Writers, Stop Apologizing For Not Being Published

After visiting with friends and family and launching THE GOOD NEIGHBOR in Philadelphia, I headed to the James River Writers Conference in Richmond, Virginia (check it out, no lie, I will shrivel up if they don’t invite me back). I had a ten-minute turnaround after a 5+ hour train ride, and then it was off to the speakers and volunteers welcome party.

I’m like most writers I know, a friendly introvert. So when I walked up to this mansion, with my car mates nearby, all I could think of was HELL NO I HAVE TO MINGLE and WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA FOR WRITERS?

But I prevailed. In situations like these I simply pretend I’m comfortable. I headed toward the crab dip and made a new friend; the bar where I made another. I met people I’d never known and I met people I’ve known for years. (You know how it is with internet friends.) I was social in intimate groupings, and have come to a place where I am also okay, if needed, being on my own in a large group. One good thing about being a writer in a group of writers, if you’re alone and minding your own business, no one thinks you’re antisocial or weird. They just think you’re plotting a chapter or taking notes for an article.

Awake and with lipstick on before 8 am the next morning, I was off to the conference where I’d be on multiple panels for the next two days. And it was off to a helluva start. Friday night to Saturday morning by 9 am I’d met award-winning journalists, multi-published novelists, acclaimed poets, and tenured professors. I was in awe of the level of talent around me, of the accomplishments of these people who also had the word “author” under the name on their badge.

For a moment, I felt small. Intimidated. And very much as if I didn’t belong. I’ve always felt at home in my writer skin and never like an impostor. Until then.

But people started talking, asking, laughing, collaborating — and I realized, there was no where I belonged more. Being completely at home among familiar strangers is really a wonderful thing.

Among this diverse group of working writers, were people who spoke my language before I’d said anything. There were journalists who wished they were novelists and poets who wanted to save the planet. There were professors who were authors and authors who’d written one or twenty books. There were writers of every genre talking and laughing and nodding.

And then, there were the aspiring authors of every kind.

These were the people we were there to serve and inspire.

I spoke to large groups and I spoke one-on-one, and one thing I found these dedicated writers had in common was that when I asked, “What do you write?” their answer almost included…”but I’m not published.” My reply was always the same. “Don’t say it that way.” Truly, folks. Stop it already.

It got me thinking about how writers apologize for where they are or aren’t in their writing journey. No other professions do this. You don’t hear someone say, “I want to be a heart surgeon but I’m not one yet, I am so sorry.” You never hear someone mutter, “I’m working really hard to become an accountant, but I’m not quite there yet. Ugh.”

But writers?

“I write middle grade fantasy. Oh, but I’m not published.”

“I write women’s fiction, but I’m not published or anything.”

“I write historical non-fiction but I’m not ready.”

The tone was always apologetic, the eyes looked away or rolled as if to offset the implied disappointment felt by the writer — perhaps what they imagined I was thinking.

Stop apologizing for not being published. 

These were people who wanted to be published, some who were close (and if you don’t want to be published, that’s fine too, but most of these writers were working toward that goal). Some had agents, many did not. Some were pitching, some were not. Some had books and work piled under their figurative mattresses, some did not. But they were all at a freaking WRITERS CONFERENCE where they belonged because they were with hundreds of other writers, published and not, all connecting and talking and learning things they’d never known before or being reminded of things they’d forgotten or cast aside. I learned so much that weekend simply by being there. Through listening, through talking, answering, and maybe through a little osmosis.

Just because you’re not published doesn’t diminish the value of your writing. Most of us don’t get rich at this stuff, face it. So anyone who’s working his or her ass off (and you know you do that by sitting all the time) deserves to use a period at the end of the declarative sentence that answers the question, WHAT DO YOU WRITE?

I write women’s fiction.

I write middle grade fantasy.

I write essays.

I write political satire

I write poems.

Because that’s what I was asking. WHAT DO YOU WRITE?  And that’s what I wanted to know. There were no assumptions, just curiosity. As a women’s fiction author, blogger, reader, and devotee, I’m usually surrounded by women’s fiction writers who are usually women. Here I was at a writer’s conference with men! With poets! With romance writers! With journalists! (I’m not even mentioning the racial and ethnic diversity, that’s another post.) Here I was, rubbing shoulders with people who wanted to talk about the pitfalls of publishing even though they had seventeen published novels; people who wanted to talk about plots, networking, technology, querying, character arcs, research, and anything else closely or remotely related to writing and publishing — big publishing, small publishing, self-publishing — whether or not they had a byline or book credit. This was a group of people dedicated to the idea that words matter, and that getting those words to the public, matters.

There was no bickering that your publishing is better than my publishing. There was no fighting that your genre is better than mine.

There was a sincere generosity of spirit, a sharing of information, and a seriously awesome vibe.

And no apologies necessary.


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30 thoughts on “Writers, Stop Apologizing For Not Being Published

  1. Maybe the apologies about not being published has something to do with that competitive spirit that Americans believe in. If you’ve published, you’ve made it. You are real. I felt it for years until I was published–a PR booklet for local tourism board. I got paid. I was real, but I preferred to write fiction. When self-publishing was more readily available, I gave it a try. It was perfect for me. Why? I got my articles and books out there, I got a response from local people, I met, chatted with and made friends. Most of all, I set my own schedule, such as whether to go to a conference or not, most of all, I got useful feedback which encouraged me to write more. I suspect in time, my efforts could earn me more recognition, but hearing from a reader about how they enjoyed my book is worth a fortune.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Again Amy, you show us with your heartfelt words why you are respected and admired by so many writers. This is an excellent post. Everyone you feature on your blog inspires your followers but no one more than your very own self. I’m glad as you grow professionally you continue to find even more ways to encourage those of us aspiring to reach new writerly heights. I have two writer friends who have been published in anthologies and such but have no desire to be published commercially. They are both especially talented and have helped me tremendously with their spot on critiques and also serve as role models with their confidence, stating they are, and always will be writers because that’s what they do, not because of where they’re published.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Amy, I bet you were the belle of the ball! And this post is so on target. I used to always, always put my head down and say (for 25 years!) that I was a novelist, but I’m not published…only now that I AM published do I realize that so much of the joy is in the process of actually writing, not the rest of it, fun as it is. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. And that’s a wonderful thing.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Amy..Your posts often make me think. And this time is no different because it hit the mark with me. I am finally taking the time to work on the novel that has been rattling around in my head for several years and I’m enjoying the process immensely. It’s what I have always wanted to do. But telling people I am even writing a novel is something I have trouble doing. Of course, my family and my closest friends know. Other than that…no. I think part of me doesn’t want to see that reaction where the person doesn’t know how to respond, their eyes kinda glaze over and they come up with some lame, generic response. Once I get past the gut feeling that I need to ‘protect’ my writing (like I would a child), then maybe I can get past apologizing for not being published. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Amy,

    Thanks for making my day. I have considered myself a writer–well, forever. I have some credits and I will have more. But yes, when one sits at a computer working for hours at a time, brings a tablet or a notebook wherever she goes and takes notes, reads constantly to see what others are writing, finds that daily living can spark an idea — she’s a writer. And what do I write? I write upmarket, book club, women’s fiction. I write what I love to read. And your post simply made me braver to say it!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Amy, I just sat up straighter and pulled my shoulders back where they belong. I’ve been a writer since 3rd grade and since I wasn’t paid for it I didn’t tell many people. But today I say I AM A WRITER AND I WRITE SEVERAL GENRE AND HAVE THE MSs TO PROVE IT. NO I HAVE NOT SUBMITTED IN SEVERAL YEARS. No it is not a hobby, I have many of those but only the writer is still active. What a ray of sunshine you are. My daughters bedroom will not be mentioned again. I have an office and it is so much more than I ever dreamed so I today will start calling it my office. I wish I had been at the conference with you. I can’t imagine how pumped up I would be. Just reading about it has put NANO back being number one for NOV. Thank You so much. I live in a world of writerless people and an article like this puts me back in touch with my favorite people WRITERS.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Right on Amy! Don’t buy into the concept of a “Pecking Order.” I’m always more interested in what people are reading, and what they’re trying to write about, than whether or not they have publishing credits, or hold an MFA, or teach writing.

    The reading/writing/publishing universe is limitless these days, self-publishing no longer holds a stigma, with “Still Alice” and “The Martian” and “50 Shades of Grey” becoming best sellers and turned into films.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. How do I love this post (and the gracious support you offer writers)? Let me count the ways. Publishing does not make a writer; writing makes a writer. One of the greatest joys of my writing life is leading a weekly “novels-in-progress” workshop. As I read your post, it occurred to me that of the five participants I know two who plan to pursue publishing, and that’s only because we’ve talked separately about query letter. During the workshop, we never talk publishing. We talk writing. We have a 2-hour conversation each week about the novels on the table. Richard Hugo said, “Writing is a way of saying you and the world have a chance.”

    Thank you for reminding all writers to give themselves a chance. From another ‘friendly introvert’! Julie

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Love the “friendly introvert,” and how you also pretend you’re comfortable when the group is intimidating. I write children’s (mostly middle-grade time travel right now) and women’s fiction – some short stories but there’s a novel ready to burst forth. I love creating stories, I grunt through getting them onto the page, and then it’s back to love for editing and shaping.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you. It’s the shaping that’s beautiful, not the hacking away on a first draft. I like to keep a copy of the first draft though to remind myself of how bad it really was before the story became itself. (I write fiction that has some science in it.)


  10. Great post. It always upset me when people do not ask my writing. I know that happens because I haven’t really been published apart from a couple of lovely independent online magazines. My husband is also an artist albeit a visual artist and successful in his field although he also works full time and everyone always asks about his work, because he sells and he takes part in exhibitions. We inspire and support each other, there is no competition between us but whenever someone asks him how is your work I expect them to ask me the same thing, but no one ever does, it is always about my job which has nothing to do with my soul. Now that I am on maternity leave I am asked when I am going back.

    I hate admitting it, but it hurts me so much when I am not asked about my writing. I know it may sound like a childish need for validation – maybe – but I am so proud of what I write regardless of whetehr its picked up or not. I just love talking about it. But anyway, that was my venting slot! Really enjoyed the post.

    BTW i write poetry, prose and songs.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Fantastic post, Amy. It made me laugh out loud as you drove home the point with your example of the burgeoning surgeon who says, “I want to be a heart surgeon but I’m not one yet, I’m so sorry.” Yep that’s it! Hilarious and oh, so sadly true how we writers shoot ourselves in the foot. Thank you for the reminder and your wit!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Sing it, Sister! I love this post and whole-heartedly agree with it. I was one of those writers who added that phrase to the end of my sentence. What’s funny is that I knew even as it was coming out of my mouth, that I didn’t want to say it. I found, however, that if I didn’t, the next question would inevitably be, “Where can I buy your books?” and then I’d have to sound like a failure (I thought) and admit that I’m not published. So, I beat them to the punch.

    It was always a non-writer who asked that question, though. Us writers all know that being published really isn’t an indicator that you’re a good writer or not. It just means you were prepared when opportunity arose. That person we’re talking to today who is unpublished could be next year’s #1 bestseller. Non-writers don’t get it, though, and that’s why I think we find ourselves explaining our publishing status.


  13. Thanks Amy for setting the “I’m not publised” record straight. As women we often start out conversations with apologies to people. Time for that to stop. As for me, I’ve tried interesting literary agents in my novel for a year and a half now, receiving nice responses in return, but no contract. Then there’s the situation where you wonder after you tell someone you’re a writer. “Are you published? they ask. You say no, not yet and there’s that look. And you wonder: are they thinking my book’s not good enough and that’s why it’s not published?

    Well I say time to self-publish and take another direction so I can keep working on my next novel. I hope you interview women who’ve self-published novels, because I’ll be offering myself at some point for such an interview.

    Thanks again Amy for being there, forging the way for women writers, present in the marketplace and with pats on the back to encourage us, knowing other women are out there doing some good trailblazing work.


  14. Thanks, Amy for your inspiring post! I’m guilty of apologizing. When I’m around published authors and we’re talking about writing, it just seems like I’m a bench warmer waiting for my chance on the field. Possibly because there is so much to learn about writing, finding an agent and publishing.

    I write Romantic Comedy and Women’s Fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks for the encouraging post. I think we are our worst critics. Sometimes it feels like I’m reaching for an unattainable goal of being published. It’s good to be reminded that I write, and I don’t NEED the validation. I can’t let the fact that I’m not published steal the joy of writing.

    I write women’s fiction and poetry.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Such truth in this post. Is it because we’re constantly told how impossible it is to succeed? It’s this vicious cycle of feeling bad or not good enough and then worrying that these fears are correct or that they are being reinforced when very regular things happen, such as rejection from this agent or that magazine. The other option is just to believe, right? And love the work? And love meeting and getting to know people who struggle against the very same set of circumstances? I love this post and will return when I need a reminder of this message. Thank you.


  17. Pingback: 3 Kickarse Blogs with Links to Their Kickarse Articles: Writers Enjoy! | Kathryn Magendie

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