Is Publishing a Book a Birthright?

A couple of years before my son was born, I was a guest on a radio show with a spiritually inclined host who was equating writing a book with pregnancy and childbirth--a metaphor you'll hear a lot if you hang out with writers and authors. Maybe because I was sick of the comparison, or maybe because I hadn't had a child yet, I challenged her and said I thought we needed to find a new metaphor. But the child-birthing metaphor persists. Book coaches consider themselves midwives. Authors--whether they have kids or not--liken the process of "being with book" to being with child. I even know a few men who've articulated their process this way.

Today, with more years under my belt and a little more empathy (as a writing coach and hybrid publisher rather than an acquiring editor) for what it takes to write a book, I embrace the metaphor completely. Writers are pregnant with the vision of their books for a long time, and bringing them into the world is, for most writers, the birth of their creative dream.

I also appreciate this metaphor because I believe there's a certain inalienable right to write and to publish, similar to the right we all have to have children. And while there are plenty of bad parents in the world who don't appreciate their children, there are many many more who treat parenting as a privilege, who come to the role with agency and intention (especially those parents who seek fertility support, or pursue adoption). And so there are more similarities: like parenting, writing a book is not something anyone should enter into naively, and like raising children, you get savvier the more you do it.

One of my clients was recently revisiting with me her reasons for writing her book, an exercise to get re-inspired. She told me that her journey was not just about being a writer; it was about sharing an experience. She not only wanted to take people on a journey, but to learn more about herself. I was struck by this because in October of last year I was featured, along with my co-teacher, Linda Joy Myers, in a NYT article about how memoir writing is therapeutic and revelatory. For my client, writing this book is her birthright. I believe many people have writing a book on their bucket list not because it's an achievement, worthy of accolades, but because it carries a satisfaction similar to carrying and birthing a child. You have a creative idea; it gestates; you birth it; and then you release it into the world to do what it's going to do. You might help it along, or let it find its own way. You might be proud or disappointed in it.

And while my client wants this book to be the best it can be, for her, writing a book is not about becoming a better writer. This may make some writers wince--isn't it all about the craft? I've found the answer is no, and I don't think it necessarily should be, or needs to be.

In posts online I've sometimes gotten pushback about the idea I've posed that new publishing represents the democratization of publishing. It's because of money that some people object. Paying for publishing invariably means the elite will be heard. Those who can afford to publish will, and everyone else will be silenced. Others object that because of the notion that anyone can publish, publishing itself is no longer for serious writers alone. But I would argue that new publishing is opening doors for voices that have always been silenced, and that in today's publishing climate, opportunities abound for all kinds of writers. Beautiful, literary writing has its place, but so do books whose writing is clear-eyed and simple, and books that offer testimony, present a different way of understanding, and teach us something new--without necessarily needing to have been written by someone famous, or someone who comes from a prestigious writing program.

If we truly looked a publishing as a birthright, similar to raising a child, perhaps fewer writers would balk at the idea of paying to publish. And don't get me wrong. It's not that I'm advocating for paying to publish over getting paid to publish; it's simply that traditional publishing is contracting, and there will continue to be fewer and fewer publishing deals for writers in years to come. Writers who've been holding out for deals will choose to green-light their own work, and they should. To me, the democratization of publishing is about believing that your work can and should be out in the world, and if you have to finance it, so be it. You can do that incrementally, and you can publish big or publish small. The point is that this experience is yours to embrace if you want it. You don't have to wait for someone else to say yes. You can choose.