachelle Gardner recently described walls. She said, “Obstacles to our dreams are like brick walls, put there to test how badly we really want something . . . those brick walls stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.” And the brick walls strengthen those who persevere.

So, back to the original question: How can writers know when they’re ready for publication?

My answer: Set up a few walls.

What do I mean?

Before rushing into publication, put into place some barriers or trials that can test your writing skill and story-telling ability.

Of course, those heading toward traditional publication will still hit the walls of rejection from agents and publishers. But even so, all of us, no matter our publishing venue can put into place walls that will help us test our work and abilities. Instead of rushing to put something out there whether on Smashwords or CreateSpace or in a query to an agent, first we should evaluate if we’re ready.

Here are just a few ways we can do that:

Hire a freelance editor. This is a must for anyone self-publishing. But even those seeking traditional publication can benefit from the skillful eyes of an editor. The lists of freelance editors has exploded over the past year. I suggest beginning with recommendations from other writers you trust. I also suggest my agent’s list of editors as a place to start.

Get into a critique partnership or group with other skilled writers who can give qualified and objective feedback about the writing craft.

Give the book to beta readers who can test your story-telling ability. They may not be qualified to catch editing mistakes or writing craft issues. But they can give feedback on the story.

Enter writing contests that offer written feedback from judges. Sometimes the contest scoring can let us know how we’re doing compared with other writers.

Give ourselves some distance from our manuscripts. After completing the first draft of a book, I edit it, but then I usually wait several months before I go back to it and do my in-house rewrites. The time and distance help me approach my book with a fresh perspective. I’m usually able to see the story more objectively.

Use a how-to-edit book during our self-editing. I highly recommend Revision And Self-Editing by James Scott Bell and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King.

The point is to establish some walls that keep us from rushing headlong into publication, some bumps that slow us down, some checks that help us evaluate more clearly just how ready we really are.

What’s your opinion? Are walls a necessity or a nuisance? Do you think the road to publication has become too easy? Or do you think the crumbling wall has been a good thing for writers overall?


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