Monday, June 11, 2018

The Publishing Wheel

By Cindy Sproles

The writing industry is like a giant water wheel. It’s huge, filled with buckets, and 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. A mile from her house was a functioning grist mill.

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 on the wheel and turning the wheel. When the water buckets made it to the top, they caught on a wooden bar that tipped and emptied them back into the creek. This wheel, attached to a gear inside the mill with two huge, round stones, turned as the farmer dumped scoops of dried corn kernels onto the wheel. As the stones turned, they crushed the corn into flour.

This wheel is a prime example of how the writing industry works. Once you get your head around the concept, 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. It takes time—sometimes a long time—for that wheel to make a complete rotation.

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 slowly. The bucket in front of yours will reach the top long before your bucket. It may even stop and teeter at the top while publishers are working their way through, 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 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 hottest new trend.

Listen when authors tell you about timing. They want you to learn patience in an industry that moves like 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?
Learn the craft of writing. Spend quality time spinning and weaving words, studying techniques, and practicing what will make your story/stories better. Master the craft, and then study and practice some more. You may even find yourself digging through your bucket, trying to retrieve what you’ve written so you can make that better too.

Rejection letters do not necessarily mean your writing is bad.
Sometimes 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 that will set the newest trends. In the meantime, write articles. Build platform.

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

There are times publishers rush to invest in trends that look as though they might become tidal waves they can ride for an extended time. Instead, the wave is only a small swell. This industry does not rush. If your rushing is the difference in self-publishing a work before it’s ready, 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. Sometimes waiting on the wheel is well worth the time. The great writer 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.

(Photos courtesy of Miles.)


Writer, ride the publishing wheel. Eventually, your bucket will reach the top. (Click to tweet.)

Cindy Sproles is the cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries. She’s an author, popular speaker and teacher at conferences, and a writing mentor. Cindy serves as the Executive Editor of,, and is the Managing Editor for SonRise Books and Straight Street Books with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is the author of New Sheets–Thirty Days to Refine You Into the Woman You Can Be, Mercy’s Rain–An Appalachian Novel, and Liar's Winter. Visit Cindy at


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