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A Disease that Kills Writers

When my mother was in the hospital for stroke caused by chemo-induced diabetes, the nurses explained to me that she would not live long. I was stunned. Her cancer doctor had felt she had a long time yet, the diabetes had been handled, and she was recovering. They explained that since she was terminal anyway, they’d thought she would not want to be treated for the disease that was silently killing her: constipation. I was stunned and demanded that she be treated. She recovered, and thanked me for the extra year she gained, even though that was a hard year.

A much respected colleague, Barbara Rogan, wrote a blog post on the disease of Premature Submission, something that I agree will embarrass a writer. I respect Barbara and hope she will forgive me for taking exception with her very intelligent post. I usually keep my disagreement to myself.

Don’t misunderstand me. Barbara is right. Premature Submission is embarrassing. But constipation will kill you.

Barbara is living and thriving in the traditional publishing world. I wish her and others in the same world much success. But self-publishing is not the scourge it once was. Her final point that self-publishing is something to be embarrassed about is incorrect. There are more posts than I can list here of traditionally published novelists switching to indie publishing. I’ll include one. Mid-list authors are coming out in droves explaining why traditional publishing has been a trial and why self-publishing is giving them a chance to make a living.

There is a hidden malady that no one talks about: the good writers, the VERY good writers, who struggle for years to get their work published. I have a number of friends in this category, and have had many more in the past — writers who died with their work unpublished, not because they weren’t good, not because they weren’t ready to submit, but because their writing didn’t “fit” into the modern image of what “sells.” When a writer dies unpublished, we don’t just lose the writer, we lose the change to experience all of their stories, know their characters. When a writer dies, we lose a neighborhood of experiences.

I interact with a number of writers in various stages of their careers on a daily basis. I’m not an expert like Barbara, I’m just a person whose gift is to listen to people’s stories. And what I hear makes me ill. I also read and comment on a number of writers’ work. “Is this ready?” is such a common question. I do not always say, “Yes.” I’ve been told I’m pretty harsh, because being honest with critique does prevent the very real PS syndrome that Barbara talks about.

But there is another classification of story that I have read — beautiful novels that are done, but haven’t been sold. These writers are going to agents who are suggesting sweeping re-writes to what is already a beautiful novel. Those re-writes take years, and then the agent says, “No. Do it again, do it this way.” What this does to a writer is to kill their creativity, leaving them feeling unworthy and unpublishable. The little critic inside all of us jumps on the opportunity to say, “See? You are no good. You will never be published.”

A professional novelist is going to need to turn out a book every year, if not more. Obviously, if you can’t get your book done in 10 or 20 years, then you’re never going to be a “professional” writer — right?


I had an enlightening talk with an agent that changed my life. She’d read my manuscript — two of them, actually, and she was sad. “There’s nothing wrong with this. I just can’t sell it.” I thought maybe she was being nice, so I continued to query. The responses I got from other agents were variants of the same. I spent years trying to fit that mold.

Our modern world offers writers another path to publication, and it is not as sub-standard as people in the traditional industry would like us to believe.

When I work with writers, I read not only their current work, but their ideas for other novels. Some of those novels are ones I dearly want to read, and I know that there are some that will never be written, because the author has chosen “traditional publishing” as the only way to prove their worth.

Indie or Self-publishing is seen as the end of a career, not the beginning — and that is simply not true. As an example, I’m going to challenge folks to read The Book of Deacon, if you like fantasy, or Bypass Gemini for the science fiction lovers. Then read my interview with Joseph Lallo.

Joseph is very open about how his talent has developed after he published. He has polished his books — after they were published. Because you see, premature publication is not the end of a career. It may be the end of writing constipation, however.

Look at how prolific of a writer he is! I have devoured every book and am now clambering for more, as are his other fans. If he had gone the traditional route, we might never have seen any of these characters or gotten to experience these delightful adventures. His books are delightful reads with much laughter, exactly what the doctor ordered during stressful times.

I have a number of friends who are dying of writing constipation, and many others who say, “I could never be good enough to be published.” and I’m sick of watching this! Writers are prone to depression, and depression will literally kill.

It wasn’t the nurses’ right to decide when my mother died. It isn’t the traditional publishing industry’s right to kill the careers of the fabulous authors I know, just because they write epic fantasy or sex-free galaxy sweeping science fiction, or other non-mainstream fiction.

Yes, Premature Submission is a curse that writers must deal with and must consider.

But constipation will kill.


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