In the conclusion of a two-part series, Chip MacGregor provides more answers to this question.
I know of no other craft that promotes beginners before they are ready. Surely a young pianist doesn’t take a couple lessons and rent a concert hall to present Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” A first-year ballet student doesn’t expect to dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. An artist cannot expect to move directly from paint-by-numbers to creating fine portraits.
Yet I often meet beginning writers who are hell-bent on publishing “something.” They often have no clue of their motivation or message (though they can dress it up with God-talk and make it sound like “a calling”). What they really want is to be noticed — to have be able to show someone “I did a book.” So my advice to beginning writers is to study the craft of writing by reading and listening to those who already know it, in order to become more like them.
Now, having said that I realize there are those in the industry (including a couple editorial friends) who disagree with me. They think “market” is more important than “craft.” In other words, “Don’t focus on becoming a good writer — focus on creating a salable book.” I understand that thinking, but I don’t agree with it.
Right now ANYBODY can get ANYTHING published. Go to Amazon.com, and you can find a way to get anything (your company reports, your school papers, your nutcase political screeds) into print. Lulu and PublishAmerica and Author Solutions will print anything you send them. We’ve made “becoming an author” into the easiest, most-accessible form of “art.” You may not be able to paint well enough to sell a still life, or sing well enough to have a CD in Wal-Mart, or dance well enough to get cast in a show… but you CAN become an author!
Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not really legitimate. One of the things that real publishing professionals provide is a filter. There is training and evaluation involved as agents figure out who can write, and editors determine what is valuable, and publishers produce books that offer something of merit. So part of the role of those of us who work in the industry is to strive toward some sort of quality. As I always say, if I were in this strictly for the money, I’d do porn. (It’s cheap, it’s easy, and there’s a huge market for it.) But I can’t make myself go there, Carla, since I still think part of my job is to help writers become better, and to help publishes sell good books.
So what’s the motivation? In writing it’s probably to tell a story, I suppose. We write to inform, to entertain, to expose, to convince, to enlighten — there are a ton of motivations. But from a personal perspective, I think every good writer wants to be a great writer.
This post first appeared August 11, 2010 on Chip MacGregor’s blog. Used by kind permission. Chip MacGregor created MacGregor Literary and has secured more than 1,000 book deals for authors with all of the major publishers in both CBA and ABA. Chip has written more than two-dozen titles, including two books that hit #1 on the bestseller lists in their category. During his tenure as a publisher at Time Warner, he helped the company grow into one of the world’s biggest providers of Christian books to the general market.