The wrong question

I recently started working on a book of my thoughts on the writing process and living a writing life, from my perspective as a “part-time poet” who happens to write a lot of different kinds of things on a near-daily basis. The excerpt below is from a chapter on writing to be read, and it came out of a couple conversations with authors I know well (one being my husband) who often get asked what I refer to below as “the wrong question.” I’d love to know what you think about all of this. Please respond in the comments.


At some point along the line, every published author is asked the inevitable question: How do I get published? This most often means, “How do I get a book published by a traditional publisher?” The query is often accompanied by a deep look of hunger in the eyes and a request for said published author to read a draft manuscript by interrogator or to make a referral to an acquisitions editor.

Don’t be that guy. At least, don’t be that guy right out of the gate.

I get it. I’ve been there on both sides of the question. I’ve been that guy asking for the keys to the kingdom in really inappropriate ways at exactly the wrong moments, and I’ve been that published author bobbing and weaving to avoid telling a lie.

I’m telling you not to go there, because no matter how someone responds, if they reply at all, it’s not going to really help you. “How do I get published” is the wrong question, most of the time. More often than not, it’s asked way too early in the writer’s journey, before a work has even been conceived. Many times, it’s asked by someone who hasn’t done any research on their own to see if similar books have already been published and how their book fits in the genre. And the answer to the question depends so much on myriad factors unique to the author and the words themselves, that there just isn’t one all-encompassing way to answer it.

Also, the truth of the matter is I don’t care about getting published nearly as much as I care about connecting with readers and connecting other writers who want to be read with readers that are hungry for their words.

For me, writing is practice. All writing. From a book to a blog post, from a poem to a white paper – it’s all practice. Being published is cool, I won’t lie to you about that. But it’s a passing kind of cool and it has its own set of challenges pre- and post-print. Push comes to shove, I’d much rather focus on writing to be read than writing to be published. I’d much rather be found leaning into the next thing to be read than looking back at my last accomplishment. 


Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash


5 Replies to “The wrong question”

  1. Sound, thoughtful advice. When I began to write for myself, not my employers, the hope of a book was part of the long-term goal. But now, although I still want to publish a a book at some point, being relevant to and resonant with my audience week to week is more meaningful to me.

  2. What great insights. Like you, I think if a writer starts off with that question, then they’re probably not sincere enough with their own story. And all writing is practice indeed, even the bits that we don’t typically consider. Anyway, thanks for this post!

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