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Prioleau Alexander: The Ugly Truth About ‘Being Published’

Seeking recognition in a world where attention is scarce and validation elusive …

Pursuing writing as your passion is a very odd thing. This is because all artists want their creations to be seen by the public, and hopefully enjoyed by the public.

A musician can practice for a few years, get decent, and perform … even if it’s on a street corner, busking for some beer money. They might join a band, and even if it’s not very successful, they get to play some gigs and show off their work. And who knows? Jewel got discovered playing in coffee shops – then went on to make more than $100 million dollars. 

Being a visual artist is a bit tougher, because painting, sculpture, pottery, et al. are vastly more subjective, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder … but even the world’s worst painter can carry their creation to an event, and people will look at it.

They will look at it, because that’s all they have to do. In a few seconds — maybe a full minute — the viewer can decide if they like the painting, then buy or move on. They do, however, at the very least see the work.

Someone practicing the art of writing — especially book-length writing — produces one of the ugliest things known to mankind: A manuscript

A manuscript is not only ugly by nature, it’s scary. What if the writer wants you to actually read it? It’s unvetted, which ultimately means no one has said, “This is good, and worth twelve hours of your time.” Even a writer’s mom doesn’t want to read a manuscript.

Why?

Let’s compare it to the other art forms:

Musician: Hey, Mom — I’ve been practicing the guitar for a couple years, and I think I’m getting pretty good. Can I stop by and play a couple songs?

Painter: Hey, Mom — I’ve really been working on my painting for the past few years, and a lot of friends tell me it’s good. Can I stop by and show you a few pieces I’ve done?

Writer: Hey, Mom — It took three years, but I just finished my first novel. Exactly no one has said it’s good, but I’d like to drop it by and get you to invest two hours a night for ten days reading it. Then I’m going to come back by and ask what you thought — and no matter what you say, I’m going to follow up with questions about A, B, C, D, and E, so I’ll know exactly how much your read, and how much attention you paid while you were reading it. 

You can listen to a musician for two minutes and judge their work. A painter or sculptor takes just seconds. A writer? Yeah …

Hell, I’m a writer and I won’t read other writer’s manuscripts.

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Another painfully funny thing about being an aspiring writer is the reaction it causes … every … single … time.

Again, let’s compare it to music:

Friend: Hey! What have you been up to? I haven’t seen you out an about in a long time.

Pianist: Well, for the last year I’ve been spending my evenings focused entirely on practicing Handel’s Messiah.

What friend says: Awesome! When can I hear your play it???

What friend doesn’t say: You know, I’ve been meaning to learn to play the piano then perfect Beethoven’s 5th, but I just haven’t found the time.

Friend: Hey! What have you been up to? I haven’t seen you out an about in a long time.

Writer: The last year I’ve been spending my evenings focused entirely on finishing my first book.

What the friend doesn’t say: Awesome! Can I read it???

What the friend does say: You know, I’ve been meaning to write a book, but I just haven’t found the time.

It’s actually quite understandable … painful, but understandable. After all, there’s no barrier to entry for writing. Except for graduates of the University of Alabama, everyone can write, no? You write and answer emails, yes?

Jim—we ned too lean into thiss… skate where the puck will be… marketing told me irregardless of the facts, slaes need to go up 10 percent for bonus to hit. Boss sez we can count on $$$, but who noses—lol. Beware typose: Sent via mobile phone.

I mean, crap — these days, you just spell-correct that, and the recipient thinks its Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides.

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Even your spouse doesn’t want to read your manuscript. And if they do, you aren’t getting honest feedback. 

Wife-Writer: Hey, Hon—what did you think of my book, Romance Under the Palmettos?

Husband (reflecting on the Thor 4 thermal night vision scope he wants):  Yes! I wouldn’t change a word … I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats.

Husband-Writer: Okay! It’s time! What did you think of The Art of Death: A Colt McBadass Novel?

Wife (reflecting on the kitchen that “needs” renovating): I don’t normally like books where there’s a gruesome violence on every single page, but … I think you’ve written a winner! 

As a result, a writer aspiring to do more than self-publish and be read by friends and family needs to get published

“In a bookstore” type published.

This entails getting an agent to represent you, which is akin to meeting Selma Hayek, and her saying YES when you open with, “Hey… what say you dump billionaire boy, and let’s go grab a sixer of hard seltzer?” 

If you do get an agent — after a year of being rejected 50+ times — said agent must then pitch the book to publishers … and here’s where the Lord has to get personally involved. This is because the agent’s contact at the publishing house is busy, and will turf the thing to a “a manuscript reader.”

So … your manuscript entitled Endless Love lands on the manuscript reader’s desk … the day after her fiancé jilted her at the altar. 

What chance have you got? 

Now consider the luck of a writer who landed in front of that same lady the same day, but their book is entitled Men Are Pigs: A Jilted Bride’s Guide to Revenge.

In the pursuit of getting published, 99 percent of unpublished writers bleed their hearts onto the keyboard without even pondering this big fact: The publishing industry is, in fact, an industry. “Industry,” by the way, is a word used to describe “big business.”

Here’s a list of reasons big businesses exist:

  1. To make money

That’s it. 

The CEO of Penguin Random House would be just as happy being the CEO of a ball-bearing manufacturer if the money was the same. 

As a result, here’s a list of reasons the publishing industry doesn’t exist:

  1. To discover and groom new talent.
  2. To explore new ideas.
  3. To unearth unique voices.

Here’s what they do want:

  1. Bestselling authors to type faster.
  2. Celebrities to die so they can publish a biography without paying royalties.
  3. Oprah to smile for the cover of a cookbook she’s never seen.
  4. Political radio and TV personalities with millions of followers to hire ghostwriters, and “miraculously” pump out four books a year despite already having a radio and TV show, while supposedly handling a podcast, X account, Instagram account, and YouTube Channel.

If you’re not a writer, this is no surprise. 

If you are a writer, the last few paragraphs are on par with a seven-year-old hearing, “What are you? Stupid? There’s no Santa Claus.”

Rest assured, I’m not being critical of my fellow writers — I had no clue about the business side of publishing until life threw me face-first into the soul chipper called “being published.”

What’s the whole story? What’s life like behind the curtain of “Being Published” that no one ever talks about?

I know — In fact, I wrote a book about it. I’m happy to say the reviews are exceptional, even among people too smart to become writers.

I think you’ll like it. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Prioleau Alexander is a freelance writer, focusing mostly on politics and non-fiction humor. He is the author of four books: ‘You Want Fries With That?,’ ‘Dispatches Along the Way,’ ‘Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?‘ and ‘They Don’t Call It The Submission Process For Nothing.’ 

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3 comments

Ralph Hightower Top fan February 10, 2024 at 12:21 am

Robert Pirsig received 121 rejections of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance before the manuscript accepted and it became a bestseller.

Reply
MaryContrary Top fan February 10, 2024 at 11:00 am

I actually enjoyed this article! I am a big reader and if I loose interest, I will give it a second attempt before kicking it to the curb. That being said, if it is a local author I will just plow through until the end!

Reply
E Prioleau Alexander Author February 10, 2024 at 4:59 pm

Mary Contrary,
You are awesome. One of the things I write about is even us small-time authors are guilty of it. Instead of seeking to discover new voices, we go in and buy our favorites– Mine being Christoper Moore, and writers like him.
It’s MY DUTY to give new writers a shot!

Reply

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