The truth about getting anything published

The truth about getting anything published
Photo by David Pupăză / Unsplash

When I first tried to write prose, I submitted a sample to the University of Washington's prose writing classes. Dr. Charles Johnson was still teaching then, and while I didn't know it at the time, his Middle Passage taught me that the kind of writing I dug could be literary. The short story and prose writing classes were popular, so much so that they could have us wannabe English Majors apply to the individual courses.

And I did.
And I didn't get in.

I'm sure my writing wasn't all that good. At that point, I didn't care much about prose and just wanted to improve my "storytelling" (that poor abused word, molested by all who make shit up and pretend that spewing 'Buy Now'! Copy is somehow the same level of art as Chuck Tingle or Toni Morrison because it was all the rage at that moment. I wanted to be a filmmaker, but UW's Digital Media Arts program had just rejected me. So, if I were to make my dreams come true and learn how to tell a better story, the only game left to me at that time would be English, and they said no.

I doubt Dr. Johnson ever saw my work, but I remember keenly at that time that I thought I was working hard because I put a lot of hours into it. It bothered me at the time that I got rejected for my creative writing, but I still did relatively well in my classes.

For example, I took Playwriting. I took it multiple times and always got an "A." However, none of the plays I wrote ever got accepted to be produced for a student play, and I remember when I asked my playwriting professor for a letter of recommendation to go to film school. He made this face like he was holding back a horrific memory, where even back then, as I dropped off a DVD of my student films, he wouldn't be singing my praises.
I didn't get into film school.

If I were to list out the setbacks, the times that things were rejected as "not good enough," I guess it would start with undergrad; my writing wasn't good enough for me to get into a fiction workshop in my junior year of school. The rejections would get worse: I got second place when I was the only applicant in a writing contest.

Once, when I felt that I had written a good draft of my first book (there are others lurking in the folders of my computer), I asked one hundred agents to represent me (in groups of 5), and all one hundred said no or never got back to me. That's a different story.

I guess what I'm trying to answer here is a question I get a lot – variants on "How do I get my book published?" or the complaint that people/programs don't talk enough about tips and tricks to get published.

The answer is simple: you have to work really hard on the right skills to write things at a level that gets the reader to join you, the author, in the same dream. At the same time, you must conjure a dream that others want and know that they want to have. You have to keep trying to find the people who dream like you do and know how to make money from dreams.
There are at least three "and's" in that answer and a few more that we could pile on if we put our minds to it – things like luck and unfair advantage, and probably something Chaucer said about farts or bodily humors.

Of course, there are those books that mystify us all about how they get published. But I'm not interested in those.

So, budding writer, what should you do?

Get really good at this thing, and good means that you can create that fictive dream well. Do that, and really love that, and then as you keep at it, know that whatever grand success you imagine might not (most likely will not) happen even with your best efforts. Then, you can suffer all those slings and arrows.