Published, Publishable, Crap

Disney Rejection Letter, 1938 (detail)

Disney Rejection Letter, 1938 (detail) (Photo credit: sim sandwich)

Is publishable equal to published?

In all my non-published, never worked in the publishing industry wisdom, I said no.  I believe there are writers out there with work that is publishable that haven’t been published.  Bad luck, bad timing, giving up too soon, I can think of quite a few ways and reasons this could come about.  This question came up in response to a thread derailment on the writer’s forum.

Another member disagreed with me, and he has valid points (along with better credentials than I).  Who’s to say/how can someone say something is publishable if the work hasn’t been published?

Writing, specifically fiction, is so damned subjective.  What catches the interest of one agent (or editor, or reader) might be downright distasteful to the next.  Frustrating, but in my mind, that’s also the good news.  That’s what allows for creativity and interpretation.

Cut the Crap

Cut the Crap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t get me wrong, I understand sometimes writing is poor.  Not having a good grasp of the rules of the language you’re writing in, a story that doesn’t go anywhere, characters that are flat, etc. But what about the writing and writers who get trashed by critics, but have huge commercial success?  Good luck, good timing, perseverance…yes.  There’s more to it, though.  There’s good storytelling–whether or not the sentences are artfully crafted–and understanding what your audience wants to read, who they can and will identify with.

I’ve said all along, I write to be read, to reach an audience, and hopefully, one day, earn a dollar.  If none of my work is ever accepted, never reaches an audience, just how pointless was it?  I’m asking in all seriousness, hoping for some discussion, not whining.

Here’s where I start chasing my tail.  You don’t know until you’re either published or give up.  There is no formula.  Most people are unable to publish their first manuscript, some hit with the second, some the tenth, some never do. Everyone’s heard stories of writers whose work was rejected over and over, and eventually were published, a few very successfully, others not so much.  But of those who stuck with it, kept writing and submitting, there’s another subset of those who found “homes” and publication for some of their earlier works that had been rejected, considered unpublishable.

How could those earlier works have been a waste?  And how do you know?  I can’t say “forget the audience, the possibility of publication,” when that is half of my equation.  I write because I’m driven to write, I have an overactive imagination, and enough hubris to believe others will identify with my characters and or their feelings, care about them long enough to keep turning the pages to see how the story ends.

If I run with the assumption that unpublished is the same as unpublishable, does unpublished automatically equal crap? Does it matter if what’s on my thumb drive is drivel or golden pearls as long as it’s trapped on the thumb drive?  Is it possible for unpubbed work to be anything other than drivel?  At what point would you decide that?  After 100 rejections?  50? 20? 3? Are all the unpublished writers craptastic hacks, while those who are published are brilliant?  If I don’t create the work, polish the work, submit the work (everyone is different, this is the part where I stutter and splutter), it will never have a chance.  It’s just a pile of crap taking up room in my brain, as opposed to my hard drive.

Here you have it, the chicken and the egg theory of writing fiction, by Mrs Fringe.  If all else fails, I hear chicken shit is excellent fertilizer.

Kindof a visual pun that I've illustrated...

Kindof a visual pun that I’ve illustrated. Which came first? Technically not a photo, but I did have to physically scan it in, so maybe that counts for something. This is a few years old. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


  1. “…craptastic hacks..” is so good I must store that one for a appropriate person and moment. I’m no writer, but I hear husband talk…things he wanted to throw out but ended up published, manuscripts he kept in a safe deposit box in Switzerland, but nobody wants. It all seems like a crapshoot to me.
    On my Way…


          1. Have to investigate this further. I used to watch news…and received a certificate in enhanced interrogation methods from University of Abu Graib.
            On my Way…


  2. Ha…liberated from computer purgatory. Have an unpublished ms that i’ve entered bits of in contests, coming away with over $4,000 in prize money and grants, which is more than the average first novel makes, I think. Used it for my thesis, and for writing samples for smaller jobs…and it’s not even finished. Publishable…I guess so – unpublished…definitely, and may never be, or it may be in the bargain box in a year – Quien sabes?


    1. 🙂 Hi!
      Your story illustrates my thoughts. If your (unfinished) manuscript worked for a thesis, and prizes and grants, how could it not be publishable? And yes, $4000 sounds about right for an average advance on a first novel.
      But I want it before it hits the bargain bin 😀


  3. I am with you I think there is a lot of publishable pieces of work out there that just haven’t found a publisher willing to take a chance on the writer and publish it…………sometimes I think books don’t get published because the publisers are chicken shit and to scared to take the chance…………I have also read some published books that have been crap


  4. I’m thinking about stuff published posthumously when someone digging through the estate of some author finds the heap of stuff that, for whatever reason, never saw the light of day… and yet was clearly “publishable” all that time it spent reposing in the attic.

    I’m also thinking that someone’s work is of the same quality before and after the “right” person sees it. However, there’s a matter of giving it a certain validity, whether that’s purely in the person’s mind, the professional community, the writing world or a person’s need to be able to Google and find a book with their name on it. This has been a recurrent theme in your blog as an important issue to you.


    1. Ahh, being published posthumously, part of the writer’s lore, along with starving in a garrett. Doesn’t happen anymore, and rarely happened for unknowns ever.

      Yup, the whole published/publishable theme is in the forefront of many writers’ minds. Because it is all so subjective, that validation is needed for a lot of us. I *know* when a story of mine is good, as opposed to meh–but good is not necessarily good enough, and the better the story is, the harder it is to pull back enough to see what is needed to make the story best.


  5. This is a great post.

    I have a friend who has written three novels. I read his most recent one. It didn’t do a lot for me, but I’m not a huge fan of fiction and, as his friend, I do REALLY want him to realize his dream. His ms. (agented; he has a good journalism background), got seen by some Very Big Editors…who all rejected it. He shared one of those emails with me and I almost threw a chair at the utter stupidity of the words in the email from this highly placed gatekeeper. They were NUTS. Seriously.

    So that’s even more depressing. We are all placing our work (egos/income) in the hands of people, some of whom are so bizarro in their opinions I don’t know how they got or kept a job.

    I see this in journalism all the time. Some of the people who choose to reject me I wouldn’t have a cup of coffee with…


    1. Thanks Caitlin 🙂
      If your friend is agented, he’s good. With or without a journalism background, agents don’t make money unless the writer sells. That’s a big percentage of why it’s so hard to get an agent in the first place, they have to have faith that the work in question will be profitable for them.
      But yes, some of the things I’ve seen are mind boggling.
      Depressing, absolutely. We are not our work, and have to remember to make that distinction when faced with rejection. But we do pour ourselves into that work, making it a thorny proposition.


  6. Great article. And you ask a valid question. Those who write can bite the bullet and venture into the submission arena or join a pity-party and never submit due to their fears.

    If the later, she/he will never have any gauge as to their abilities or lack thereof other than their own lack of self-confidence.

    If the former, she/he will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that at least one person read it. Should a rejection come back to their hands, they have proof they, at least, tried to get it published. The rejection acts as a marker, a proof of intent to publish.

    Editors come in all shapes, sizes, likes, and dislikes. Until you’ve worked with them all, you have no idea who will take your work and who won’t. It is a crapshoot, but what a wonderful way to spend your time.


    1. Hi Claudsy, welcome to Mrs Fringe, and thank you for your thoughtful comment. 🙂

      I agree, if you see yourself as a writer, or want to, you have to submit, hard as it can be.

      It’s wonderful, it’s frustrating, it is what it is 🙂


      1. Exactly. A writer is one who writes. That’s it’s definition at its most basic. An author is someone who publishes what she/he writes. The difference is vast and nearly nothing at all; a mere act of faith on the part of the writer and an interested party at the other end of a contract.

        I’m glad I found your blog. I enjoyed it. Thank you.


        1. Yes! Faith is everything in writing, it’s nebulous, but it’s out of that faith we find hard work and perseverance, on all parts. 🙂

          I’m glad you found me, poke around, and I hope you’ll come again!


Leave a Reply to mrs fringe Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.