So What Do You Do?

W. Somerset Maugham wrote:

“An author is probably the last person who can write fitly about his own work.”

I personally agree with what he said. In the process of submitting your work to the publishers and agents, you are advised to write outstanding queries about your manuscript. The queries have to be so convincing that the editor, agent or publisher will be so captivated by your novel, short story or poetry that he or she will ask to see more of your work. As a writer you believe in your work. You know that you have attained that level of perfection you were aiming at when you first started to write. However, Roger Martin du Gard, a French novelist, once told the following story about Marcel Proust.

Proust wanted a certain French periodical to publish an important article on his great novel and thinking that no one could write it better than he, sat down and wrote it himself. Then he asked a young friend of his, a man of letters, to put his name to it and take it to the editor. This young man did, but after a few days the editor sent him a reply. “I must refuse your article,” he told him. “Marcel Proust would never forgive me if I printed a criticism of his work that was so perfunctory and unsympathetic.”

So how do you go about it? How do you promote your work? Most writing instructors will tell you that selling yourself is sometimes almost half the problem. They advise you to market your book intelligently and with the same passion you created it. But they also tell you that sometimes a beautiful work of literature is also rejected. Often these manuscripts are lost in mail rooms and never reach the desks of publishers, agents or editors.

Roger Burlingame, in his book “Of Making Many Books”, talks about publisher Scribner’s reaction to “This Side Of Paradise” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

“Often mistrusting his own judgment, Scribner spoke about many books and asked to take them home to an erudite sister to read. His sister was supposed to be infallible, and it was true that many of the novels she had “cried over” sold prodigiously. So when it was known that he had taken “This Side Of Paradise” home for the weekend, his colleagues were all agog on Monday morning. “And what did your sister say?” they asked in chorus. “She picked it up with the tongs,” he replied “because she wouldn’t touch it with her hands after reading it, and put it into the fire.””

Needless to say the book was a great success.

So what do you do? In Ray Bradbury’s words:

“You fail only if you stop writing. I have written about 2000 short stories: I have only published about 300 and I feel I’m still learning.”


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6 Responses to So What Do You Do?

  1. Great perspective. Your post is an encouraging reminder that writers should never doubt themselves, for the only way to guarantee failure is to stop writing…and to stop believing.

    Thanks for sharing with us!


  2. Never heard that Proust story before – very interesting. It reminds me of an experiment done in the UK a few years ago where the manuscripts of some award-winning novels from the sixties and seventies were submitted to literary agents and all came back with rejections. Just goes to show it’s no guarantee of anything. Keep up the great posts.

  3. I can relate. Write and write and write. It’s easy to write. Getting others to read and appreciate what you right is a whole other ballgame that I, for one, don’t know how to play.

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