The most famous person nobody has heard of.

Why won't you help me get published?

After 13 years of hard work, I sold my first novel. Along the way, I joined groups, went to conferences and workshops, and met a lot of authors with many books in the writer's resumé. I became friends with a few of those successful writers, to the point where I asked them for help with publishers and agents. While each had their own technique of dodging the question, they all succeeded in telling me I had to help myself.

I discussed my frustration with my good-buddy Pat O'Connell, who was at the time, the President of the Maryland Writers' Association, and had one action adventure novel under his belt. Pat knew I was a scientist specializing in modeling, simulation, and analysis, so he challenged me to figure out why those authors would avoid direct help to a writer hoping to get published.

After a few months, an ancient memory clicked. It helps to have a photographic memory. In seventh grade, the science teacher regularly showed us films of scientific experiments and we discussed them.

The one I recalled had a dozen fertilized chicken eggs that were divided into two groups. Six went into the control incubator, and six into the experimental one. The control group were left alone to hatch. The experiment group were closely monitored for hatching. When the chick had pecked a tiny hole through the shell, the scientist used tweezers to peck and prick the shell from the outside, thereby helping the chick to hatch faster.

The hatched experimental chickens received a small band around their foot with an "X" on it, while the control group hatched chickens received a small leg band with the letter "C."

Both groups were released into a "barnyard" area, where they could scratch for food and socialize. Within a few days, the control group chickens had grown a lot, doubling in size. The experimental chickens displayed slower growth. Only one experimental survived to adulthood, and was scrawny compared to the other chickens.

The moral of the story is that if we help the chickens hatch, lessening the struggle they have to get out of their shell, then we are actually hurting their chances for future survival.

It is the same with writers. If someone short-cuts the process from unknown to getting an agent or selling a book to a publisher, they will be limiting the author's chances for survival as a new author.

If they don't have the stamina and force of character to break through the shell, to breach the barriers erected by the gate-keepers of the publishing world, then the new author will be handicapped with a lack of self confidence and stamina needed to bring attention to their just published book. If they did break through on their own, then they will have an increased force of will built from the calisthentics needed to break through the barriers in publishing. They will have what it takes to begin the newbie author task of going from unknown to selling 5,000 or more copies of their first novel. They will be able to break through the barriers to getting into newspapers, on the radio, and perhaps interviewed on television.

So, if you ask me for help getting published, I may help you with your writing craft skills, your story structure and arrangement, ans how to prepare a good submission packet, but I will not take steps to short-cut the process of you breaking through the publishing barriers on your own. I do that so that you can grow, and increase your chances of surviving the first book hurdle. If your first book doesn't do well, publishers may not offer you a second book deal. You must be strong to pass the first book challenge, and that starts with being strong enough to pass the getting a contract stage.


 

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