The Torment of the Unpublished Author

“Are you published yet?”

Through gritted teeth I respond no. I don’t add anything else. The answer is quite complicated and I know the person asking the question is trying to be polite. They most likely don’t want to hear about the agonies of the unpublished author. I watch their face. They nod, slowly. Wondering how, when the world moves so quickly, I can still be unpublished. Almost always they decide not to dig deeper and the conversation will move onto anything else. 

I am asked this question surprisingly often. It pains me in many ways, yet I also am comforted by it. How lovely it is when someone shows an interest in what you do. Yet this question touches nerves, because I ask myself the same thing. Why am I not published yet?

Unfortunately for the unpublished author, the publishing industry is painfully slow. Not slow as in a government department, but slow as in, are we still in the industrial revolution? There are rules to follow with traditional publishing, most often being thou shall only submit thine manuscript to one publisher at any one time. Once submitted thou shall wait six months before assuming a hard no. Six months when you are waiting for your big break is an excruciating time.

Then there are the stories, of those who have gone before you. Stories of how after six months, a now published author received a phone call and was signed up to an agency. Or another who shares their elation at having had their manuscript discovered through the slush pile. These stories provide hope and a belief that yes, you too can join that elite group.

However, the experts say different, and often they dismantle the belief. Perhaps your manuscript isn’t good enough and never will be and it’s time to lock it up in a cupboard never to see the light of day. You are aware of the statistics and realise this could very well be the situation you are facing. There are stories that go along with this course of action. Of authors who persisted and after years they locked it away and now they have a large collection of published books but that first one is still hidden from view. Maybe if they never let it go they would still be unpublished. 

The belief wavers. One day it’s there, the next it’s gone. You believe this manuscript is The One. But what if it actually isn’t. How many manuscripts do you have to write, edit, polish and repeat to become a published author? Then there are the well meaning, non writer, friends, who offer you what they call inspiration. “You know how many times JK Rowling was rejected don’t you?” Yes, I know. We all do. But that has already happened and won’t happen again in this lifetime. Other stories are shared, about authors who never gave up and after exhausting almost all publishers were offered a contract. Is this what we are holding on to each time we submit?

There is another way. Self publishing. By gaining a few more skills I could be holding my manuscript in my hands in book form, ready to sell. There are stories about Indie authors too. Ones who make six figures each year from their work. Who wouldn’t want that. Yet I don’t jump ship. Is it because I’m not backing myself or because I am clinging to an out dated childhood dream?

So I wait. I am forced to be patient. And at this point the second novel has found its way onto the pages. Because if I don’t keep writing, if I don’t have another project and a whole new cast of characters to get to know, the agony of waiting will destroy my passion.

No, I am not published, yet. But ask me next time, because you just never know when you will wake up one morning and find your dreams coming true.

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