The Laws of Thermodynamics

Last year one of the Fourth Street seminar participants approached me after the seminar. They had a lot on their mind and were feeling pretty strongly, though, I hasten to add, they didn’t seem angry with me or to blame me. The general gist seemed to be: I have had a lot of short stories published, so things are easy for me; this person is completely unpublished and has also struggled with issues in their job, their romantic life, and their health, and they were just not up for submitting themselves to more rejection; and therefore, they told me, they were going to self-publish, because that way they would dodge the possibility of rejection.

And that was where they lost me.

There are good reasons to self-publish, and there are good reasons to seek a traditional publisher. There are good reasons to make one’s career a hybrid of the two.

But if you are really, truly not able to deal with rejection, none of those three possible paths will work for that.

I’m sorry. I don’t mean this to be discouraging, which is why I didn’t blurt it out to the person from the seminar. Publishing can be awesome in whatever form, and the feeling of your work connecting with someone you don’t know, some stranger whose only connection is that you wrote a thing and they read it–that’s amazing.

But self-publishing moves the rejection from editor, agent, or publisher, to readers. Very directly to readers, since the self-published author really needs word of mouth and reviews. There will be thousands or millions of people who can reject your work instead of just dozens.

I don’t want to be dismissive or uncompassionate here–quite the opposite. Some people are going through such a stack of stuff at a given time that one more rejection is legitimately just too much, and that’s a thing to respect, a thing to know about oneself. I just…would really like for people who are in that situation not to go into a particular form of publishing thinking that it is the emotionally safe way to share their work with the world. There is no emotionally safe way to share meaningful art with the world. It all involves at least a small emotional risk.

Things that you create can sometimes wait. If you’re in a particular kind of really horrible place in your life, it’s okay to make awesome things and keep them to yourself for awhile. I’m not saying that’s the situation universally, or for you in particular. I’m just saying that self-care is all right and is sometimes part of making this whole thing work in the longer-term.

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