The Prompt: Write a letter to yourself when you first started writing toward publication. Details here.
Dear Budding Botanist,
It's exactly ten years on since you put first halting and painfully self-conscious words on the page, when you decided (and Space only knows how the heck that happened) that you could write a novel.
In those first months, as the pile of words grew, you were convinced that the literary world would beat a path to your door, lapping up the sheer beauty of your glowing prose.
I've got news for you, and you ain't gonna like it!
Publication is a cold, uncaring, profit-motivated business. It doesn't care about you or your stories unless it can see a clear and sure-fire path to making money out of you. I'm not knocking this, it's a legitimate business model especially given the vast number of talented writers out there, but it does lead to behavior that makes it enormously difficult for new writers to break in.
The good news is that the world of writing is a wonderfully diverse and supportive community. All real writers know how hard the publication process is, and they band together to help and encourage each other. I don't think you'll find anything like it elsewhere in the creative arts.
So, here are some things you should know to help you on your way.
This is paramount, and it is not some feel-good wishy-washy idealistic crap. Readers can tell when you're having fun and when you're just going through the motions. The parts that you had most fun writing will often also be the most enjoyable to read.
Take the opportunity to torture your characters. Make then act in ways that you would never dare. Bring the reader into your mind and share the wonders of your imaginary world. Write what you enjoy and make your enthusiasm shine on the page. Have fun.
Know your own mind
Throughout the writing and publishing process, you will be bombarded with advice. The more advice you hear, the more confused you will get. For every "thou shalt" you read about, there is someone equally experienced preaching the opposite.
For the most part, there are no absolute right answers. Sure, there are some answers that are more or less likely to lead to a good outcome, and some that will almost certainly torpedo your efforts, but there's a vast no-man's-land in between where it's largely a matter of preference.
So, what to do?
The most important thing to remember is that this is your journey. Not somebody else's. If you heed some advice and it doesn't pan out, the only person to blame is yourself, so become self-reliant and take responsibility for your own destiny. All I can advise here is to read and research and draw your own informed conclusions. Know your own mind and work out what's right for you.
That's not to say be obstinate and insist you know best, but choose carefully which advice to follow and which to set aside. Do so knowingly, and own the outcome.
Pull your finger out
Your story is doing nobody any good sitting on your hard drive. You are in danger of wasting years on the agent query lottery and there are respectable alternatives to traditional publishing. You are living in times when technology and social media are connecting people like never before, and shaking the foundations of brick-and-mortar bookselling. Be a positive part of the revolution.
The onus is still on you to craft the best product you possibly can. Don't take shortcuts. Polish your story until it is something you are proud of, until you reach the point where you find you are editing but no longer really improving. Then...
...Get off your sorry butt and get it out there.
Good luck and best wishes
Old and Creaky Botanist
Ian S. Bott
I give my permission to use my entry in the e-book compilation.