The Publishing Workshop I Never Gave

by Ed Davis on May 3, 2017

(*Plus Rita Coleman’s new poetry book!)

 I was never quite comfortable with the idea of presenting a workshop on how to publish fiction. So when the workshop that my friend Joe Downing and I were scheduled to present last February was canceled due to lack of enrollment, I was more glad than not. Since then, I’ve thought of several reasons why not to “teach” folks how to publish fiction.

  1. Writing itself is so much more important, and time spent thinking about publishing can so distract from the pleasure of the real task.
  2. The path to publication is so individual, it can’t really be “methodized.”
  3. Should you publish? Many if not most writers haven’t asked themselves this most basic question, much less what their goals are beyond the dubious ones of fame and fortune.
  4. Publishing is so genre-centered that a general discussion—or one focused outside your genre—can actually do harm. What’s true of the literary fiction I write is not necessarily true of mysteries, romances or fantasy.
  5. Such a conversation can get very technical very fast: query letter, synopsis, outline, platform. Any one of these issues could fill hours.
  6. Publishing is a business—and in the case of commercial fiction—big. But the vast majority of writers will never make much money. Thus, do we really want to spend precious workshop time talking about business instead of the craft (and pleasures) of writing?
  7. Publishing information is widely available online for free. The hard part isn’t finding it but applying it to the writer’s very specific needs and requirements. Writers Digest annually ranks the best websites on writing/publishing. I really like Jane Friedman’s blog.
  8. The digital revolution has made it nearly impossible not to publish, if you’re willing to expend time and money. Potentially, it could take plenty of each.
  9. Publishing is fairly meaningless without marketing, an extremely difficult, time-consuming, possibly costly and often unpleasant activity many writers find distasteful if not loathsome. Publishing is the beginning rather than the end of connecting your words to readers.
  10. Finally, I don’t know how to get a novel published, only the way mine were published: I Was So Much Older Then by a NY agent who, disgruntled by books being published by traditional publishers, founded her own small press; The Measure of Everything by a Texas feminist’s small activist press; and The Psalms of Israel Jones by the fiction imprint of a university press. If I described my path to publication, you’d probably find it not very useful: conferences, friends in the biz and being in the right place at the right time. Almost assuredly, my path will not be yours.

Almost The Last Word

There’s my Publishing Workshop—for free. I hope you don’t find it depressing but simply realistic.  Every day I feel the enormous satisfaction of finally realizing publication is not the main reason I write (it took me decades). I write mainly to explore myself for myself in the hope of discovering something of possible use to you as well. Maybe writing for myself is not just the best reason; maybe it’s the only reason to write.

Should the above discourage you from writing what you need and want to write? Absolutely not. Should it make you think twice about trying to publish a book for which you hope to find more than a handful of readers? I hope so. Life is short and art is long; these days I spend a lot more time making art than selling it.

P.S.–More Publishing & Marketing

Speaking of publishing, my good friend Rita Coleman has her second book of poetry And Yet forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Having read and admired her first book Mystic Connections, I know Rita’s work to be breathtaking, often mystical, substantive, humorous and grounded in the concrete world. You can pre-order her book for $14.95 plus $2 shipping at Here’s a mini-review:

Rita Coleman senses “the wild rumble of sky/ and earth before it rattles the bones of the living.” She sees human beings as “tribes of stars . . . in the blue knowing.” She challenges the mythical Narcissus to find “mirrored passion . . . rather than the shallow reflection of his face in a pond.”  Her spare and surprising lines bring sunshine into the depth of our existence.

–David Lee Garrison, Author of Playing Bach in the DC Metro

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Susan S. Carpenter September 13, 2017 at 5:02 pm

Thanks for this, Ed. I’m keeping it.


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