The Slow Burn

Going from “aspiring writer” to “published author” can be a bit of a crawl.

I was trying to work out who to attribute that old quote (paraphrased) “It took me ten years to be an overnight success”. I couldn’t do it; seems like someone new parrots the same damn pearl of wisdom every time there’s a TV interview. Let’s just say it was the Macdonalds guy, Ray Kroc, and move on.

The point I’m straying away from is that traditional publishing is a bit slow. I will illustrate “a bit slow” here with a picture:

This is a glacier. Get it?

Even once an author has revised and polished their novel, following the traditional route typically means: querying literary agents until one agrees to represent the author; more rounds of edits and polishes (probably at least a few); submissions to publishers; very likely several rounds of rejections, hopefully followed by an acceptance; more edits, including copy edits and proof reading; and then somewhere along the line being slotted into a production and marketing schedule that starts at months and may stretch to more than a year.

It can happen quicker than that, but it usually doesn’t.

Now, I’m not a novelist (yet), so my personal interactions with the publishing industry extend to trying to place short fiction with small press publishers and online operations. You would expect the process of producing an anthology or a regular magazine would be quicker than putting together a novel, and for the most part you’d be right.

That doesn’t necessarily make it quick though. The elapsed time from receiving the email telling you a work has been accepted to seeing your name in the byline could in theory be days, but – let me just surprise you with this – it probably won’t be days.

What got me thinking about this was a piece I successfully submitted (after more than a dozen rejections) about three and a half years ago. I expect that piece to finally see print this year sometime.

Now to be crystal clear, this is not a complaint. While the delay has been frustrating at times, I’m very happy that the story, which was one of the first I finished after deciding to take writing seriously, will see the light of day in its own time. At any point I could have decided to pull the story and submit it elsewhere, so even if I resented the delay, I wouldn’t have any grounds to whinge about it.

And it’s not the only one. Other stories of mine have been in various production pipelines for six months, fourteen months, even a couple of years. Still others have shown up in print six weeks after the date of acceptance.

The point is – it takes time. There’s no sense if getting discouraged about it. It’s just the way of things. Even the comparative agility of the short story market can look at times like an ocean liner coming about to pick up a passenger overboard. It may well get there eventually, though the chap from steerage class floundering in the icy Atlantic might not be in the same position to appreciate his deliverance when it arrives.

Before anyone mentions it in comments, this isn’t about bagging out trad publishing in favour of the self-published alternative. I have plenty of thoughts on that, but I’ll save them. For myself I’ve made the decision to sell my short fiction to existing publishing markets rather than try to flog them myself. While I think my reasons for doing so are sound, the time factor is one cost of that choice.

It’s not too bad though. If I’m going to be an overnight success, at least I’m still inside the ten-year window.

One day all of the stories hinted at in this post will be available to read.
You can hear about them first by signing up to my newsletter here:

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