Busting Publishing Myths

Publishing MythsOne of the  best things about the Internet is that it’s so easy to find information. One of the worst things about the Internet . . . is that it’s so easy to find information.

Much of the information is misinformation. So let’s bust some myths.

Myth: Getting published is a catch-22. You need to be published in order to get an agent; but you can’t get published without having an agent first.

Truth: You don’t need to be published to get an agent. Getting published is hard, but is not a catch-22. We need fresh voices, so there are always new authors getting published. Have you noticed that most agents accept queries? Query letters are most often from unpublished authors, since published authors will typically come through a referral or personal relationship.  Agents rely on those queries to help them discover new authors.

Myth: You have to have an “in” to get an agent or a publisher. It isn’t what you know but who you know.

Truth: While having an “in” helps, and networking can be quite effective, it’s not necessary nor is it the only way to break in. Many agents and publishers take on new writers through queries.

Myth: If you want a big publisher, get published at small presses first and work your way up.

Truth: While this can work, it’s not the best strategy. With a small publisher, your books may have modest sales figures, which may make it impossible for you to get a big publisher later. However, sometimes a small publisher is right for you, and can be a good home for you long-term.

Myth: A good story with good characters and strong writing will eventually find success with a traditional publisher.

Truth: There is a good deal of mystery, serendipity and luck involved in getting published, and once you’re there, the level of success can be unpredictable. A great book may or may not find a publisher, and if it does, it might be modestly to wildly successful, or it might not live up to expectations.

Myth: Once you sign with an agent, the hard work is done.

Truth: The hard work is just beginning! Most agents will crack the whip—push you to make your manuscript the best it can be, encourage you to build your platform, etc. There will also be the “hard work” of waiting for the submission process to play out, and once you’re contracted you’ll be working harder than you ever imagined.

Myth: Getting an agent means you’ll get published.

Truth: Sadly, getting an agent is no guarantee of publication. Each agent has a different success rate but most probably don’t bat 1000.

Myth: Agents are snarky, scary, and mean, and love rejecting you.

Truth: This, of course, is true.

Is there anything you’ve heard about publishing that you don’t know whether is true or not? Let me know and I’ll see if I can bust some more myths.


Getting published is a catch-22 – myth or fact? Click to Tweet.

Agents are snarky, scary, and mean – myth or fact? Click to Tweet.

Once you sign with an agent, the hard work is done. Myth or fact? Click to Tweet.

A Note About Comments: 

To leave a comment, go to the TOP of the post and click on “comments,” or click in the comment box below if you see it. I’m having a new comment plug-in installed (Disqus) which should make the comments more fun for everyone. However, it might take a few days for the bugs to be worked out.


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!


  1. Erin Pearson on April 20, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    Thank you for the post, it is refreshing to hear honest opinions from someone who is actually in the field of representation/publishing who is genuinely offering assistance to writers! I have had rejection letters that say they do not feel my book is the right fit for them, but they anticipate seeing who picks up the book and where it will go. In your opinion in reference to this myth busting post, would you say these are genuine? I drew hope from these comments, as they were different from any other cookie cutter responses I’d received until that point and perhaps that is their sole purpose. I am wondering if that is just another industry response to be taken as a “no” and to continue on?
    Thanks again for the honesty, it is beyond appreciated!

  2. […] Agent Rachelle Gardner busts several publishing myths. […]

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  4. Shannon Milholland on April 16, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    Rachelle, your final myth made me lol literally! Thanks for not taking yourself too seriously and adding some levity to my day while you’re at it. I appreciate YOU!

  5. Heather VanHoose Truett on April 14, 2013 at 6:13 PM

    I’ve had an agent for nearly a year. I can attest to the truth in your statement. The hard work isn’t over by a long shot. It’s worth it though.

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  7. Mark O'Brien on April 12, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    Thanks Rachelle!

  8. Sistergirl on April 11, 2013 at 11:45 PM

    So then what do you think of e books / Kindle and self publishing?

    In reality this back and forth with an agent and publisher can really take years and that is years wasting when one can be writing many great books. Just a thought.

  9. Peter DeHaan on April 11, 2013 at 6:40 PM

    This is a great post and the last truth delighted me.

    It seems that in this rapidly changing industry, what was once myth could eventually become truth, while former truths could morph into myth. Just consider how much self-publishing opportunities and perceptions have changed in the past few years.

  10. Amanda Stephan on April 11, 2013 at 5:40 PM

    Haha, loved the whole post, but the last point was the clincher! So much fun. Thank you for your candid post, it helps writers like me who are still holding out hope and looking for that agent.

  11. Vashti Quiroz-Vega on April 11, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    Very nice! I enjoyed your post.

  12. Lori on April 11, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    Rachelle, I enjoyed your blog entry today however I do have a couple of questions:
    Isn’t true that your agent will send you a box of chocolates once your book is accepted by a pulblisher?
    Or does your clent send you a box of chocolates once your book is accepted or released by a publisher?

  13. […] Agent Rachelle Gardner busts some publishing myths. […]

  14. Robin Patchen on April 11, 2013 at 11:06 AM

    So what I’m reading is…getting published is hard. Finding an agent is hard. Writing is hard. I guess only those who really feel a passion for it will stick with it, and that’s okay with me.

  15. Dan Erickson on April 11, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    As a self-published author, I’ve done enough research to understand the truth in these areas, but your post is likely helpful to many. You last myth/truth made me laugh, but maybe I’ll just keep self=publishing. ; )

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  17. J. M. Tompkins on April 11, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    Rachelle, thanks again for a great post. This was one I was afraid of: Myth: Agents are snarky, scary, and mean, and love rejecting you.

    Truth: This, of course, is true.


    I love that agents push harder to build an author to be her best. How else do we get better?

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  19. Barbara McDowell Whitt on April 11, 2013 at 9:11 AM

    Myth or truth: Writing is hard work.

  20. Chris Schumerth on April 11, 2013 at 9:00 AM

    One clarifying question here. It seems that you imply that going with a small publisher instead of a big one, could, in certain instances, be a mistake. Am I understanding you correctly there?

  21. JosephPote on April 11, 2013 at 8:03 AM

    Lots of great info, from such a mean, snarky, scary person!

    Thanks, Rachelle!

  22. Jo Murphey on April 11, 2013 at 7:43 AM

    Myth:If you get a contract from a publisher you’ve got it made.

    Truth: Nope, there’s a lot of hard work to follow and not always will you see your book in print. Publishers and authors can back out of a contract ay any time. At times, publishers may decide the book is not for them. Not often, but it does happen.

  23. Claude Nougat on April 11, 2013 at 5:26 AM

    Great post, Rachelle, just tweeted about it, including the “snarky agent” one, love that! I think there’s another myth that is in urgent need of busting: that self-publishing, now that the stigma is gone, is all a bed of roses. It’s not!! The biggest danger, and self-published authors are loath to admit it (because it amounts to confessing to a failure in public), is that chances are very high that your books will simply be sitting up there on their virtual shelves gathering Internet dust! Unless you’re terribly savvy at marketing…

    Because, when you’re competing against 2 million titles (that’s about the number on Kindle alone), having written a good book is simply not enough!

  24. Joey G. on April 11, 2013 at 2:53 AM

    The whole idea of publishing is a complex mix of problems and sometimes the most important thing is to just know someone who can get you what you need. No matter what kind of publishing you need, textbooks, novels, research you can get it published but some people simply will have to pay more then it’s worth. Like all business, it’s a game. You have a lot of information that I agree with but then again some things are a little misleading, overall I like it. Thanks.


  25. Julia Thiele on April 11, 2013 at 2:47 AM

    Is it a myth that it’s difficult for international authors (for example, Australian and New Zealand) to find an agent who will represent them in the USA?

  26. Eric von Mizener on April 11, 2013 at 2:08 AM

    Agents are snarky, scary, and mean, and love rejecting you.

    You must be the only one, you mean woman, you. Ha!

  27. Esther Aspling on April 10, 2013 at 11:52 PM

    I love the honest answers! Thanks for the insight 🙂


  28. jfsmith on April 10, 2013 at 5:23 PM

    This one is GREAT! I particularly think that the small publisher to large publisher myth is a strange one.

  29. Kimmy :) on April 10, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    I have met several agents at conferences, and dealt with many more online, and not one of them has been scary or mean! Maybe I’m just lucky, but my dealings with the publishing world have been super positive and filled with encouragement from agents and editors alike. I believe if you treat others with respect, they will do the same for you. Great post!

  30. Cristine Eastin on April 10, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    Myth? or not—it’s a good idea to get a debut novel up and running on Kindle to garner sales and comments to use in approaching agents.

    • RachelleGardner on April 10, 2013 at 1:59 PM

      That is certainly ONE way to do things. 🙂

    • Christine Dorman on April 11, 2013 at 10:28 AM

      Cristine, this may work. The danger is that the debut novel–since it is being self-published by an author who isn’t experience yet in promoting her books–might end up with mediocre sales (even if it is an excellent piece of writing). (See Janet Grant’s blog on discoverability.) The mediocre sales record would then make it MORE difficult for the author to get an agent and a publisher. So if you consider going this route, make sure you have a good social media platform set up (hopefully with a large potential readership) and that you are clear on what you are getting yourself in for in regards to the business side of publishing a book.

  31. Matt_Morton on April 10, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    I suspect that agents are perceived as snarky or mean partly because we writers are a sensitive bunch. My agent is kind and helpful, yet also direct in his evaluation of my work. Submitting material makes my heart pound and palms sweat, but not because he is unkind or scary. Instead, it’s because having one’s writing evaluated is a sensitive experience. Still, I’m incredibly grateful to receive the input!

    • Heather C Button on April 10, 2013 at 12:53 PM

      I think this is probably very true. Or that when receiving a “to the point” rejection letter that is succinct writers perceive that as mean too.

  32. Meghan Carver on April 10, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    Great list, Rachelle. Thank you for your efforts in writing it.

    Is this a myth? “Once you hit it big, you can ignore all the rules because readers will buy your books no matter what you write.”

    • Nancy DS on April 11, 2013 at 10:14 AM

      That’s certainly not a myth for one super-successful novelist who comes to mind. I can’t make it through one of her books because they are so full of errors, inconsistencies and repeats. Wondering how the publisher and editor allow that to happen.

  33. Sharon on April 10, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    You got me at the first myth-busting. I never had an agent, neither had I been published before, yet I got a contract with Harlequin. I loved the last line too…made me smile, and that’s pretty hard to do at 9:31pm when I’ve just gone through ‘bed-time’ with my toddlers. Sigh.

  34. Jeanne Takenaka on April 10, 2013 at 10:28 AM

    I chuckled at your last line. 🙂 This post is informative. It’s good to have a reality check–on the positive and, not-so-positive aspects of the publishing industry.
    As an unagented writer, agents do intimidate me. A little. I keep reminding myself you wonderful people are as human as I am. I have a lot of respect for agents and all you do on behalf of your clients. 🙂

  35. Richard Mabry on April 10, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    Rachelle–As always, a post full of accurate info. And, although I know you had your tongue firmly in your cheek when you said, “Agents are snarky, scary, and mean,” I have to say that to the neophyte writer they are scary. (I can think of one or two who still scare me). When pushed beyond their breaking point, they can be snarky (present company excepted, of course). I doubt that they are purposefully mean, but I suspect that sometimes their reactions can be interpreted that way.
    But, anyway, I think an agent is as necessary for most writers as a computer and printer. Some people may get ahead without one, but then again, there are people who don’t fasten their seat belts when they drive. I’m not one of either group. Thanks for sharing.

  36. KimberlyCoyle on April 10, 2013 at 8:11 AM

    This is the only post on publishing that’s gotten a smile out of me in quite some time;) Thanks, Rachelle.

  37. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on April 10, 2013 at 3:47 AM

    One suggestion for Disqus – is there any way to get rid of the “Around the Web” thing?

  38. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on April 10, 2013 at 2:57 AM

    Myth or fact – to be very successful, you have to be able to predict the next hot genre?
    Myth or fact – agents generally consider authors impossible to work with, and when agents get together they swap “dumb writer” jokes? (sounds flippant, but it’s a serious question)
    Myth or fact – when an agent’s ‘hot streak’ ends, he or she will be shunned by publishers?

    • JosephPote on April 11, 2013 at 8:10 AM

      How could agents NOT joke about their funny writer stories? Like nurses joking about patients, or policemen telling stories about crazy experiences with a suspect, brevity restores a little sanity to otherwise insane situations.

      • annegoodwin on April 11, 2013 at 8:51 AM

        I liked this post in general and echo your point about in any stressful job there are going to be these jokes – the difference might be that in some of those professions there is sometimes a structure to help people recognise what they’re doing.

  39. Dabney Hedegard on April 10, 2013 at 12:39 AM

    Ha! Loved the last unexpected line. Nicely done, Rachelle.

    • Sue Harrison on April 10, 2013 at 8:38 AM

      Me, too, Dabney! Loved the post.