Monday, December 7, 2015

Is Publishing Teaching The Wrong Message?

We are now living in a society where the end goal seems to be the only focus. In our K-12 education program, the emphasis is on passing that standardized "Common Core" test. It is about making sure that the students graduate. When the students approach college, the focus is on "which school will get me the best job." Even in the business world, we take workshops and attend training programs to advance to the next pay level, or get that next promotion. And publishing is no different.

But maybe the emphasis and what is being taught is misguided?

I really started thinking about this over the weekend as I read submissions. I then took a quick break and "surfed the net" to see what was currently being written in the area of publishing, and sure enough, the same trend was happening. The number one focus of the articles and blogs I read was on "how to get published."

And frankly, this might not be the best approach.

Don't get me wrong here. It is certainly important to know the best pathway to getting that book published and to make the best sales. But please note that I did say one thing. It was a process to get "the book" to the readers. In other words, the book comes first.

If you think about the conferences that you attend, you will likely find the same emphasis in all of the workshops. Sessions will be on self-publishing, marketing, how to sell a historical, how to write a query letter... the list goes on and on. But what is missing is the craft sessions.

We have gotten to a point that it is so easy to get a book published, especially with the self-publishing avenues available. Anyone can publish a book, and they are. But many authors are finding it difficult to get those sales going in a positive direction, so they turn to "strategies for better sales." But could this be the wrong direction? In other words, if the book is bad, it doesn't matter how strong of a marketing approach you take, if the product is not worthy of sales, it won't sell.

I am not someone who normally watches a lot of TV, but I happened to turn on Shark Tank a couple of days ago. This guy had this great presentation to sell this computer based program. Essentially, it was a display of iPad like devices. A doctor would place it in the lobby and patients could check in, fill out the necessary forms, check email, or read articles. His presentation was pretty dang snazzy. This guy had even mortgaged his house twice, and was tapping into the kids college funds to get this to market. But here was the problem. One of the Sharks simply pulled out his phone and asked, "so why can't I use my this?" The sale was over. In other words, this guy had a product that will never sell.

When it comes to publishing, there are far too many people out there who simply do not know how to write. They blame the publishing world for not being open to new ideas, or their innovative approach. And yet, when it all comes down to it, the mastery of the craft is simply not there. Characters are flat; plots are predictable; plotting is not logical; conflicts are manufactured; and even the basics of grammar, punctuation and spelling are atrocious.

Being a good writer takes time. It takes the patience to learn how to write the best story possible. Good writers do not simply sit down and "write a story." They learn the craft. They have spent time studying what other well crafted stories look like.

Maybe, if the publishing world focuses more on how to write a story and less time on how to sell the books, we can see some positive changes. Readers might come back to the bookstores because the books are actually good. Publishers will start to make money because those readers have come back. Authors might begin getting rejection letters because the story is not a right match and not due to the quality of the book.

I do have to say, a change has to happen. Writing IS NOT being taught in the K-12 systems now. It is all about passing a test. So it has to start from this end. Conferences need to teach more sessions on craft. Articles need to focus more on craft. And yes, I am going to change the focus and really push for this more in the coming weeks. Does this mean that we completely ignore the marketing angle? Absolutely not. That is still crucial. But if you don't have a quality product to sell, then marketing training will be pointless!


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. When I attend a conference, I go straight to the craft sessions. I don't even want to think about marketing until I know I have a book worth publishing. As a public school teacher, I miss the days of creative writing. The six traits has been replaced by the six tests and we are doing are kids a huge disservice.

  2. I agree. I was not taught proper grammar in school. I'm 37, so that style of teaching has been slowing coming. When I decided to pursue writing I took a college course on grammar. It was a full semester with text books and everything because I didn't know anything. It took a lot of dedication and practice to hone my craft. What bothers me now is not teaching cursive. My kids have atrocious handwriting and everything is done on the computer with spell check. So I try to teach my kids, much to their chagrin, cursive and everything a spell check on a computer can't catch.

  3. I so agree with all your points. Your advice is a voice of sanity for writers of any genre. As a former teacher, I especially deplore what has happened in public education. Everything is geared toward passing a test, and very little for the love of learning or becoming a lifelong learner. As far as publishing goes, I, too, want my books to be published, but more than anything, I want to write good books, so this post is very refreshing.