Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Publishing Wheel

by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted

The writing industry is like a giant water wheel. It’s huge, filled with buckets, and it turns constantly. Now you ask, “What is she talking about?” It was a somewhat lame attempt at vivid description, and if you’re willing to bear with me – you’ll see.

When I was a child, my cousin and I loved going to my grandmother’s house. She lived deep in the country, and about a mile from her house was a grist mill. Fully functioning.

We’d traipse through the creek, jump on rocks and make our way to the mill. On the side of a barn-type building, stood a huge wheel that turned at the speed of molasses. Water from the creek was forced through a trough, filling each bucket that surrounded the wheel. As the buckets filled with water, the wheel turned. When the water buckets made it to the top of the wheel, they caught on a wooden bar that tipped and emptied them back into the creek. This turning wheel was attached to a gear inside the mill with two huge, round stones. The farmer would dump scoops of dried corn kernels onto the wheel, lower the top stone, powered by the water wheel, and as the stones turned they crushed the corn into .  . . you guessed it – flour.

I tell you this because, this is how the writing industry works. Once you get your head around the concept, then rejection letters aren’t quite so bitter.

Let’s bring it into context. The industry is a huge wheel, loaded with buckets. As the wheel turns, tons of manuscripts drop into the buckets. The heavier the buckets are, the slower the wheel turns. It takes time – sometimes a long time, for that wheel to make a complete turn.

Now that you have that picture in your head, think of each bucket as a specific genre or trend. Today the top bucket is heavy with Amish fiction. Your genre bucket (rocket science thrillers), may just be filling. Remember, the wheel turns slow. The bucket in front of yours will reach the top of the wheel long before your bucket. It may even stop and teeter on the top while publishers are working their way through them. But eventually the wheel begins to turn again and your bucket will reach the top and dump.

Why this elaborate attempt at drawing a mental picture? Because, it says volumes (no pun intended), about the trends of publishing. What is popular today, will soon begin the downward turn, and what was less popular yesterday (rocket science thrillers), slowly works its way to the top of the wheel to become the hotest new trend.

When you hear authors tell you about timing, listen. They want you to learn patience in an industry that moves. . .like I said – molasses. Eventually, your genre will be on top and folks will be clamoring for the newest novel from your bucket.

What do you do while you wait for the wheel to turn? You learn the craft of writing. You spend quality time spinning and weaving words, studying techniques, and practicing what will make your story/stories better. You master the craft and then you study and practice some more.

You may even find yourself digging through the bucket, trying to retrieve what you’ve written so you can make that better as well.

Rejection letters do not necessarily mean your writing is not good. Sometimes it means that it’s just not time. Your bucket hasn’t reached the top yet. Publishers have slots and holes they must fill to meet the trends of the industry. As those needs fill, and the trend changes, they dig into a new bucket looking for the nuggets of gold that will set the newest trends. Publishers ride trends like a surfer rides the waves. Sometimes they invest into a wave that looks like it will provide a long ride, when in essence, it’s only a swell.

Trends in reading change quickly. It’s important to keep up with those trends. You may, from time-to-time, find a new niche’ for yourself as you follow what rises to the top.

All this to say, you can’t rush the industry. And if your rushing is the difference in self-publishing a work before it’s time, then you may find yourself catching a swell and missing the wave.

There’s something to be said for patience in writing. Waiting. It’s good to learn how to handle rejection and how to refocus the disappointment into determination. My brother recently shared a nod of praise for me. “I’m proud of you. You kept getting knocked back, but it only forced you to do better. Time has made you better. Better as a person, better as a teacher, and awesome as an author.”

Sometimes waiting on the wheel is well worth the time, be in months or years. The great Robert Benson said, "Determined is the proper posture for a writer. Hurried is NOT the proper posture for a writer."

Ride the wheel. Eventually your bucket will reach the top.

TWEETABLESThe #Publishing Wheel turns slowly, but it does turn - @CindyDevoted (Click to Tweet)

Patience and #publishing go hand-in-hand - @CindyDevoted on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Cindy Sproles is an award-winning author and popular speaker. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions ministries and managing editor of Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Cindy is the executive editor of www.christiandevotions.us and www.inspireafire.com. She teaches at writers conferences nationwide and directs The Asheville Christian Writers Conference - Writers Boot Camp. 

She is the author of two devotionals, He Said, She Said - Learning to Live a Life of Passion and New Sheets - Thirty Days to Refine You into the Woman You Can Be. Cindy's debut novel, Mercy's Rain, is available at major retailers. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com and book her for your next conference or ladies retreat. Also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Cindy, Great word picture. Thank you! Praying for all of you as you attend the BRMCWC

  2. Cindy, thanks so much for this encouraging explanation of how the writing industry is like a giant water wheel and our stories are in buckets waiting to reach the top.

    1. You are welcome. I hope it encourages determination and patience.

  3. Wise words and great analogy. :)

  4. Awesome analogy. And I love that quote. I'll have to post it somewhere where I can see it often.

  5. Cindy,

    A very timely post and one that's worth reading over and over.

    The same analogy holds true for life as well as for traditional publishing. One of the things current society has lost as a whole is the ability to wait.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  6. You should read Robert Benson's books.

  7. Excellent reminder, Cindy. Thank you!

  8. I'll never again view the water-wheel mechanisms in the same way. This helped tremendously! Thanks

    1. Good. Then you will learn determination and patience.

  9. Excellent analogy - good for all of us to read periodically. Thanks.

  10. Thanks for the wise words. Now to grow more patience, put on the writing gloves and dig deeper. Thanks again.

  11. Great post. My friend and I are looking to publish someday, so this post was a real inspiration and motivator.

  12. Great word picture Cindy. We all need to be reminded of this so thanks for painting the BIG picture in such a vivid way!