Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Notes on Publication

I've been asked to participate in a panel discussion about the pursuit of publication.  Details on this event, which will take place at San Antonio College, can be found here.  In preparation for this discussion, I've been thinking a lot about what it really means to pursue publication.  And although I plan to focus mostly on the ways to take a completed piece of writing from the archives of a personal computer to the eyes of a public, the idea that so many people desire publication is what's weighing heaviest on my mind.

In collecting my thoughts and compiling a solid list of resources to share with the writers who will attend this event, I began to reminisce about my own feelings on publication, and how these feelings have changed since I've earned a small list of print and e-credits for my writing resume.  I have to say, my perspective has changed dramatically.

When I was beginning to write, publication was at the forefront of my mind, constantly.  I associated writing with being read, as though there were no steps in-between the production and sharing of work.  And, in many cases, there weren't (let's be clear: my audience at the time consisted of my parents and teachers, both of whom felt various levels of obligation to read my work).  I remember how romantic the idea of publication was then.  I imagined seeing my name in print as a marker of success, assurance that my ideas and words mattered.  What I never considered then was the complications associated with having an audience.

When a writer is first published, the silence that follows is sobering.  At least it was to me.  I called my friends and family, sent emails to people who cared and those who I thought maybe should care, and I relished in the few cheers from those who sent back a polite and congratulatory response.  Then, I was published again; then came the first time I published for money; then the book and more prestigious publications.  And now, when I publish a story and decide to share it, although I still post on Facebook, Twitter, and send out a smaller group of emails, I'm lucky to get much response at all, and I think this is good.  Why?  Because, writing should be about the writing.

The reason I bring this up isn't so much to say I won't continue to share my words.  I'm the queen of shameless self-promotion, and this will not stop.  Rather, I bring it up because I'm realizing that I'm less inclined to share my words at all, before knowing my audience.  Sure, there are a few standbys, people who insist that they want to read everything that I write; and to those people, you have incredible and insightful taste in literature and should be commended.  But, for the most part, audiences change as much as the output, the themes that drive the output, and the journals that print it.  Some people, for instance, don't read online journals.  Others don't read print.  Some only read The New Yorker or Atlantic... or only pieces that have a certain political slant, genre or flavor.  So, what's my point?  My point is that publication is an entirely different animal than writing and that although I will be offering resources about where to submit work on Thursday, I think that each writer needs to check that inclination to submit the piece until it's finished, so that the urge to publish doesn't influence the voice.  Let the work dictate the audience, never the other way around.  That's step one, anyway.  Steps 2-10, well, they come next. 

Just some notes.

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