Recently I read an interview of the literary agent Jennifer Joel in the March/April 2015 issue of Poets & Writers magazine, and she made an astute comment which caught my eye. I thought about it for a few days and realized she was right.
The interviewer, Michael Szczerban, asked her, “What would you love for writers to know before their work reaches your desk?” She replied that she “would love writers to do their homework by the time they come to me.” That is, to know what an agent does before you send her/him a query letter describing your work.
But Ms. Joel expanded on that comment with another statement to the effect that writers need to understand the distinction between being published on the one hand, and what they really want on the other. Yes, there is a distinction. Ms. Joel’s comment was that what writers really want is not merely to be published, but to be read.
That’s right, to be read. I think many people, myself included, have misinterpreted the real endpoint of writing by assuming it was publication. To get the damn book out there. To get it on a shelf in some bookstore and be proud of the fact that it’s there. I think we assume that if it’s there, it’ll be read. I’m not sure that’s true.
Many people self-publish their books and assume that if it’s on Amazon or Kindle or Nook or present in some other such platform, that they’ve made it in the publishing world. “I’ve published a book!” they trumpet loudly to the rest of the world. That may be enough for them. But I find myself silently asking them, don’t you want your book to be read?
In light of what Ms. Joel said, I’ve thought through my publishing desires. Sure, I’d like to be published. But will people actually pick up my book (or the whole trilogy) and read it? As an unpublished author, I don’t feel I have the authority to state categorically, “If it ain’t good enough, it won’t be read.” But I highly suspect that’s the case. This is one reason, if not the main one, I’ve steered clear of the self-publishing route. I want some (i.e., several) professional literary types to pass on my book before publication. I’m not—and I’ve stated this several times before—ready to throw a book out to the world without some validation by someone who knows what they’re talking about. In my opinion, that’s more likely to get a book read than just throwing it out there.
If you’re a writer (or more properly, an author) isn’t that what you want? Don’t you want people to read your book? Getting published isn’t the end of the road. Getting read is. Who’s going to download your book if it isn’t well written? Do you think a colorful cover will get it done? Think again.