The Desire to Publish

What makes people want to have their fiction published?

I’ve thought about this often: how some people burn for publication and others don’t; how for some, feedback from readers is a requirement, while for others simpy to write is enough; how a (paid) published writer will often get less feedback than the average fanfiction story; how a writer can fall in love with the semicolon.

There’s something about the paper, for me. I handle cotton rag paper and feel like it’s the biggest luxury in the world. My favorite pens can inspire a feeling like lust in my fingers. Seeing my words on a page, all clean and black and physical, gives me a frisson. My words in print, the feel of a stack of pages I’ve written–all these things are a thrill. A friend of mine sums the feeling up as, I made this.

The excitement from the actual physical process and results of writing is a little less these days. My stories have appeared in anthologies, and I get my copies in the mail, but I have little interest in opening the book to find myself. I usually read my author bio instead, to make sure there are no typos or other egregious errors. I don’t always do even that. Then, sometimes, I will read the other stories in the volume, especially those by writers whom I’ve come to know. But my own story? The excitement came with the sale, with that first notification that someone wanted to give me money for art. Sending in the contract, getting the check, the books, giving a reading–not the same buzz as “Congratulations! Your story XY has been accepted!” Receiving the contributor copies just means I have to find somewhere to store them.

It’s true, I was overwhelmed with excitement when I held my first published novel in my hands. I felt as if I was about to bubble over, and made embarassing high-pitched squealing noises. Perhaps because, unlike an anthology, the book was mine and mine alone? Or because I’d invested so much more time and effort in the book, because of the longer length?

But back to the urge for publication. It must be the validation I crave above all. I wouldn’t write if it didn’t make me deeply happy and fulfilled to do so, and I love it when people tell me they like what I’ve written (though sometimes praise embarrasses me a little, why?) and I love mentally spending my paycheck many times over, but the best thing, the thing I seem to need most, is the assurance that my story has some kind of objective value. Comments don’t always give me this feeling. I don’t have enough self-confidence to always take praise at face value. Yet at the same time, I know my writing has a certain level of objective value. I was paid money for it. In our capitalist society, money often is equated with value.

Of course, there is no such thing as totally objective value. Selling a story has to do with writing skill, of course, but also with following submissions guidelines but not too slavishly, the editor’s taste, the mix of stories needed for the anthology or magazine or whatever, random luck, etc., etc.. A little halo does not ascend from on high and surround a story with a glowing aura if it’s worthy, or even if it merely sells. I know this. But to whatever crocodile brain part of me it is that squeals with delight or merely sighs with relief, none of that is at issue.

I still wonder why I need this particular validation and others don’t.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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