Myths vs. Facts of Publishing
The comments on Friday’s post confirmed that myths about publishing are alive and well, as they always have been. Of course, every myth has its basis in some kind of fact, and it’s not always easy to tease apart the truth from the lie. I’ll address a few common myths here, but just realize, for everything I say, there’s going to be an exception. I’m saying this from my perspective based on what I’ve seen.
1. Getting published is a catch-22.
I hear this all the time… it’s probably the single biggest myth about publishing and it drives me CRAZY because it’s so untrue. People say, “You need an agent to get published. But you can’t get an agent if you’re not published.” Writers believe this lie and then spend all kinds of time and energy fretting about it.
Closely related is another myth, “Nobody’s taking on any unpublished authors.”
Both are complete and utter hogwash. Sure, it’s hard to break in to publishing. If you’re unpublished, it’s a difficult road. But understand this: There is a huge reading machine out there that needs to be constantly fed. We need new content, and we will always need the infusion of new voices. I’m still a newer agent; I’ve sold 26 books and of those, 21 were from debut authors. So don’t believe the ridiculous myth that you have to be published to get an agent, or that nobody’s interested in unpublished authors. It’s just harder, that’s all. But you already knew that.
2. Agents don’t read submissions.
Several of Friday’s comments expressed the fear that agents don’t even read their submissions. Ginny Martyn shared the suspicion that when it’s time to choose projects to represent, agents “lock their office doors, close their office blinds and employ eenie meenie miney moe.” How fascinating! That would sure be easier than the way I’ve been doing it – which is to actually try and assess each project in terms of (a) whether I like it, and (b) whether I think I can sell it.
Obviously I don’t think agents use eenie meenie miney moe, and if they did, they’d either be very bad agents with a terrible track record of selling, OR their system works, they sell lots of books, so who cares how they choose them?
Bottom line, any agent who’s actually looking for new clients is reading submissions; if you happened to get a pass letter from an agent who didn’t read your submission, then they don’t have time for new clients or they’re not the agent for you anyway. So there’s no mileage in worrying about this.
3. Agents talk with one another about bad queries.
A commenter named Two Flights Down pictures an agent reading a query and thinking, “Ugghhh…that again!?” Then speaking with other agents about how horrible and annoying the letter was. The truth is, most agents are way too busy for this. Some agents write about bad queries, good queries, and mediocre queries on their blogs as a way of trying to help writers. But as far as calling up our friends and going, “You wouldn’t believe this horrible query I got…” Well, there’s just no point. With dozens of queries coming every single day, we don’t have time to gossip about them. I’m not saying it can’t occasionally happen, but it’s not the way most of us conduct ourselves on a daily basis.
4. If you don’t follow the “rules” you will get automatically rejected.
This is something that truly bothers me. I often blog and tweet about ways to make your writing better, ways to improve your queries, and what NOT to do in a query. A lot of agents & editors do the same thing. The problem comes when writers interpret every single thing we say to mean, “If you don’t follow this ONE piece of advice, we will immediately reject you, and you will never get published.”
That’s NOT what we’re saying! Every piece of advice is simply that – a tip to help you become a better writer or create more powerful queries. Everything occurs in context; i.e. making one little mistake in the bigger picture of a wonderful query or a wonderful book isn’t going to kill you. So please, take our tips for what they are – TIPS – and try not to stress out so much thinking any little thing can make or break your entire writing career. (But still, DO pay attention to detail as much as possible.)
5. Most agents won’t consider any manuscript over 120k words in length.
NOT a myth – this one is true! Until you’ve proven yourself with a couple of books that sold well, you’re not likely to sell an epic or saga much over 100k. There are always exceptions, of course. But if you’re trying to break in, your 180k-opus is probably not the ticket. (See my post, Writing the Break-In Novel.)
I’ll address some of the other myths in future posts.