What Does Publishing Do?
I grew up with stories; when I learned to read I consumed as many stories as I could. Somewhere along the way I wanted to tell my own stories and write them down. Somehow that goal was never quite true, for I also wanted my stories to be complete, and somewhere I got it in my head that a story is not complete unless it has been published. I am beginning to question that: what does publishing do?
I used to think that publishers were a sort of filter but I have books on my shelf that flagrantly violate the rules of grammar and I’m utterly shocked; I was taught that we should use complete sentences, and every sentence must have a verb. Some authors and publishers disagree. So this cannot be true: bad books get published.
I have also caught myself thinking that publishing in some way validates a man or woman as an author. Put another way, you aren’t a “real” author until you are published. Does publishing validate the writer as an author? Am I something less if I never sell a book to a publisher? Does self-publishing not count? Does self-publishing only count if I function as both a publisher and as an author, and publish authors other than myself? And if publishing does validate, does a small-press count, and if so, how small can I get away with? Here’s a good one: do you have to publish to paper, or can you publish electronically?
Some time ago I concluded that being published means only one thing: your particular story is marketable. If a story is published that means that some person (or persons) believed they would be able to sell the story for a profit. It does not guarantee a fan base, although it probably does guarantee that a few people will at least read your manuscript.
As someone who would love to call himself an author I really only care about one thing: I want an audience. I’ve given up on the idea that I’ll ever make a living at writing. I have a day job, and that is consistent with all the writing advice I’ve ever heard. So if I only care about having people read my writing I’m seriously wondering why I still have this pipe-dream to one day be a published author, although I now no longer know what that means, nor what it would mean.
What does it mean to be published, and what does publishing do?