Are You Wasting Your Time Trying to Get Published?

Writer's Digest (July/August 2011)

Writer's Digest (July/August 2011)

Don’t you wish someone could tell you if you’re wasting your time trying to be a writer? Or if you’re at all close to getting traditionally published—assuming that’s your goal?

In a recent issue of Writer’s Digest, I have a feature article, “Revising Your Path to Publication,” that attempts to address these (rather) unanswerable questions. It’s a helpful article for writers who feel like they’re banging their head against the wall. In a nutshell, here’s what I advise.

Avoid these 5 time wasters

  1. Submitting manuscripts that aren’t your best work.
  2. Self-publishing when no one is listening.
  3. Distributing your work digitally when your audience wants print—or vice versa.
  4. Seeking New York commercial publishing deals for regional or niche work.
  5. Focusing on publishing when you should be writing.

 The 2 things I find MOST relevant to your publication path

  1. How much time you’ve put into writing. Have you put in enough time to get good at it?
  2. How much time you’ve spent reading quality, published work. This helps you learn how to write better AND understand where you might be on the spectrum of quality.

When is it time to change course?

  1. Honestly assess whether your work is commercially viable. Not all work is.
  2. Are readers responding to something you didn’t expect? I see this happen all the time: A writer is working on a manuscript that no one seems interested in, but has fabulous success on some side project.
  3. Are you getting bitter? If you find yourself demonizing people in the publishing industry, taking rejections very personally, feeling as if you’re owed something, and/or complaining whenever you get together with other writers, it’s time to find the refresh button.

Here’s a little piece of hope: If your immediate thought upon reading this blog post headline was something like: I couldn’t stop trying even if someone told me to give up, then you’re much closer to publication than someone who is easily discouraged. The battle is far more psychological than you might think.

If you’d like to read the full-length article (about 2,500 words), then get the Writer’s Digest July/August 2011 issue.

Looking for other posts I’ve written similar to this topic?

Questions? I’m happy to address them in the comments.


Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Writing Advice.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Heidi Angell

Jane, I am curious. There are quite a few people having a remarkable success with self-publishing through e-books. John Locke just sold 1,000,000 copies of a book that he e-published. Why would going that route when no one in the industry seems interested be wasting your time trying to get published? Especially if you have gotten very positive feedback from readers who have looked at the work. (Not necessarily friends, but people you have asked to review the book). I have been waiting three years to get my book published. I have an agent who has only offered me dubious… Read more »

Heidi Angell

Thank you for your response! I was expecting to do a lot of work marketing either way. Of course I would prefer to get published by a big house, but as a new author that is… impractical. I will have to check out that e-book. 

Jane Makuch

Fantastic article.  It’s funny how as writers we generally are shy and introverted, yet when we finish the first draft of our first manuscript, we become like “drunk seniors on spring break”!  
Suddenly, our inhibitions are gone and we think everyone is just waiting to worship our “masterpiece”… uggg… growing pains can suck!  But when we get through them, advice like yours can be priceless.  Thank you

Patricia Gligor

I absolutely love reading your articles. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how I look at it, I am one of those people who “couldn’t stop trying even if someone told me to give up.” Thanks for your words of wisdom, which they always truly are.

Shari Lopatin


This is GREAT advice for any professional writer. Thank you. Your tips really made me think, and they actually apply to the professional (i.e. they’re not everyone-in-the-writing-world-knows-this tips).


Caryn Sullivan

Thanks for that insight, Jane. 


Good article, and timely.  I am leaning toward self-publishing, but I realize it is a lot of work.  I think a lot of people do not realize it still has to be done professionally to rise above the crowd.  Just reformatting a Word doc to Kindle format doesn’t cut it.  As we used to say in IT, garbage in, garbage out.  If anything, I think the bar is higher since there is no one that has your back.
Keep up the good work.  Yours is one of the most useful threads I follow!  

Amy Potts

I write because I love to share my thoughts; ultimately to encourage others.  Blogging has been a good way to learn whether or not anyone else wants to hear what rattles in my head from day to day.  I think that there will come a time when I will know whether or not my thoughts should be bound in paper, that I might make it into the homes of others.  I enjoy reading your thoughts, advice and other information.  It has shown me in many ways that I am on the right path.  I write first because I love to… Read more »

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This was excellent; from an MFA graduate, aspiring author (I’m waiting for my manuscript to be ready), and creative writing instructor’s viewpoint, it’s completely true. 

Gregg Peter Farah

Humbling and inspiring. Thanks for the post.


Good points, all. I am often asked by friends or relatives to read their work and give them feedback. Most are awful and no, they should not be encourage. They should take a basic English course instead. So, how do you handle such situations when in fact encouraging them would be cruel?

David Mark Brown

Commercially viable… this seems to be defined quite differently for traditional publishing and Indie ebook publishing. I suppose if I spend $3,000 to produce a finished product that cost almost nothing per ebook after initial expense, then the qualifications for commercially viable expand significantly. The stuff I’m writing now I do not believe to be traditional publishing viable. At least I know I wouldn’t be able to get in the door with it. But, I suppose good story is good story. So down the road I can hope.


…assuming that’s your goal… Ha ha. Thank you so much for saying that! It would be so great if somebody with a large following would write an article about how you don’t need much of an audience at all to enjoy writing and get satisfaction from it. Five reasons to write without ever having an audience: 1. Writing is a natural way to improve information processing (ie learning). “Telling, retelling, writing, and rewriting stories are fundamental parts of social life and our study of it.” -Patricia Leavy 2. Writing is a natural way to interact more deeply with the written… Read more »


Sales and popularity do not always equal good writing.  Thanks for this article.

With so many works coming out every year, just writing good or even brilliant stuff is not going to cut it. I have wasted so much time and effort trying the conventional routes… Now I have my own imprint and am extending it to other good writers. That works; not super-rich yet, but in the black. I have decided to concentrate on a niche – sexy short romance – and invite other authors to sell cooperatively with me. Why other authors when writing is such a solitary craft? Because I get the best results when I spend 20% of my… Read more »

Myne Whitman

I strongly agree with your 5 time wasters. While I’m still learning as I go, I know I couldn’t have been where I am today if I hadn’t made a move to self-publish my Nigerian romances. But I only went in that direction after my blog became a platform. Thanks for sharing.

[…] wrote a blog post recently called, Are You Wasting Your Time Trying to Get Published?, which asks these two […]

Imran Soudagar

This guide will surely help new writers like me. And yes you are right about self-publishing. But new writers get frustrated when they don’t see success even after they put they best of their ability. Thanks for sharing the info.  

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