There always has been a peculiar romance about writers and writing. The process itself is mysterious, even sometimes to those who do it for a hobby or for a living; it has been compared with giving birth, and it has been described as a form of madness. Most writers don't like to delve too deeply into the mystery of writing. They fear that the magic will evaporate and leave only the wispy, dreamlike memory of the excitement they feel when the perfect combination of words bubbles up from their inner wells. Madness it may be, and laborious, and inexplicable. It doesn't matter. It's what we do.
But that's only part of the romance. The true seduction of writing is the idea that somebody, somewhere, someday will read what we write and be touched, informed, and entertained by it. And, when that happens, we achieve a sort of demigod status, even if only for a fleeting moment. That is the glory of getting published, not just the first time, but every time.
How to get published also is a major mystery for many writers. Countless aspiring authors of every genre find themselves flummoxed and befuddled by a steady stream of standard rejection slips and wonder if there is some dark conspiracy at work to keep their words out of the reading public's hands. It's easy to believe in such a theory when you don't know the inner workings of magazine and book publishers. For ninety-nine out of 100 hopeful writers, the unpalatable truth is that mere talent and great ideas are not enough to pierce the natural and strong sales resistance in today's publishing market. You need a platform to stand on, a track record to prove your ability, and a thorough familiarity with the needs and wants of your readers and the editors who select content for them. There is precious little romance about the publishing business, and writers who want to build a career for themselves doing what they love to do must learn to balance the sentimental glamour of the process with the more prosaic realities of the industry.
That's the bad news. The good news is that there are more opportunities for new writers to break into the business than ever before. Depending on where your interests and talents lie, you might pursue landing bylined feature assignments from national consumer magazines or having your short stories or poems published in small but high-quality literary magazines. You might write exclusively for the innumerable e-zines available on the Web. You might contribute to newsletters for hobbyists, or financial analysts, or chiefs of police. Or you might write press releases and copy for a corporation's quarterly or annual report.
Most books about getting published focus primarily on getting books published, because, for most writers, seeing one's name on the spine of a bona fide book is the holy grail. But there are many avenues to getting published, and any of them can lead to a busy and profitable writing career. Chances are good that they'll even lead to your own holy grail, if having a book published is your ambition. And, like most things in life, chances are you'll take a few unplanned detours during your quest.