A desire to use language effectively is not enough to be a published author

This message arrived in my in box today. The author gave me permission to answer it here.

It must have been fate that led me to your site which I perused with great interest. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am a 57 year old male, separated after nearly 27 years of marriage, now retired due to a chronic disability. Formerly I was a high technology executive recruiter, prior to that radio disc-jockey. Graduating from Leland Powers School of Radio, Television and Theatre as class president.

It was my ambition to become a stage actor.  Life had other plans for me. Always being smitten with the written and spoken word I began chronicling some of my adventures and experiences. More than one of my acquaintances suggested I submit my work to publishers. Having entered a small number of contests which have not resulted in lucrative six-figure advances striking fear into the hearts of John Grisham and J.K. Rowling, I quickly realized that I don’t know what in the world I am doing.

Having a desire to use language effectively is not enough to be a published author I  soon found. I was told to submit queries, get an agent, find an editor… My question to you is how do I know if I should even go to all the toil and trouble when I don’t even know if anything I have to say could be appreciated by potential readers.

As an avid reader with eclectic tastes I sometimes wonder how a given work receives the Nobel Prize in literature. “How can this be?” I wonder after reading some tedious, bloated never-ending tome of drivel.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to hear me out. Any comments and suggestions will be greatly appreciated. — Anonymous

I wrote several short stories and two novels as a young man, though I never made any serious attempt at selling them. All my recent efforts have been scholarly (where the rewards I sought were visibility and credibility, since part of my job description includes engaging in scholarly pursuits).

While I don’t teach a whole class in creative writing, I do regularly advise creative writing majors to refer to a book like Writer’s Market (updated with a new edition each year, listing the contact information for agents, the going rates for various publications, etc.). You can probably find a copy in a local library or you can pick up an older edition at a used book store.  Both the library and the local bookstore can help you find numerous other books that introduce the writing profession to curious newcomers.

A mid-range solution might be to look for a writer’s conference in your genre (thriller, fantasy, etc.), and attend the workshops where you can hear from recently published writers.  Your local public library or a local community college might be a good place to start making local contacts.  It looks like the person who sent in this question has valuable experience in business and technology, which might be of great use to another writer who is working on a corporate thriller.  Local conferences are great opportunities to form a community of like-minded writers who can swap manuscripts and help each other develop their ideas.

You might attend a talk given by a local author (lots of bookstores or coffee houses will regularly schedule such talks), and just ask the guest speaker for their editor’s contact information. (It would be polite if you also bought a copy of their book, too! Even if you don’t like the genre, you can give it to someone who would.)

I would be cautious about publishers who promise to publish your work as long as you pay them a fee.  That publisher is more interested in making money off of you than in promoting and selling your book.

Nevertheless, a good editor’s services are valuable, so if you are willing to pay an established editor to give you honest professional feedback, that would be a good way to determine your chances.

A long-term solution, which involves an investment of time and money, would be to go back to school and take some creative writing classes. My own school, Seton Hill University, has a master’s program in writing popular fiction.  You meet in person for a week or so in January and July, but otherwise the program is online.

Sometimes the WPF program asks me to help evaluate student presentations, but I’m not otherwise involved with it. I do highly recommend it.