letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 209
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 1
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: fantasy (alternate history)

We interupt our regular broadcast to bring you this important announcement from the war-torn front.

Last week, combatants were randomly surveyed to discover why they wanted to put themselves at risk out in the field (i.e. become published). Many claimed that they felt their writing would not be fully realized until it was shared with others and that a work was not complete until it had been read. Therefore, the need to become not just a writer but a published author. They vowed not to be put off by the fact that the odds may be stacked against them. Brave, brave fighters. My sincere respect to each and every one.

However, given those same odds, it is possible, even likely, that many of those who make the attempt will not succeed, despite persistence and faith (perhaps even despite talent). So, today, we ask our worthy correspondents…. if you could have your future told and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you would never be published*, what would you do? And for those of you who have been published at least once, if you knew your work would never again gain a contract, what would you do?

We now return you to our regular programming.

*For the purposes of this transmission, self-publishing is exempt from the question.

97 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. What a fascinating and frightening question!
    You know… I don’t think I COULD stop writing. I do know what I’d do; I’d just end up posting it all online, same as I used to with fanfictionother non-derivative works. If I couldn’t do that, then I’d probably just end up showing it to my loved ones…
    And I’d probably go back to get my Master’s degree in music instead of putting that aside to write. But I wouldn’t stop writing.

  2. I’d probably go on writing and share it with friends. It’s kind of scary to realise that even this wouldn’t stop me…

  3. What an appalling question. O.O
    I’m sure I’d continue to write. I’m also pretty sure I wouldn’t do it at the *rate* I have been, but I can’t actually imagine ceasing to write.
    ‘course, I’d have to get a *job*… ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. never published?
    Hmm, it’s kind of like that “If a tree falls in the forest” thing. If a writer writes a novel and no one ever reads it, does it really exist? I’d probably continue to write, after several years of severe depression, and hopefully friends and family would get some enjoyment out of it, but I think it would totally crush me.
    Lisa Iriarte

  5. Keep writing. While getting published is a wonderful goal, the path getting there is just as important as reaching that point. There are times when I think I’m in the secondary category (been published once, never again), but I keep writing and keep trying simply because it makes me a better person, I always have a chance, and I’m not really good at that entire destiny thing. Like my wife, telling me I can never do something like that is a good way of making sure I keep trying.
    … it does mean I have a lot of rejections though. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Write on! And end up doing like I did with short stories — take a decade break to learn the craft of the form, then try again.
    I can thank MZB for my 8y SS break, BTW.

  7. Hmmm…(having never been published in anything other than a school paper or two) I would still write. Whether I get published or not, I enjoy writing. So, if I knew I had no shot, nothing would change, except that I’d stop submitting my work.

  8. i might actually let my family read some of my stuff ๐Ÿ˜„
    at the moment I’m not because if they laugh at me, or worse pity my attempts, I’ll never get the courage up to submit anything ever, I’m waiting till after I can say ‘hey I got a contract suck it!’ and let them laugh at me then.
    If I had no chance? let’em laugh won’t matter anyhow ๐Ÿ˜€

  9. Your question troubled me so much I had to post a whole topic over on my own journal. Final say: I just don’t know. As much as I love writing, creating and all the art inherent in the endeavor, to “know” that I’d never be “good enough” for public consumption, that my words would never reach an audience other than myself, would be so heartbreaking. I’m human, I crave attention. Perhaps that’s a hallmark of low self-esteem, but I want praise for what I do, even though the thought of putting it out for all to see scares the living daylights out of me.

  10. if you could have your future told and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you would never be published*, what would you do?
    Become a plumber.

  11. I would still write, because the stories would still be in my head wanting to get out. I’d probably look at self-publishing or just putting my work up on my website.
    My focus would probably change somewhat. I wouldn’t spend so much time going to conferences and looking for opportunities to network and meet publishing professionals. I’d step back and look at all my life choices, because right now so much of my energy goes into maximizing my writing time and doing whatever I can to increase my odds of getting published. But I wouldn’t stop writing, because I feel like it’s what I was meant to do.

  12. I’d be damned depressed, but it wouldn’t stop me from writing. There are plenty of venues for getting work out there even if it isn’t published; the internet can provide a decent forum to post original works on for free.
    And there’s always the degree. Teaching, all that jazz.

  13. I agree with doortoriver. What a frightening question!
    For me, sending out my stories and trying to get published is as much a part of being a writer as the writing part. If I were to know without a doubt that I would never get published again… that would seriously bum me out. A whole aspect of me as a person would be ripped apart by rabid wolves and left for the maggots before being thrown into a tub of acid.
    If the opportunity to see my definite future came along, I’ve always said that I wouldn’t look.
    I would probably not stop writing, but some of the fire would be out of it. Strangely enough, I don’t need to be published. If my one short story is all that ever gets selected by an editor, then I’d still be okay. Because just the act of sending out my stuff and getting rejected is still being a writer. It’s something to aim for. Writing is no fun unless it’s shared, bonus if that sharing makes you a little money.

  14. I’d still write. I do it for the joy of living in my characters’ world. It’s fun.

  15. I’d continue to create, but I’d significantly alter my imaginary picture of my ideal reader to be someone smarter than me. I suspect that would then become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but much more personally satisfying.

  16. If I knew I would never get published…
    I would try doing something else that I can enjoy and perform in a competent manner. I’ll keep my stories in my head, they look good and I don’t have to waste time writing them, and I’ll get on with my life.

  17. I am not one of those who can’t stop writing. I certainly can, and often do so for very long periods of time, from months to a couple of years.
    If you had asked this question a decade ago, I’m sure I would have answered, “I’ll write anyway.” Now, I’m not so sure. I think I would continue to write the things I really, really enjoy.
    I am in the awkward position I call “on the brink,” which is to say I certainly write publishable quality work, and I have an agent (yes, a real agent). And yet as the first novel goes unsold, I feel pressure to write the second (unrelated) one. It isn’t fun. I feel as if I ought to be progressing, but the next step of “progress” is the hardest one yet: getting an editor to buy my novel.
    I rather miss the days when I didn’t care, and all I had was hope and potential. If I knew for certain I would never be published, I can’t decide if it would make me hang my guns up for good, or if it would be incredibly freeing. I suspect “freeing.”
    At the very least, I would try to remember how it felt when I was a kid, and I wrote without any awareness that people are read. The only audience I ever had was myself. That’s a very hard mindspace to hold onto nowadays. I write slowly, and that makes it too easy to start speculating about which market, what editor, what other works does it compare to?

  18. Being Published
    I have watched in amazement as my excellent university here receives over 400 applications for six places in a MFA program each year. Fools! What can they do with it besides try to find a place teaching more of the deluded? If someone really has that kind of money to waste, and wants to spend several years being “graded” on their writing, no harm done, but now I find that agents are also demanding to know “where you learned to write?”
    Um…um..how about life? How about reading and learning what makes great writing effective? Don’t need to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to do that!What a scam. Keep those classrooms filled.
    So. do you pay more attention to a submission if someone claims a degree, or does the work stand on its own?
    Could you tell us what you think the odds are of being published for any new writer these days, assuming one is educated and competent? Thank you for asking the question. I would keep writing because I’ve already been published a great deal, but not in book-length work.And between that and my 4.0 in English Lit, I should have a good chance of being allowed into an MFA program. And then what? Someone would hire me as a ” novelist ” ? Jesus. Feel better now. Thank you.

  19. The only way I can write anymore is to believe I never will get published. ๐Ÿ™‚ The hope and the waiting and the rejections and the try, try again end up paralyzing me. Once I let go of hoping I’ll get published, I want to write. THen I get hopeful again, send out queries, wait, wait, get angsty, lose hope, stop writing, give up the dream, then want to write again.
    Could make an interesting psychiatric case study…

  20. I suspect I’d keep writing, but at an even slower rate than I do now.

  21. And for those of you who have been published at least once, if you knew your work would never again gain a contract, what would you do?
    I would likely stop writing. For me, being read is the larger part of the point. And while I could simply write stuff and self-pub or post online, I would be missing that outside editorial feedback that I know I need.

  22. And for those of you who have been published at least once, if you knew your work would never again gain a contract, what would you do?
    End up living in your basement/wine cellar. And make you read everything and try to sell it anyway,’cause the fortune-teller might have been wrong…. *goes back to work, now even more neurotic than usual*

  23. Oh, good question. I want to write, but I want to write *well*, and one way to know if you’re writing well, is if someone pays for it. I agree with rreugen, above…if I knew for a FACT that I would never be good enough (as opposed to now, when I only THINK I’m not good enough), I’d probably go looking for something else where I could give something of value with that time, and leave my stories in my head.

  24. I think the answer to your question all depends on worldview and faith.
    I believe completely that if I am meant to be published and if God wants that for me, then no one can take it away. If I am not meant to have it, then there is something better for me out there. Either way, all is well with the world and I am content.
    However, I have a peace about it, but I also have a strong faith that I was born to be a writer, and a published writer I will be. I don’t believe God gives anyone a vision if it is impossible.

  25. I would still write anyway, and put it online.

  26. Get another crappy administration job.
    Or starve.

  27. Hmm. I’d likely find something else creative to focus on (like go back to music maybe) and keep the writing for when I feel a need to torture a character for some reason. I need a creative outlet of some sort rather than writing and only writing, so I could cope with that. I would, however, be terribly sad, because a lot of my friends are writers and I wouldn’t go to as many cons because there’s no point in networking then, and they’re expensive if there’s nothing to get out of them. I’d be lonely, because I’d lose a group I belong in. I’m not one that finds it easy to waste time on things that don’t give me anything back.

  28. I’d stick with my day job, get around to sorting out my website and put my stuff up for free there, maybe with a ‘donate’ button. And I’d put my book up on lulu. I’d keep on writing and working, probably still sending stuff out even though I knew it wouldn’t be published because the feedback from personal rejections is actually very valuable to me. I’d probably write a bit more fanfic to share on LJ, though. Because it’s fun. And gratifying. And fun.
    There are other things I do (cooking, knitting, climbing), but ‘writer’ is what I am.

  29. You know, I can’t imagine a world in which I wouldn’t want to tell stories and write them down. In some ways, even though I go through the motions of seeking publication, I don’t really ever expect a nod, a request for more, or really even a response, from agents and publishers. But I still want to know what happens next, so I keep on writing.

  30. If I knew for sure I’d never be published, I’d still write — but it would definitely take a back seat to everything else in my life! I’d have to find a paying job and a new vision for supplemental income career ๐Ÿ™‚

  31. Is it odd that I don’t find this question as frightening as some seem to?
    To me it would be a relief, knowing for sure that when a novel or story is done and polished I can put it on my website and forget about it, instead of always wondering “What if I’d written it from the other point of view,” or “What if I put it away for another year and hope I’ve improved enough to tackle this story?”
    The only reason I don’t do that now is that the internet is too ephemeral. I want my name attached to my product permanently, even if it’s just in a remaindered pile somewhere.

  32. I’d continue to write and post online. I’ve always used writing to express my private thoughts. Random notes and poems which end up in the bin. Maybe I’d start writing letters and post them the old fashioned way. A confronting question.

  33. Never get another contract = spend most of my writing time with my wife and son, along with going to the gym to take better care of myself.
    And write sometimes, mebbe.

  34. disbelief
    I’d probably refuse to believe it. I can be pretty stubborn that way.
    But if I did believe it? I’d figure out a way to get it out there myself. Because I *have* to have someone to tell my story *to*.

  35. I’ve been published professionally several times. If I knew I would NEVER be published again, I WOULD STILL WRITE.
    Whether I get published or not is not important. It’s the writing that’s important. For me, anyway….

  36. Oh, that’s easy. I’d stop querying. I’d also take more risks with my writing, because I wouldn’t be giving any consideration to positioning my stories for commercial viability.
    Ask me a hard question.

  37. If I KNEW I’d never be published? *sniffle*
    I’d grieve a bit. Mope and be depressed and whiny and kick cans and say “life isn’t fair” a lot.
    And then I’d get over it, I think. I mean what else would there be to do? I wouldn’t kill myself over it.
    I’d still write. I might not revise quite so often, quite so intensely. But I’d still write. It’s a creative medium for me. I don’t expect to hang artwork in a gallery, I don’t plan to sell my bread or pies or open a cafe, I don’t sell things I sew or embroider. So why should writing be any different than any other creative hobby?

  38. Keep Going…
    Fate has been wrong on my account so many times. I should have died from fatal injuries/sicknesses at least twice by now (there is a third time that is in doubt,) but I’m still kicking.
    Seeing as how Fate is fickle, wrong, and subtle in my life, I’d keep writing, submitting, and “pounding the pavement.” Nothing will stop me beyond death. Even then, I may haunt the keyboard and do my best to type out my next story… I’m just stubborn that way.

  39. I write the kind of books that I like to read. If nothing else, I would write for my own nightstand. For me, publishing is about getting into a new and interesting business more than it is about the gratification of reaching a wide audience (which, let’s face it, is a part of it for every writer). I am just as happy when only one of my friends has read and enjoyed a work of mine as I am when many do. But maybe that’s just me.
    ~Samantha Elliott
    samantha-elliott.blogspot.com

  40. Like the rest, I’d probably keep going. Just at a much slower rate. And I’d end up drawing a LOT more–probably making that my main outlet–switching and making my stories compliment my art, rather than the other way around. It’s paralyzing to think I wouldn’t create like this anymore. I just can’t imagine…

  41. I for one will no longer be subscribing to your blog Jennifer. Youโ€™re really over the top now. I take my writing seriously and thought I would gain some insight on the industry with your blog. I did, and itโ€™s a disappointment on several levels. Obviously you do this mostly for the personal entertainment value. Iโ€™m sure you wonโ€™t notice one less court jester.

    • Actually, it’s a very GOOD question, well worth considering from time to time. Sometimes the insights can be very useful.
      For example, if your response was, “Hmm. Well, I’d get a day job and keep writing for fun. But I probably wouldn’t keep writing science fiction. I’d go back to poetry, and I’d write a historical novel.” That tells you something important, and might well be worth acting upon.
      The question “what if” is a foundation for creativity. Why not apply it to our lives and our writing, as well as our stories? Makes sense to me. ๐Ÿ™‚
      ec

    • I thought it was a good question too. Few of us will end up published, but that fact doesn’t deter me from writing. Those odds encourage me to fight harder for something I believe in — me!
      The what if question is confronting and challenging. I’ll always be creative, even if its for an audience of one.

  42. I was going to reply to the previous question, but somehow didn’t.
    This one…well, I don’t buy the premise. I have a hard time believing that if I come in with a modicum of perseverance and imagination, still absolutely no one would be willing to publish what I write. Now I can accept that perhaps a novel wouldn’t sell, and I might become discouraged by novel writing; but not even one of a dozen short stories? No articles? Not even a $0.05 tip at Open Salon? Nope.

  43. I’d write for specific people… stories and books for my nieces and nephews.

  44. So, you mean after the crying, the denial, the anger, and the coming to terms? Well I guess it also depends on if I’m the only one who knows the awful troof or not. If so, I’d need to decide whether I was going to be honest — knowing people might well find it uncomfortable to be around me and prefer to let any association go — or tell close friends and lie like a rug to the rest of the world. If not… how other people react can make other options more or less possible. (I’m classing it with divorce and death for how folk are likely to react ๐Ÿ™‚ )
    That aside, I’m not sure. I wrote for fifteen years without anything but an ‘I know this is a fantasy’ hope of being published. Which doesn’t prove I’d continue writing with no hope at all, things have changed in the past six years, but that knowledge of the future might have to come without even the shadow of a shadow of uncertainty for me to get past denial. I’m a bit doubtful whether fanfic would lure me (but as I wrote fanfic for myself that I’ve never posted or shown to anyone else, I might get over not being particularly drawn right now). 4theluv might be interesting (I’m not sure how close to self-publishing that is ๐Ÿ˜€ ). Self-publishing on the web might be depressing (if no one ever comes to look). And I can’t decide if my new love of writing *better* would give me direction — the challenge — or send me insane. I could turn to critting etc for my ego-boos, as there are a couple or three folk I think would still consider me an asset without my needing to be published myself (or on the road to publication) to qualify. (I might even be more use to them if I wasn’t sometimes too engrossed in my own writing to have time for theirs.) But then watching other people getting published might be less fun if I was continually wondering why they were left with hope and not me.
    Still, there’s various possibilities for feeding the writing daemon so that I couldn’t talk myself into giving up. I suspect, unless some unguessable other option ate all my spare time so pleasurably I didn’t have any reason to write (apart from in my head, I don’t expect that to vanish), I’d rebuild myself and writing would still be a part of the new me. Might take a while. But who knows, in the end I might even decide that not having the societal pressure, and only mixing with the people who don’t give a damn *who* their friends are, is better than struggling along in false hope. (The way one might eventually consider knowing you’ll die young as not having to worry about getting old and dying unloved and abused in a nursing home).
    But I’ve met with this kind of thing in real life (as opposed to speculation) and there’s no knowing where you’ll find yourself five or ten years later — you never know what you keep and what you lose, what you give away and what you’re given, until it’s seen in hindsight. (I can, for example, still be a little sad not to have been able to do X, and so learn Y and Z, but I do not think I would have liked myself after doing what X would have required and knowing Y and Z would not have mattered to me if I was that other person — and X itself, is no longer a prize I want). Another year or three and even my guesses at what I’d do could be different, they would have been somewhat different three years ago.

  45. Great question, and apparently very thought-provoking!

  46. Self-published may be exempt from the question…
    …but it is not exempt from being the answer!
    Let’s remove ourselves from genre and talk about poets and poetry for a moment. If the odds of getting published as a genre writer are abysmal and astronomical — the odds of a poet getting published are worse. (But I like poets, because poets are passionate about their writing.)
    So what do you do?
    History man, history. You learn a little bit about the history of publishing for the ‘vulgar’ man and you get your arse down to your local print shop and pay out of pocket for a hundred or so chapbooks to be printed and bound (it’s saddle stitching—it ain’t like it’s expensive perfect binding come’on).
    Then you hustle your butt over to 5 coffee shops and you distribute your chapbooks for free.
    FREE I SAID!
    And you continue to do this for a couple of months until one of your coffee shops says, “Hey man, I had a few customers asking for one of your chapbooks and said we were all out…can we get some more?”
    Then you say, “No man, but I tell you what…can I do a live reading here in two weeks time?”

    How much do you love it? Make a contract with yourself and nurture your own audience.
    Hustle.

  47. I’d keep submitting to agents and publishers anyway. Because really, who can tell the future?

  48. I’d feel a little lost for a while, then go back to song-writing. For me, art is communication. If there’s no one to communicate with, there’s not much point.
    If the novel I am polishing now doesn’t find a taker, maybe I will post it as a serial novel online. But I am deluded enough to think I will find a taker.

  49. i’m not sure i’d believe it?
    i always use fortunetelling to my
    own best advantage–if it’s good,
    i absolutely believe it. if it’s
    bad, it’s hogwash. same with
    horoscopes. haha!
    i’d keep trying for a little while
    at least. i think every writer has
    her / his time to call it a good
    show and pack up point.

  50. Thoughts
    >> And for those of you who have been published at least once, if you knew your work would never again gain a contract, what would you do?<<
    Publish it myself.
    >> *For the purposes of this transmission, self-publishing is exempt from the question. <<
    Okay, then, start a publishing company. I have editorial experience. I also have years of experience as a reviewer, so I know how low the bar is. I know where to find stuff that’s better than a lot of what’s on the shelves.

  51. Can’t Stop The Signal
    Yeah, that’s *so* not going to shut the characters up. The characters care nothing about odds, or publication. We have voices in our heads, and unless we want the men in white coats to come to take us away (ha ha), we must obey and transcribe as we are told.
    I saw a t-shirt once that I should have bought that said “Shut up, brain, or I’ll stab you with a Q-tip!” (I really should buy this!)
    It’s what I am, and what I do. “Can’t stop the signal….”
    Edit: Of course, there is the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” route. I’d become a literary agent!

  52. I’d probably write more fanfiction.
    Okay that was only partially a joke answer. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    But I would indulge the part of me that really wants to play with other people’s characters. And probably play more RPGs. In other words, exercise my creativity in other ways. Because part of the thrill of writing (for me) is knowing that strangers are reading my stuff. Somebody came up to me at my 1st or 2nd signing and shook my hand and said he liked my story. I was FLOORED. An actual stranger read my story AND took the time to come meet me, holy crap. ๐Ÿ˜€

  53. My favorite writer, Bulgakov, had his book censured by the Russian state. Banned and trunked, passed around in secret, he still wrote.
    Sounds about right to me.
    I would like to share my stories. Luckily, I have never envisioned writing as my sole support, having a very realistic picture of the industry and what one can make. Writing and trying to publish is my priority. For certain publishing is not.
    Catherine

  54. While I harbour dreams of being published, the fact that I wouldn’t be doesn’t really change anything. I want to get the story out, and if nothing else, I like to keep my brain working.
    With no hope for publication, I would simply share the whole thing online, as others have observed, and hope some people find it and enjoy the moment.
    C

  55. “if you could have your future told and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you would never be published*, what would you do? And for those of you who have been published at least once, if you knew your work would never again gain a contract, what would you do?”
    Keep at it. There is nothing else I *could* do but persist. Writing is a need, beyond the need to share the stories*. And I’d keep submitting. I’d keep trying to share the work. Even if I were told it’s impossible. I’ve done the supposedly impossible more than once already, and there’s no fate but what we make ourselves. At the very least, even if that prophecy turned out to be true in the end, I wouldn’t have any regrets for trying to buck it.
    *Actually, there is a second need for me to publish. I’m a full-time writer already, and getting paid for writing means I don’t have to take time out for other distractions. I can focus on doing what I like doing best.

  56. I’d self-publish and distribute my novel to family and friends. After all, I want someone to read this thing. And if my novels become something other than electrons, it’s possible that someone will read them after I die.
    This is my plan if I reach about 65 without being published, anyway.

  57. Well, as I would not want to torture my friends to death…
    There’s the internet and self-publishing. We’re in the era when creativity DOESN’T have to stay hidden if not published.
    I would NOT stop writing, if that is the question. I feel happy if even only one person really enjoys what I create (apart from me).

  58. Hell, I’d like to know whether I’ll ever have a chance. If not, I could stop trying to learn about the industry and just write as a hobby.

  59. Go into academic research. Write non-fiction. Write fiction only when the imaginary people inside my head get too loud to ignore.

  60. Lulu!
    My backup plan, in case a regular publisher won’t take me, is to self-publish through something like Lulu. I would not be thrilled with that result, of course.
    And if you told me you sent me a message from the future telling me that I *never* would be published I’d ask, “Why couldn’t you have sent a stock tip instead!”

  61. Not so easy to answer
    I would keep writing, but my priorities would probably shift. It might be hard to dedicate so much time every day, so much energy and focus, to a hobby that no longer offered “hope” of success, especially when I have such an adorable little girl who would probably like some of that time…

  62. I write to tell stories. I want to be published. If it was me, I’d shoot the fortune teller for trying to squash that elusive critter called hope. Sometimes, how you get there is the worthier part, even if “there” is some place where I’m never published. Of course, if said fortune teller was THAT good, I’d ask other things, like winning lottery numbers, stock market prices, gold futures, etc. Then I’d write my stuff and let agents clamor to tell my stories because I was so rich and famous.

  63. if you could have your future told and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you would never be published*, what would you do?
    Laugh at it and continue writing. Seriously. I might go back to Fanfiction (where at one time I had hundred of people following me, where as now as a semi-pro small press short fiction writer, I have no idea if anyone actually reads my stories). I would also quite happily self-publish, and then hustle my ass off at conventions and indy books stores and coffeeshops and anywhere else I could a reading.

  64. I’d still write, but…
    I’d still write, but it would be a little different. I doubt I’d follow industry news and agent/editor blogs like I do now. I also wouldn’t take into consideration “what readers want.” For example, one of my stories takes place 1/2 when they’re teenagers, and 1/2 when they’re adults. If I knew it would never be published, I’d probably just start at the beginning and write it out. BUT… I know a lot of adult readers aren’t interested in reading about teens… so I’m spending TONS of time trying to figure out how to tell this story.
    But then… that’s part of the challenge, and I love a challenge. Perhaps, if I wrote it without considering this, I wouldn’t be satisfied, and I’d end up re-writing it anyway.

  65. I’d switch to the political blog I can’t do now because I want to get published someday.

  66. Well, I wouldn’t stop writing. I couldn’t. But it would become a hobby rather than a career goal, and I would probably start working full time at the bookstore.
    Come to think of it, it would be pretty much the way I spent my life before I got published, the big difference between then and now being that it would no longer matter if I didn’t finish a book by a certain date.

  67. Less fiction, more livejournal, more academic writing, probably. And maybe some RPG stuff, or stuff on the edges of fanfic — I’d still write fiction, because it’s fun, but I’d also write stuff that’s more likely to get an audience than self published original fiction.

  68. I’m sure I would still write, even though that’s the easy answer. Seeking publication/representation/an audience &c is what imposes discipline on me, though. If I didn’t have that as a goal, my life would be a trail of half-finished blank-verse, inspired seven-page rants, and notes composed of words and doodles.
    Am I allowed to keep my blog in this universe? If so, I would pour absolutely everything into that. I still want attention, after all.

  69. Writing would take on a smaller role in my life, but I don’t think I could quit telling stories.

  70. I would relish such straight talk from an agent or publisher rather than vague references to โ€œresonatingโ€ (which always remind me of a spring gone bad) or success โ€œjust around the cornerโ€. Yeah? Which corner might that be?

  71. Great question! Personally, I think I’d be okay with that. I love to write, but…heck, it’d free up an awful lot of my time! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Brent P. Newhall
    http://brentnewhall.com/

  72. Hmmm.
    I think your question and the vast majority of the answers are like those focus groups, where you ask, “Would you pay $10 for this new product?”
    Eight out of ten say yes. But when you say okay, and ask them for the ten bucks, suddenly the whole deal changes and their not willing to cough up the money.
    It’s the same with this writing deal. You know the early rounds of American Idol where they show the 20,000 people waiting in a football stadium for their chance to audition? And 20 are going to make it onto the small screen, and 18 of those are going to be on TV because they are so weirdly awful? As those 20,000 people the same question: If you know there is no chance, would you still go and sit in the stadium all day?
    Well, yes, of course, because it’s just so great being part of the process. And what would I do instead?
    Here’s my blog: http://www.awritersnotes-billjustbill.blogspot.com/

  73. I’m not wired to play fair with this kind of question. My knee-jerk reaction is to prove that damn Oracle wrong. To not accept it’s truth.
    However, if I was really, really, really forced to believe I’d never again be published, I’d stop writing my stories down. Stories are by nature to be shared, told. There’s a teller and a listener, a writer and a reader. It’s a magical relationship. Without that potential, I’d probably keep the stories in my head. And paint instead — things I can look at and hang around me.
    And read of course. Maybe a lot more ๐Ÿ™‚
    Loreth

  74. Here’s the funny thing about this: I just asked this question on my blog a few days ago. Actually I took it further. I asked if people would write without anyone to read their writing at all.
    Anyway, I do believe without a shadow of a doubt that I will be published someday. But let’s pretend I knew differently and could see into the future. Would I still write? The answer is yes and no. I’d either stop writing fiction or I’d self-publish or post it online in order for it to find an audience. If I couldn’t get it to readers I wouldn’t see the point, not in writing it down. The stories that I come up with in my head would still be in my head but that’s just the thing: without a readership to pass them on to why would I need to write them down? Why not just get the satisfaction of telling them to myself if I’m my only reader? I would probably do more blogging and journaling and such, though, because it would be writing but not the kind of writing that I write to get published in the first place.

  75. Thinking about this question further drives home to me just how vital hope is to us humans. I mean, would you embark on the months of pain and training needed to run a marathon if you knew without a shadow a doubt you’d never cross the finish line? Would you make the sacrifices required over so many years to try for Olympic gold if you were 100 percent guaranteed failure? Or would you lay out all that cash and start studying to be a doctor if you knew with certainty you’d never pass? Would you try to overcome impossible odds to get yourself off that mountain cliff where your plane has crashed if you know without a doubt you’ll never make it home?
    And why start the diet if you’ve seen the future and know it’s just going to make you fatter?
    It’s the dream, the belief, the faint hope, that keeps us ticking. Methinks.

  76. Even if that were the case, I’d still write.
    And, no, no self publishing. ๐Ÿ™‚

  77. Although I hope it wouldn’t happen, I’d have to say I would hire a freelance editor, self-publish the most marketable pieces and save the rest for a blog or something else.

  78. self-publishing isn’t an option?
    I think the publishing world is great because it pushes us to a higher standard. I really believe I have something good to say and a good way of saying it, and that people are genuinely interested in what I want to say. I also believe in accountability: that I haven’t perfected my message, neither the content nor the form. So that’s why I’m trying to get published. I have an independent editor helping me, I query agents, etc., because all of these contacts will help improve what I’ve written.
    At the end of the day, though, if there is no way it’s going to be published, I’ll put it out there in some other way! Post it in chapters on my blog, perhaps. Or email the entire manuscript to everyone I know. Or print it out and hand it out on the streets (but I suppose that would be self-publishing). Who knows, maybe I’d even read it out loud and record it if I could find some radio station gullible enough to broadcast it. Or send the mp3 file to all my commuting friends to listen to as they drive to and from work.
    In some ways, it would come as a relief for me to know today that I’ll never be published, because then I could get moving on plans B, C, D, etc. But then maybe my work wouldn’t ever be the best that it can be, so I patiently wade through the critiques and rejections and try to improve my story accordingly.

  79. Why is self-publishing exempt? It seems to pigeonhole the question, or at least skew toward a desired answer, especially when self-publishing is the answer that makes sense, at least in that case. I’m not an advocate of self-publishing, mind you (not mostly, anyway, though I’ve used it myself in certain ways), but I’d think that the answer ought be “If I suddenly discovered none of the five or six major publishers would ever offer a publishing contract, well, I’ve got the means to publish it myself, so I will.”
    =Will Entrekin

  80. Holy crow… four pages of comments already. This will probably echo some things a lot of others have said, but:
    For starters, I’ve had about a half-dozen books published so far, a mystery and several tech-reference books — none particularly successful (except, of course, among the readers who liked ’em!). I’ve never made a living from my writing, although I gave it a shot for about 1-1/2 years. (A great experience in itself; it just lacked the result I’d hoped for and in truth needed if the experience was to continue.)
    So here’s my sense: Since I’ve continued to write anyhow (while not being particularly religious about submitting my work or otherwise pursuing publication), I doubt I’d turn away when the gypsy fortune-teller foresaw that I’d gotten all I could ever get from it. It seems obvious to me that in this respect I’m luckier than someone who’s always been able to live on his/her writing; if you took it away from such a writer, you might see real panic.
    Furthermore, y’know, it does make me wonder about that fortune-teller. If she consulted the crystal ball and saw that she’d never have another customer, would she continue to see the future?
    I doubt it’s a faucet with an “Off” setting, y’know?

  81. [Dang. The comment about the gypsy fortune-teller was mine — forgot to sign in with my LJ account info!]

  82. Oh I’d definitely still write. Can’t help it. My characters would drive me nuts if I didn’t. I’d just put it online and force all my friends to read it.
    B

  83. I’d self publish. For one thing, I’d want to write a book about this incredible Cassandra I’d found. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  84. A future without a future
    Such a disheartening question. I have spent my mid-20’s-mid-30’s writing my life away. After spending so many nights and weekends working instead of meeting women, making friends, taking actual vacations (instead of using them to write), I would be crushed.
    And yet, I wouldn’t regret it. I’d be disappointed that I didn’t spend more of my time forging relationships, but I will have given it everything I’ve got, and I’ll know deep inside that I had what it takes, but that the ball just didn’t bounce my way. And in one way, knowing that is just as important as the validation one receives by getting published.
    Steven Slavick

  85. I was told after our daughter died I shouldn’t try to have more children.
    I had two more boys. Not an easy nine months, but they are healthy and a divine gift. The third one was born ten years after the first boy. He was impossible. I wasn’t supposed to get pregnant, wasn’t supposed to be able to carry him and it really was touch and go.
    He is the joy of my life and the embodiment of a miracle.
    So, being told something isn’t possible doesn’t really resonate with me. I don’t seem to understand the concept.
    I would still write. The stories amuse me. I watch the movie in my head of different scenes and I want to see how it turns out.
    I would write them. I’d keep them and leave instructions for my children not to give up on my dream because I never did.

  86. I’d still write and share it with friends. I’d still strive to be a better writer and tell the fates they were wrong and try one last time. ๐Ÿ™‚ Most writers have a fire inside that cannot be sated by anything else, and those are the ones who eventually get published. Some folks give up because of frustration. I just cannot see myself doing anything else but write.
    If it were absolutely true, I’d go back to medical school and become a psychiatrist. ๐Ÿ™‚ Like I was suppose anyway.
    ~Tyhitia
    http://obfuscationofreality.blogspot.com/

  87. not published?
    Keep writing, of course. Publication doesn’t make the book, it only makes it available, and there are other ways of doing that. I’d probably write better, as well, without an imagined publisher or reader standing over my shoulder saying ‘When, already?’

  88. Let’s talk about the bag-piper
    His name is Alan McLeod (I think). He used to play with the Tannahill Weavers. When he played with the Tannies, he was the best piper in Europe. The last time I heard him, he was the best piper in known Space.
    (This pertains to the topic. Really).
    He comes out on stage, you see this skinny guy with kind of not-recently-washed hair (he used to have curls, maybe he still does) and a cigarette stuck behind his ear, wearing a lime-green muscle shirt that might even have had a hole in it. And you look at him, and you say “Aa, I was clearly under the influence the last time we heard him, this is just . . . some guy.” And he used to have fishing lures hung off his drones, too.
    So you have this not very prepossessing person with some pipes. Then he puffs up his pipes. Then he plays them. The clouds roll back. The skies open. The voice of God is heard. And God is pleased. And God says “By Me, that is the best piper I made in this generation.”
    The thing is that the last time we saw him something had gone wrong with the publicity, and there were a dozen people in the room listening to him play. On the way home from that I had one of them-thar Epiphanies. This man is the best piper in known Space. That’s what he is. He’d be the best piper in known Space if Space never knew it. He’s the best piper in known Space in the Kingdome. In the Superdome. In Grand Central Station. In a small bar with a dozen people. In the woods all by himself. It doesn’t matter. He is what he is.
    And I am what I am, and what I am, is a writing person. So, if I knew for an absolute fact that I’d never get a contract again ever, I’d write. Even if I knew for an absolute fact that nobody was ever going to read what I was writing, I’d write. Being sold is very, very nice. Money is good. Being read is even nicer. But at the bottom of it all, those are not really the “why” of why I write.
    Sidestepping from velvet-clad writer clutching antique lace handkerchief with the ostrich-feather pen and the leather-bound blank book with the cream-lined paper sitting at her writing desk by the light of a single beeswax candle with the clouds scudding across the full October moon (probably a ghostly galleon) (and maybe a crystal glass of blood-red wine) (did I forget to mention the skull on the desk?) (there could be roses whose petals are torn away in the wind), there’s this:
    Things happen in the text when I write that I don’t see until months after I’ve written it. Years after I’ve written it. Writing is all about communication, and when I write the part of my brain that runs parallel to my consciousness attempts to communicate with my conscious self. She’s got a nice turn of phrase. I like hearing from her/myself.
    Sorry, long answer, hope it isn’t too woo-woo.
    I don’t know if you can clutch a handkerchief with a pen, really. Maybe if you steamed the quill.
    Discursively,
    Moderately Successful Midlist Writer

  89. Query wars…
    Failure, that word no writer gargles in their mouth. Faith, persistance, talent? Frail idea’s in this world of mass consumption. If you can’t write what the agents like, become an agent. Better still, become an agent who writes.

  90. Another vote for “Continue Writing.” Writing gives me peace of mind, has provided a place to stretch and grow my self, and a chance to be those things I can never be in reality. I couldn’t leave that all behind. Knowing I would never get published would send me to the web. I’d create a web page and publish my novels there.
    Adrianne

  91. If I knew that I would never be published, I’d become a critic. Or an editor. Some wit once said that those who can’t create criticize. I’m naturally sarcastic, therefore…
    But I would still write, if only for myself, because I’m just crazy enough to like re-reading, even if I wrote it.

  92. As someone who just started raking in rejection letters, I would say that I will still write… even if I can’t entertain anybody outside of my family and friends, at least I’m can do that. Plus, I really can’t walk around with these fragments of stories in my head, they need to be on paper.

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