Last night, my bookstore’s writing group had the good fortune to hear from Patrick Dobson, author of Seldom Seen, a highly touted first book—a travel memoir of his walking from Kansas City to Helena, Montana in 1995. This Nebraska University Press title which has become a Midwestern Booksellers Pick has been getting very good reviews from Kirkus and others. Patrick is one more overnight success. Yeah—right—overnight.
He regaled us with how it took him 14 years to see his book in print. This is a phenomena often seen in literary and music circles when someone unknown suddenly hits the charts. In Patrick’s case now at age 41, he had left a stultifying job to perform his two and a half month walk back in 1995. Seldom Seen is the first of two books describing the events and people he met along his way.
Patrick has done a lot of signings and book chats throughout the Midwest. He observed the many self-published writers he’s met during his marketing efforts and how sad it is to see them feeling crushed because their works are not being accepted. The problem , he said, was not because they were self-published, but because they expected to throw some words on pages without getting professional help. They had not really worked on the writing process. Patrick had been a journalist for five years. He had degrees in English and literature. He is just finishing up work on a doctorate in ecological history. He’s also a working member of the ironworkers’ Union with lots of real world experience. Despite all that education and experience, the publishing process with a university press took four years of peer reviews and rewrites.
How can a writing wannabe hope to have a credible work without this kind of background and assistance? The usual success by celebrities writing their books is generally not due to their writing abilities, but to their ghost writers’. The normal success is due from hard work on the part of the writer, whoever that may be. One cannot expect instant fame and fortune without paying one’s dues to the goddess of muse. It took me twelve years to get published. To expect instant success for writing a book is just not realistic without getting some assistance along the way. This is why folks like me exist—folks who have paid the price in experience who can help others along the way by providing editing, designing, and coaching services. Very few people get rich from writing. The probabilities are heavily weighted against the new writer. Heck, they’re heavily weighted against highly experienced writers.
If you are writing to gain fame and fortune but aren’t willing to put in the work required for a credible work, you need to rethink your writing scenario. I say the best reason to write is for the love of communicating and writing. The work and the journey is what makes the writing process worth it.