Myths We Believe

Next Friday I’m teaching “Breaking Through Publishing Myths” at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference.

What myths about publishing did you believe until somebody set you straight?
What are some things you’ve heard about publishing that you think might be a myth?
I want to address real concerns of writers out there today. And as a bonus, I’ll address your myths here on the blog, too.
Thanks, and have a great weekend!

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  3. Heather todd on July 3, 2011 at 1:46 PM

    Thanks for the great post…nice

  4. Jessica Peter on March 5, 2011 at 7:43 PM

    >I've been having a great time seeing all the publishing myths other people have noticed, wincing at some of them, and seeing others I definitely identify with. I can't think of any myths of my own, but I did want to make a few comment:

    @ catdownunder "There seems to be a myth hanging around that the "slush pile" actually gets looked at."
    I KNOW I've read on other agent blogs that they do look at (and sometimes even offer for!) items from their slush. However, this is "slush pile" being used to mean anything unrequested. . .and not random full manuscripts (outside the agent's guidelines) that show up.

    @ A.Grey – people have told you getting published was easy? Geez, what planet were they on? 😉

  5. Joanne@ Blessed... on March 5, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    >Myth? I thought I'd write a book, then speak a few times and sit back and relax.

    Truth. Three months before my book debut, my manuscript is a distant memory.

    My time is filled with learning the ins and outs of social marketing and local networking opportunities.

  6. Elizabeth Michels on March 5, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    >I have heard recently that many agents have reading software that scans query letters. If the query contains a tag word, then the software flags the query indicating it needs to be form rejected. It is very disheartening to think that a real person is not even browsing over my query letter. For those of us perched on the edge of a genre with a great story, please tell me this in a myth.

  7. Kathryn Magendie on March 5, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    >That when your books are at last published, they will be in bookstores automatically – meaning, bookstores all across the land will just "automatically" order published books, even if it's just one.

  8. Anonymous on March 5, 2011 at 4:57 AM

    >The myth I always believed was that becoming a writer was a pipe-dream that would never come true.
    And then in the space of just a couple of months I got an agent, had an auction, got a deal with a major house and an advance big enough to live off.
    Don't give up, it can happen.

  9. arbraun on March 5, 2011 at 12:52 AM

    >I'm finding out that many things I assumed about publishing are myths: that magazines will care if you have previous publishing credits; that most agents will take notice if you have a well-crafted query–it's more about what they think they can sell and what they can't–even if you go on query message boards to improve it; that belonging to a writing organization will mean anything to magazine editors and a lot of agents; that readers will care simply because you have a book out, especially an anthology; and I have to agree with the last commenter. An editor doesn't always fix your mistakes.

  10. Kim Kouski on March 4, 2011 at 9:07 PM

    >My myth was an editor is there to make your story better. It's ok if you write poorly or have bad grammer. The editor will fix it. Oh brother!!!

  11. Kristin on March 4, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    >The myth I believed: That getting an agent meant I would get published.

  12. Kristin Laughtin on March 4, 2011 at 5:18 PM

    >The most prevalent myth I've heard is that you can just send your manuscript to a publisher and it will surely get looked at in the slush pile. Of course, most people spreading this myth can pull out the name of an author who did get that lucky, but none seem to believe all the hits saying that these were the exception, not the rule, when they Google "how to get published".

  13. chris on March 4, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    >Great question and thought-provoking. Near and dear to my heart is the myth that all self-published works are not well-written. The theory is that if the author could not a publisher then the book must not be any good.

  14. Maureen Mullis on March 4, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    >I always thought that once I signed with an agent the hard work was done. Not so! After 1-1/2 years we parted ways with no sale, no book published and right back at square one. Also, the agent kept asking me where to pitch the book. At that point I thought if I was going to have to do her job too then I might as well do it myself without an agent. A frustrating, disappointing experience along with a shattered myth.

  15. Anonymous on March 4, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    >Reading through the comments and seeing all the people talk about having their manuscripts changed by an editor. I guess I believed that too because with my first picture book, I kept expecting a letter with a billion changes to it, but I never got one. I was pretty worried until my agents assured me that it was okay–sometimes editors do like a manuscript the way it is.

  16. Ishta Mercurio on March 4, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    >My "myth or truth" question is the same as Kaitlynne's: I've heard that it's best for unknown authors to start with the small presses and work their way up. Myth or truth?

  17. Abigail on March 4, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    >Is it a myth that CBA doesn't publish YA unless you're already published? I do see some YA on the shelf at my local Christian bookstore–largely folks who've already written adult fiction. Most Christian publisher's websites I've checked into state they aren't taking YA at this time, but mainstream YA is the hot genre right now.

    Are there any Christian agents who with unpublished YA/crossover authors?

  18. Mastering Investments on March 4, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    >That the pay is really, really, really good. Uber! Is this true? Writers earn millions?

  19. Auxerre on March 4, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    >I would say that sometimes it's better not to be set straight on the realities of publishing just like I'd like to continue to believe in the magic of unicorns. I think it takes a little bit of myth believing, not busting, to continue to write the magic of a story. Focusing on the oftentimes harsh realities of publishing is like not believing in unicorns. If you stop believing,you'll be sure never to know either one.

  20. Kaitlyne on March 4, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    >Here's a myth that I first learned ten years ago while in college when I was first attempting to get published. Granted, it might not have been a myth back then, I really don't know.

    Anyway, I'd always been told that if you wanted a big publisher, the only way to do it was to get published at small presses first and work your way up. While I now know that it's possible, I also understand why this isn't the best method if you want to be published by the big houses.

  21. bfav on March 4, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    >I'll be at the NCW Conference and I'm excited for your class. There are a bunch of great ?s in the comments.

    Where I would like clarity:

    1. Does a first book in a series really need to stand alone? If it has a full plot can it leave you hanging?

    2. Is pitching at a conference more of an advantage than just a query?

    3. Is Charlie Sheen really crazy or is it a publicity stunt?

  22. Anonymous on March 4, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    >Myth: That you don't need contacts to get an agent or get published.

    Also that it'll be easier if you've been widely published.

    Reality: Agents just want a hot genre (YA) or an easy sale, no matter how good your writing. It's all about the bottom line.

  23. Andrew on March 4, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    >I hope…

    …that the myth is that you have to be able to ride the trends…

    …and the reality is that a good story and good characters will eventually find a home.


  24. Lynne Connolly on March 4, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    >I came across a new writer the other day who had been told that you need an agent for everything. She had a short erotica story to sell, so IMO, that wasn't right for her. She'd been told that you need an agent for small press, epublishers and Harlequin.
    While I would never dream of going to big publishers without the help of an agent, that's the place agents really earn their dollar and then some.
    This person was being misled, so I'd love an explanation of where agents help the most and what they can and can't help with.
    And the "you can give up your day job" thing, too. Best not to burn your boats, I'd say.

  25. Meg on March 4, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    >Here's another one for children's books I hear a lot: You find your own illustrator.

    I can't tell you how many people say to me, "Oh, I wrote/have this great idea for a children's book. My cousin/friend's daughter/grad student/babysitter is going to illustrate it! She's a really great artist." I just sort of cringe.

  26. The Decreed on March 4, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    >I don't like what you seem to be implying there. Unicorns most certainly are real. You can't take that from me.

  27. Hilarey Johnson on March 4, 2011 at 10:20 AM

    >I like what Meg said, I've heard "I really hate my job so I need to hurry and finish this book"

    One that seems to be part myth is–It isn't what you know but who you know. Excellent writing is just a bonus.

  28. Sarah Thomas on March 4, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    >Myth or truth? You have to have an "in" to get an agent or a publisher. An "in" can be a presence on the agent's blog, contact at a conference or a friend-of-a-friend. True or not, it does seem like a good idea . . .

    Myth of truth? You're first book never gets published–it's just for practice. (Can I count the unfinished MS that I knew was awful before I even thought about showing it to anyone?!? What about the one I wrote when I was 12?)

  29. David A. Todd on March 4, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    >In a rush of creative energy, without any research into publishing or what kind of novels are publishable, I completed my novel as life allowed over two years. 155,000 glorious words in 35 beautiful, interwoven chapters of great information and entertainment with multiple subplots and lots of cultural nuance. That was January 2003. I then set about figuring out how to get it published.

    I went to my first writing conference two months later, a regional conference in Oklahoma City. In the first class the teacher said that the author was expected to do the publicity for his book. I was shocked and asked "Doesn't the publisher do most of the publicity?" That faculty member said (paraphrasing, but not too far off), "How stupid can you be? The author is the best person to publicize their book. Why would you expect the pub house to do it?"

    Aside from the nastiness and condescension, that was the first of many publishing bubbles burst from conference to conference, blog to blog—the author is nothing to the publisher.

  30. Richard Mabry on March 4, 2011 at 8:05 AM

    >Myth or truth? If you attend enough conferences and have a really large following on your blog, Facebook, and Twitter, an agent and/or editor will eventually notice you and open the door to publication for you.

  31. Meg on March 4, 2011 at 8:03 AM

    >How about the myth that once your book hits the shelves you can quit your day job?

    I've since learned that most authors don't make back their advances, it it may take 2 or 3 books (or more) to make enough money each year to make a living.

  32. Katie Ganshert on March 4, 2011 at 8:00 AM

    >The double-edged sword: You can't get an agent without being published and you can't get published without an agent.

    I've heard that one a lot, although I know it must be a myth because I wasn't published when you offered me representation. Neither are A LOT of writers.

  33. A. Grey on March 4, 2011 at 7:46 AM

    >Here's something that I believe to be a myth. Maybe you can confirm or deny it and set me straight. I have been told by established authors, debut authors, and agents (Only one or two agents, but they were well established ones)

    The Proposed Myth:

    Getting published is easy. Period. Your writing just has to be good enough, and your take on what you wrote has to be unique enough.

    I disagree. It's not 'easy'. I've had numerous near-misses with agents and many times they've told me that they can see my work on a shelf that it's new, commercial and has what it takes, but due to *insert reason unassociated with the manuscript itself here* they are going to pass. So either those agents are lying to make me feel good (like they'd waste precious time) or it ISN'T 'easy'. Period.

    Myth or Truth?

  34. Sue Harrison on March 4, 2011 at 7:22 AM

    >A woman whom I didn't know called me to ask the name and address of my publisher, because she had just finished writing her first novel and really needed a lot of money soon. She'd heard that she would have a check about 3 weeks after the submission of her novel. I couldn't convince her otherwise. It was a very weird conversation.

    Great good luck at the conference, Rachelle!

  35. Erin MacPherson on March 4, 2011 at 7:03 AM

    >Like Tana, I heard that once your MS goes to an editor at a publishing house, it will be torn to pieces, covered in red ink and completely scrutinized and changed until you're in tears and your work isn't recognizable as your own. (and I KNOW that's a myth).

  36. Lance Albury on March 4, 2011 at 6:26 AM

    >The most frustrating myth for me is the prevailing sentiment among CBA players that a book can't be published if it's set outside the USA–unless it's regency.

    I say it's a myth because the evidence on the bookshelves doesn't support it–at all–nor do the opinions of about any reader one my ask.

    The illogical nature of this one is hard to swallow. It conjures images of Baghdad Bob.

  37. Bonnie R. Paulson on March 4, 2011 at 5:20 AM

    >I've heard alot of Tana Adams too.

    Also, that if you have epubbing you're not a REAL author. Pshaw!

    And that if you can't get that print book into a chain store other publishers won't look at you.

    Have a great day and good luck at the Conference.

  38. Timothy Fish on March 4, 2011 at 4:45 AM

    >I heard that, beginning with Office 2010, if you leave Word open with your manuscript on the screen overnight, elves will come and finish your book for you.

  39. catdownunder on March 4, 2011 at 2:48 AM

    >There seems to be a myth hanging around that the "slush pile" actually gets looked at.
    There also seems to be a myth that if you send your precious ms to enough publishers (or perhaps agents) that it will one day be taken on (and perhaps become a best seller).
    Oh and there is another myth that you do not have to worry too much about spelling and grammar because that is what an editor does for you.
    We cats are uncertain about these things. We believe that our work should be put in front of an agent. If it is of sufficiently high quality (and the spelling and grammar meets required the required standard of paw prints) we may possibly be considered for permanent pawprint status.

  40. Tana Adams on March 4, 2011 at 2:43 AM

    >OK here are a few questionable things I’ve heard;

    If your first book tanks you might get blacklisted and be banished from the publishing community forever, requiring you to change your name and begin from scratch.

    If your first book does well, you no longer need to submit a proposal for each book thereafter, a synopsis will do and your publisher can keep you indefinitely.

    Publishers can buy a spot on the NYT bestseller list to debut their author’s work. Is that why celebrity books have debuted on the top ten NF list at the exact moment they hit the shelves?

    An in-house editor can rework your novel until it is unrecognizable, and an author who knows what’s good for them had better go along with it.

    That’s all for now. Thank you!

    Love the unicorn. The fifth grader in me is still unnaturally obsessed with them.

  41. April on March 4, 2011 at 2:40 AM

    >I sent you an e-mail recently asking about the article that discussed self-publishing ebooks and how that might be better than traditional publishing (they used Amanda Hocking as an example).

    I guess that's the myth/"myth" that I'd like clarified from your point of view. I'm torn between my loyalty to traditional publishing and the temptation of instant gratification with publishing ebooks myself.

    (PS: If that e-mail got lost in your spam folder, please let me know and I'll be happy to send it again.)

  42. Joanne Bischof on March 4, 2011 at 12:58 AM

    >Most of my publishing education had come from Little Women. Learning that I couldn't just send my manuscript pages to Mr. Bhaer for a read through and have him deliver my novel on my doorstep was a little dissapointing 😀

    It's amazing how much goes into the choosing and publication of a book. I'm sure so many writers feel like a needle in a haystack. The industry is always changing and it can feel overwhelming to know a manuscript has to stand out, but not always knowing what factors will make that happen–aside from fabulous writing :).