Why “Aspiring to be Published” is a Dangerous Goal

Yesterday I read a Twitter profile that made me sad. It caught my eye, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Underneath the picture, this person wrote a brief introduction: where they live, what they do, that kind of stuff. Then they ended their profile with a sentence that made me sigh.

“I aspire to be a published author.”

I can see the expression on your face. I know what you’re thinking.

“That’s it? That’s the offending sentiment? It doesn’t take much to make you sad.”

And if you are thinking that, you are right (I nearly cried while watching “Ramona and Beezus” with the kids the other night). I was born with overactive tear ducts.

* * * * *

Why would such a worthwhile goal bring me heartache? Why would I, a writer, find it sad that someone would want to be a published author?

The first thing about that goal that makes me uncomfortable is how little control any individual has over becoming traditionally published. I know so many talented writers who have not landed a book deal (yet) or had a short story published in a journal (as of today). On the flipside, I have read many books and wondered how that person landed an agent and a publisher – not because their writing was terrible, but because it didn’t seem (to use one of Ramona’s favorite words) extraordinary.

Where does that invisible meridian lie? And how does one navigate across it?

I shy away from goals when the power to attain them seems overly dependent on luck or chance. If your sole goal in life revolves around receiving validation from unknown third parties, then I tend to think you could very well be in for some serious disappointment.

* * * * *

Then there’s the issue of attaining that goal – finally being published. My thoughts on the matter may not qualify – the two traditionally published books I’ve written were co-written projects, put into print based on the platforms of the people who hired me to write their book. But let me tell you how it felt to finally see our book in print.


Don’t get me wrong – I was thrilled to first hold the book. I was elated to walk into a Border’s and see my name on the cover. I felt a little giddy when friends would text me pictures of my book in a real live bookstore.

But those feelings were so fleeting, and they paled in comparison to the real joy – the days spent creating. The months of crafting and communicating and wrestling the words down.

I once read someone else write on a comment board, “If I can’t be traditionally published then I’ll assume my writing’s not good enough.”

I would hate for anyone to give up on writing at any point in their life just because they became frustrated with the process of publication. If your sole goal is “getting published,” and the journey there becomes longer than you had hoped, you might forget to enjoy the most important part:

The writing.

* * * * *

Obviously, setting a goal to be a published writer is not a pointless, worthless goal. If it’s one of a host of writing goals you have, then I think it’s a fine goal. But don’t let it define you or your writing. Don’t let the approval of agents or publishers keep you from creating.

What do you think? Is “getting published” a worthy goal? Is it your goal? One of your goals? What do you think about self-publishing?

23 Replies to “Why “Aspiring to be Published” is a Dangerous Goal”

  1. When I was in my early twenties it was my only goal, and it felt like the universe owed it to me. Now it is A goal, but not one I am counting on. I have learned, finally, to love the writing for itself. Which is not to say I don’t still feel a twinge of jealousy when someone else gets published or when I read a book that, as you said, is not extraordinary.

  2. This is a great post, and I feel that same pit in my stomach regarding the two comments you’d read. Giving up on writing or assuming work isn’t good enough seem like cop outs to me. Writing, in and of itself, must be the primary “goal” but I prefer to think of it as an activity.

    Sure, there is validation in the act of “getting published.” But really, all it means is that one other person deemed that work of some kind of value. I’d like to think the process and the words I yank out of me have value regardless of another’s assessment.

    Well done. I hope this generates some good discussion.

  3. Underwhelming. Why is it that the pain and striving to reach the goal (that might never come) is far more ‘overwhelming’ than the satisfaction of attaining the goal when it is actually reached? Makes you wonder if it’s even worth the effort. (sorry to be so negative).

    1. Thanks for your comment Shar – while what you said may initially seem negative, you’re actually making a good point: It’s only worth the effort if the effort is where you find your satisfaction. Many destinations are underwhelming – doesn’t mean the journey can’t make it worth your while.

    2. That’s the point I think. The effort is the best part. Oftentimes it’s the journey that is the best part rather than the destination. Embrace the ups and downs of the path rather than the concrete goal of the destination.

  4. Shawn, that’s a great point. I’m fortunate enough to be able to write for a living as an inbound marketing & communications specialist. But I find that my soul comes alive when I get to write for me. Whether it’s a haiku about the rain (which I did today for my Twitter feed), a blog post about losing my Grandma, or a project I’d love to see on the big screen but likely never will, writing truly is the best part. I’d love to someday have a published book (or 10!) but I know that I simply love the writing part.
    Well said & thanks for sharing!

    1. That’s exactly how I feel Dan. The one project I’m working on right now that I’m not getting paid for and has the least likelihood of getting published is the one thing I’m enjoying the most! It’s the creation and the experience and the hope that some day someone else will enjoy it that keep that project alive.

  5. Very good thoughts here! While I would like to someday be published, my goal is simply to write. The more I write, the more opportunities I’ve received to continue writing. So far these are unpaid opportunities and while I hope someday I’ll be paid for a piece or that I’ll have a novel published, I am happy to keep pressing on. I can’t NOT write but if I focus on tangible achievements, I freak out and my writing suffers for it.

  6. There are a lot of cases where talent = recognition. But I am increasingly believing that things like getting published or landing a record deal and all that is about who you know.

    I am nowhere near the level of a professional musician but I have been places where there were pros and was pretty sure I could have done it better. I just didn’t have the connection.

    But I do think you are right. The creation process itself is very rewarding and adventurous.

  7. Somehow I think we’ve come to equate “being a writer” with “being published.” We (i.e. writers) do that to ourselves, and it’s an expectations that’s laid upon us. I’m with you on fighting this one, Shawn. We need to write – that’s why we do this – not for the publication.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Had some initial successes last fall that lead me to believe this blogging thing is a whole lot easier than it actually is. The letdown was swift and sudden, and in the subsequent sullenness I became quite the Internet douche. Have taken some lumps since then, and hopefully have learned from them.

    Still don’t think I’m quite getting the amount of comments I should, but who really does? Besides, it’s not about the comments, but rather the work. The creating of something that wasn’t there before. For me, the journey is the destination.

  9. well played, sir.

    i write crap. sometimes people like it. sometimes people even pay me for it.

    but at the end of the day, i have to feel like i accomplished something. if that only amounts to being proud of it myself, so be it.

  10. I completely let go any goal or thought of publishing in the future while I worked at a bookstore and learned more about the arbitrariness of how books get from agent to publisher to shelf. I defined myself as a writer in the complete absence of publication as a goal. Now I’m a few years past that, thinking I might one day publish fiction, but I feel very differently toward it, in a way that I think is more healthful.

    1. I think I went through that same process, Renee. The more I learned about the publishing process, the less fantastical it seemed. Don’t get me wrong, still want to be published, but I’m realizing more and more what my true desires and motivations are.

  11. I think you are right on … placing your expectations on something that is out of your control is a sure way to be disappointed.

    But I want it all … to write creatively while not being affected by anyone, but then I also want to be ‘found’ given a deal and make mega bucks. Can’t I have that … now!?

    Actually my definition of getting published has changed … it used to mean getting an agent and a book deal … but times have changed. Now there’s so many new options … self/hybrid/e-books/etc. It’s a new publishing world and we can either look at the glass half-full or half-empty. Self-publishing, which used to be considered a last resort … is now creating many opportunities.

    So write on! And explore various publishing options.

  12. What a great reminder. It’s funny because I always thought that once I had something published, I would have no more qualms about calling myself a writer or anything like that, but even when a piece I wrote was included in a real, live with-an-ISBN-and-everything book, it still didn’t feel like “enough.” Which says to me that if that’s my goal, it will always fail. So instead, I hope to continue to love to write and I hope that wherever I write, it reaches a few people. Because when I get comments or emails that say that something I wrote moved or encouraged someone, THAT feels more “enough” to me.

  13. Great post and an important reminder of why we write: for the writing, damn it, and not to be published! It’s just icing on the cake…right?

    Trouble is, one does want to be published because it justifies everything, all that effort, the hours of writing alone in the middle of the night, of getting a back ache and sore eyes…

    And now the publishing game has changed: there are two options as we all know. Go the traditional route: get an agent and (eventually) land a contract with a legacy publisher (a long, long route: can take 4 years to get a book published). Or go the self-publishing route on Kindle Direct or whatever. A much faster route, but full of pitfalls (check your ms for editing/proofreading, get a good cover, make sure the text is correctly converted for ebooks etc – all of which costs!)

    Which route is better? Personally, after a lot of agonizing over it, I’ve decided to hedge my bets and go down both: I’m still looking for an agent but I’m self-pub in e-book form a romance I published here in Italy (in Italian too!) some years ago and have re-written in English for the American YA market (and that required a LOT of re-writing!)

    What is your take on this? Is the road to publication going through self-publishing in this digital age, withe the likes of Amanda Hocking beckoning on the horizon?

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