Lately I’ve been thinking about how soon one should start looking for a publisher. The moment the manuscript is finished? Once the first rewrite is done? When your Beta readers say it’s good enough? Authors have historically run into this dilemma. J. R. R. Tolkien published The Hobbit, then revised it and published it again, and, according to those who study his work, he apparently wanted to go back and revise it still further, making it darker (more like The Hobbit, the movie?).

Of course, if he’d waited until he was happy with the work, until every novel and story involving Middle Earth had been written and until he knew that The Hobbit was the way he wanted it, it would’ve ended up being published posthumously. But Tolkien isn’t the only one; many authors revise things in special editions, explaining something that their readers found confusing, modifying words here, correcting grammar there. So how do you know when you’re done?

It seems like lately, as soon as you have a finished manuscript, people expect you to get it published, to get it out there, to start making money off your investment of time and mental energy. You look for an agent, start querying publishers, or get it self-published, but either way, your career as an author doesn’t seem to begin until someone has paid you for writing.

And to some degree, this is true. Writing can’t be a job or a career until you make money—anymore than playing video games or playing sports can. Until you get paid for it, it’s just a hobby…or is it?

Because with writing, unlike sports and video games (sorry, gamers) we’re dealing with an art. And artists are still artists, even when they aren’t getting paid. A painter is still a painter, as long as he is painting. Sculptors, musicians, dancers, authors, poets, and other artists are all defined by their creation of artwork, and as long as that artwork is being created, their identity doesn’t change. Some of the best, most lasting art ever made was overlooked during the artist’s lifetime. They weren’t instant bestsellers or overnight successes, but the artists were dedicated to crafting their vision…and crafting can take time.

I guess I wonder that too many stories are sent off before they’re ready. They feel half-baked. They have great elements, but you’re left feeling like, with a little more time, a little more work, a little more crafting, the story could’ve gone from mediocre to good, from good to great, from great to magnificent. Maybe authors need to stop letting other people define them—waiting for validation in the form of a royalty check—and let their work define them instead.

Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren

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