Myths, Lies and the Publishing Industry

A couple of recent posts on writer-lists I belong to have prompted me to do something I swore I’d never do with this blog (but already broke in the first week). I hadn’t planned to use this blog to foist my opinions about publishing on the world. Enough people already do that and do it well… But sometimes, it appears, I just can’t help myself…

So, at the risk of having cyber-tomatoes tossed my way, I find myself wanting to voice a few opinions about small pubs, e-pubs and (gasp) self-publishing.

I’m still very early in my—what I hope will be a—writing career… but, except for about ten minutes after one particularly disappointing bit of news, I haven’t even considered an option other than shooting for a contract with a major NY publisher.

Why? For me, it’s about knowing what you want. It’s about setting goals and sticking to them even if it requires a little harsh reflection and honesty—not to mention a lot of hard work on your craft and probably tossing a few early manuscripts into the trash bin.

Not that I think there’s any one right way to get published—or even a best way—I just know what I want and based on some things I read on the loops, some (emphasis on some) writers end up at e-pubs without much forethought or because they weren’t honest with themselves about their writing or about the industry.

In other words, if a writer decides to target a small press or e-pub, he/she should be very clear about why they’ve made that choice.

In my opinion, it comes down to goals. Writers (I hope) write because we love to write… So why do we want to be published? That’s a whole other question. Some writers may be happy just to see their name in print on a book cover. Maybe it’s being able to use that elusive title “author”. Maybe they just hope a few people who don’t know them will actually read their stories. On the other hand, some writers have different goals. For example, seeing their book in major chains, reaching for or hitting bestseller lists, reviews in major publications, possible movie deals, having thousands of people read their books, earning a modest living…

If those latter goals sound like you… Then my advice is to stay focused on getting that contract with a major NY publishing house.

What saddens me most, I suppose, is when I see writers falling into the trap of believing certain myths about the industry that get perpetrated amongst we pre-published authors. Yes, it’s a tough business. Yes, the odds are against a new writer. Yes, it’s very subjective. Yes, there’s some luck and timing involved, but some things I hear out there just aren’t true. For example, I’ve heard people claiming that to get a major NY contract or even land a reputable agent:

  • You have to know someone
  • You have to be pretty
  • Your book has to fit into some kind of cookie-cutter mold
  • You have to learn a secret handshake no one’s willing to teach you

Yes, these little lies writers tell themselves can help take the sting out of the inevitable rejections that come in this business—but they are lies. Believing that you need an “in” to get published by a NY house, or that the major houses never take chances can lead writers into a world of delusion. Yes, small presses and e-pubs have launched certain fiction sub-genres — they can take more chances because the costs are so much lower… But once those barriers have been broken and it’s proven a market exists (say with erotica or paranormal right now) NY starts clamoring for those types of books and if your writing is good enough, your storytelling gripping, your voice strong, you will find an agent and get a publishing deal with a NY house.


This is what I believe.

Am I the one who’s deluded?

I don’t have a book contract yet. It took me 3 completed manuscripts to get a great agent and I recognize that it might take a few more manuscripts to get that contract… Don’t get me wrong… it will break my heart if the book my agent is shopping right now doesn’t sell… But I’ll recover. I also know each book I write gets better and for me (emphasis on for me) going with a small pub or e-pub is a compromise I’m not willing to make. It’s just not compatible with my goals. Your goals might be different. Just be honest with yourself and don’t buy into the myths.

  6 comments for “Myths, Lies and the Publishing Industry

  1. Anonymous
    July 4, 2006 at 4:12 pm

    Hi Maureen,

    I think this is a great post. I’ve worked in the publishing industry for about ten years — first as the founding editor and editor in chief of the literary magazine Zoetrope: All-Story and then as a writer (my novel, MAN CAMP, was published by Random House), so I’ve been on both sides of the fence. It’s undeniably hard to get published (and I’m sure being known in the industry helped get my work read faster than it otherwise might have), but the truth is that most of the editors I know are hard working people, dedicated to their profession and are always trying to find new voices. It might be icing on the cake to learn that the manuscript you’ve just bought was written by a well-connected blond bombshell, but I can tell you, I almost never knew what a writer looked like before I acquired a story.

    Just my two cents. Keep up the good work!.

    Best, Adrienne

  2. July 4, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    Thanks Adrienne. Your book sounds great! (Amazing title) I’ll have to pick one up.

    Re the blond bombshell thing… I’m sure, as in most things, being gorgeous helps, but like you said… most books are bought–even published–before the editor even lays eyes on the author.

    Diana Peterfreund blogged about this on May 23.

  3. July 4, 2006 at 11:28 pm

    This is a great post. I agree, overall, with everything you’ve said, but I would probably say the little white lies you mentioned aren’t really lies; they just don’t happen AS often as the truth.

  4. July 5, 2006 at 2:47 am

    I think it is great your foisting your opinion. This could be directly related to the fact I completely agree. We all want a magic answer. What I’ve discovered so far is that there are short cuts for some (Nicole Richie- great author? You be the judge)so you can either be mad you don’t fall into one of those lucky connected groups or you have to work that much harder knowing it is possible and that is the way the majority make it.

  5. July 5, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    Great post, Maureen. I agree. Once you know what you want, you find the path to get there. The fact that you landed an agent is a major step.

    I was talking to some editors at Thrillerfest as well as on-line and they get hundreds–some of them thousands–of queries a week. Agented material goes to the top of the pile. Then, agents they know/know their interests go on top of that.

    I think you’re on the right path. Good luck!

  6. July 7, 2006 at 1:43 am

    I know how you feel, Maureen. When I started getting rejections on my book, my agent said, “You sound so disappointed.” Uh, yeah. This book is still with a couple of publishers so you never know. In the meantime, it’s on to the next one. And then that one could publish later. You just never know.

    And, btw, “Man Camp” is such a wonderful book – kinda like where “SATC” meets those wonderful Doris Day romantic comedies of the ’60s.

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