Why Do We Publish?


A major "character" in Mark Salzman's first autobiography is hisfather. Sometimes his father paints. But his father hatespainting. He likes it when his painting is done. He likes havingpainted. But the act of painting itself is, in his opinion, abig pain in the backside.

Nobody reading this approaches writing like that, do they? I knowI don't. Of all my experiences as an author, whacking those wordsdown onto the paper is the best of the best. Always has been,always will be. Even though I cut most of them. I like creating.

I've quoted Hemingway before. Long periods of thinking, shortperiods of writing. These days, my thinking takes longer and myperiods of writing are getting less frequent, but both stillhappen, and I still love creating something from nothing.

If it weren't for me, you would never read the words you'rereading right now. Nobody else would ever write them. And theycontain my thoughts. Through time and space, better thantelepathy, you hear what I'm saying.

So, there's one reason to write, isn't it? The biggie, if youask me. I write what I do because I can't NOT write it. I may beclarifying my thoughts in my own head. But, most certainly, I'mjust so moved by those thoughts that I must put them on paper.They're in me and they have to get out, kinda like those crittersin the ALIEN movies.

Is this the only reason to write? Because I want to zap my thoughts into your heads? I don't know. But let me change thequestion. Is this a reason to publish? Why not write your booksand stick them in a filing cabinet like Sean Connery did in thefilm FINDING FORRESTER? Write it, express it, file it away. Whypublish it?

(It's okay if you haven't seen this obscure little gem. I willexplain all.)

In fact, there are writers who do exactly that. Some fearrejection or criticism. We hear about them whenever we pop into awriting workshop. But, I don't think there are very many of them.I have trouble picturing someone who can spend months (years?) doing something as essentially egotistical as writing a novel,but who is fundamentally lacking in any sort of self-confidence.Naw, they're thinking posterity but lack the stones to admit it.

At times I've got an inferiority complex I wouldn't dream ofwhacking onto your shoulders, but it was absent when I wrote mybooks. During the act of writing itself, you think, "My words arebetter than your words." You do. You feel that you must recordyour thoughts because they're that much better than most. That'swhat writing is. So, I would say that by definition the authorisn't ALWAYS plagued by self-doubt.

In FINDING FORRESTER, the Sean Connery character won the Pulitzerwith his first book, saw that every reviewer misunderstood him,and decided they could all get stuffed. This is a movie, a work offiction, but I understand the attitude. I once wrote a true story,where the main character was Michael LaRocca, only to have acritic slam the main character as "unbelievable." Apparently Idon't act like real people.

I could never shove all my writing in a filing cabinet, unpub-lished, and tell the establishment to get stuffed. But yep,there are stupid people in the world, and some of them reviewbooks.

So, we've identified two groups who won't be seeking publication.Hopelessly insecure and hopelessly arrogant. But, like Aristotle,I prefer moderation. You still may be wondering why I seek publi-cation. So do I. Let my exploration of this question continue.

I've hit best-seller status for two different e-publishers withthree different books. Minor thrills at the time, but there's noway I could call them enough of a reward for what I put intowriting.

You're an author. You know what I'm talking about. We all butkill ourselves to make our books. So, let's be blunt here.Unless you're going to throw Rowling/King/Clancy/Grisham moneyat me -- and you're NOT -- money isn't sufficient reason topublish.

Publishing isn't just a case of sending it to a publisher,signing a contract, and being done.

Next up is editing, which is a blast. Not at the time, perhaps.Any editor worth a damn will beat you over the head with everybad word choice you ever made. And you made hundreds! But at theend of that gauntlet, you know you are da bomb.

Seeing my cover art is almost always awesome. Yes, I did say"almost." One bad experience among seven. It happens. But, ifyou've worked with a publisher, you know what I mean. You logonto the Internet one morning, not fully conscious, amazed thatyou poured that first cup of coffee without burning off yournaughty bits. You pop open an email and see cover art that almostmakes your head explode. You get this big rush, thinking,"Someone understands my writing!" What you don't realize, naivelittle author, is that some artists don't even read the booksthey do the art for. But still. The art rocks your world. Feelthat. I always enjoy clicking those email attachments and seeingMY book covers.

But, then comes marketing. Biggest pain in the... Well, let's justsay it makes me want to not publish sometimes. So, why publish?

I've entered the EPPIES three times, and been a finalist threetimes. The second time one of my books was an EPPIE finalist, Imade some wisecrack in an author's egroup about how "finalist" isa synonym for "loser" and was raked over the coals.


(Maybe I annoyed entrants who weren't finalists. I'd alwayswondered if they existed...)

So, let's say I'm not publishing for money or awards. They singa siren song to new authors which this jaded old bastard quithearing long ago. I got all that out of my system in the previousmillenium. So, why do I still publish? What are my rewards? Letme mention a few.

A psychologist turned English teacher formed a women's readinggroup at the university where we once worked together in China.Her concept was women readers, women writers. But the first bookthe group ever discussed was my very own RISING FROM THE ASHES,which is about Mom. My only foray into "women's literature." Icouldn't attend the reading group, since I'm a guy, but my wifewas there. What I learned about my book is priceless, as isknowing what those young students discussed because of my writing.Issues of such depth that I'd be proud to inspire any student, inany country, in any language, to tackle them.

I used to work on North Carolina hog farms. I enjoyed the companyof some damn fine people at every one of them. Hog farming is hardwork. This isn't the backyard family farm, folks, this is 13people with 98 boars, 3500 sows, and all the babies they can make.One of my toughest coworkers was a lesbian who could break Xena inhalf, and my one foray into writing horror gave her nightmares.

I don't consider myself a poet, and I believe most of the readingworld agrees with me. But, I have published 6 poems. There is onethat a hog farm coworker insists will be read at his funeral.Don't ask me why he was planning his funeral during our lunchbreak because I have no idea. But, well, I guess I'm invited, ina manner of speaking.

Master Pizza, 30th Street, Tampa, Florida. A bunch of drunkenItalian relatives reading one of my less-than-serious poems ALOUDbetween pitchers of beer. It was like a Joe Dolce moment.

I was working as a security guard in a particularly unpleasantplace. This was 20 years ago, I think. A fellow guard read one ofmy short stories. It is, by far, the most allegorical thing I'veever written. I can't tell you how many times I've thought aboutthrowing it out. But then, I remember Bob's words. "This is me.This is my life." Me too, old pal, and I don't care if you and Iare the only two readers to have any idea what I'm talking about.{Scapegoat Bob!}

I've written some pretty heady volumes, but I've also writtenquite a few short works. I've heard from numerous students herein China that, "This is the first book in English I've everfinished reading." When I write, I certainly never set out tohelp anyone learn English. (Some of my editors may claim I neverlearned the language.) And, students will LIE to teachers. ButI've decided that at least one was telling the truth.

When I left the US, I embarked on several journeys. Learning tolive in China. Learning to love again. Taking another shot at thewriter dream. And, eventually, teaching. After all that, I triedmy hand at writing humor for the first time. Every time I hear mywife laugh at something I've written, I file it away as a reasonto keep writing.

I've written one play in my life. I was young, and quite hooked onthe album (pre-CD days) JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. So, you guessedit, I tackled JC. I wrote something that nobody can read withouthaving a powerful reaction. Readers love it or they hate it. I'mproud of that. And hey, it's only one act long. I have a shortattention span.

I loaned Clint "Two Dawgs" Hill my very first book. My cousin. Hetook it to Durham (North Carolina) and loaned it to a bunch ofhippie buddies. He asked for another, because the first one fellapart from overuse. That's why we publish. People all but fightingfor the chance to read my words. And heck, the book wasn't evengood yet. It's 20 years older now.

I mention all this for the jaded old bastards who have a fewnovels and bit of minor success under their belts. Nobody else isreading this anymore, are they?

So, maybe this is why we don't just stop when the book is written,stick it in a drawer, and uncork the champagne. Although I do hopeyou uncorked the champagne. This planet contains far too manypeople who "want to be authors" but who haven't written a book.Never have, never will. Meanwhile, you and I are sitting hereknowing we had no choice. We had to write.

Why publish? Heck, why not?

Copyright 2004, Michael LaRocca

Michael LaRocca's website at http://www.chinarice.org waschosen by WRITER'S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best WebsitesFor Writers in 2001 and 2002. His response was to throw itout and start over again because he's insane. He teachesEnglish at a university in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province,China, and publishes the free weekly newsletter WHO MOVEDMY RICE?

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