Q4U: Gossip, Rumors, and Myths
Almost everyday a writer tells me they “heard” something about the publishing industry – something they don’t like, something that scares or discourages them, something they’re not sure is true.
In an age where so much is being shared on the Internet, you have access to a lot of great information but also a lot of myths. Today I’d like to see if we can identify some of these myths or rumors, so that in future blogs I can address them.
What have you heard about agents or publishing that scares you, discourages you, or makes you mad?
What have you heard that you’re not sure is true?
Overall, does the incessant online “conversation” about publishing help you or discourage you?
I look forward to your answers. Have a great weekend!
>I feel encouraged to have more information, but overwhelmed by some of the information out there as well. It's a lot to take in.
>Do you ever feel amazed/overwhelmed by how many, many, many people want to get a book published?? Wowzers.
>Read what’s on the sales floor and then read an agent discuss the importance of “the writing.”
I think I’m going to start a Mad-Lib series for Christian fiction. It’s easier than writing one good sentence and probably will sell.
She _____ on the prairie, a _____ in her hand and Jesus in her heart. A vampire ____ from behind. The Revelation code _____ in pieces.
>Very interesting Rachelle, thanks for pursuing this thread.
>I think the discouraging part of today's climate is the constant pressure to spend tons of time daily on social networking of all kinds, in addition to your website and blog. Thanks to your post recently, I put together a schedule that works for me to keep up with everything, but every time you turn around you're told that "this" is out, and the new hot thing is "that social media." Staying offline till after I write is the only way I keep my sanity. 😎 And sometimes I wonder how much of this is really necessary.
Writer's First Aid blog
>Some of the stories of horrific experiences authors report certainly make me mad. But they are instructive. We need to know the reality we face.
I am very encouraged to learn there is an emerging, worthy alternative to traditional publishing where profit is not the sole motive, where the old slogan, "let the people decide," is at work. Given the abysmal quality of many of the books published–and promoted–by the large presses, success at epublishing just might be a better indicator of literary excellence.
>What discourages me is the huge emphasis on continuing education, joining writer's groups, attending conferences, etc. This really puts a crunch in the budget!
>The book has been written, the second book started, but the query is killing me. I started the first book as a memoir then changed my mind and called it a novel. 2,000 people have read it and they think it's a memoir. These 2,000 people don't know me, but they say it makes them cry and reads too true to be a novel. That says something sad about the novel as a form.
Many of the readers were men, and even the men said, "This is my family you're writing about." That seems to be the most common comment. Readers can relate to my characters. So now what? Can I market a memoir as a novel or should I look for an agent who specializes in memoir? I can't really write my query until this question is settled. Can I call it Autobiographical Fiction?
I was married to a writer who called his writing Autobiographical Realism. It got him a PhD and a life of slavery as a university professor. That was not the life I wanted. I just wanted to write. Now that I've been writing for 20 years I want to publish. Any suggestions?
>The big thing that I hear about getting a book published is that you have to be able to show the publisher who exactly is your audience and prove you can market it. The actual writing seems secondary. The main thing is who is going to buy it.
I don't know that it makes me mad or discourages me, but it does seem a little sad. I guess it's just the reality of business. A book has to sell to make money for the publisher.
>I hear the data about how few authors get published.
But then I read so many published books that are simply awful. Not good-story-but-questionable-writing Dan Brown type books but truly awful, silly stories that seem like a parody of a novel.
Is the answer 1) the other 99% are even worse, 2) it's my poor judgment, others out there think the book is just fine or 3) it was just a mistake, and in fact there are really very few really bad books published each year.
Always wondered. Thanks.
>At the heart of every blog or website devoted to writing is one essential aspect: Write a better book. Don't blame agents or editors or publishers. If you want to be a writer and one book doesn't sell, write a better book.
One thing that does make me mad is seeing professionals tear apart work. In some cases where the writer asks for the criticism, it doesn't bother me as much, but I know some professionals who blog about submissions in an unkind way. It irritates me, and I feel like those professionals are laughing at people's dreams. Maybe a query wasn't brillant, but do you need to belittle the person? I for one am thankful that this blog doesn't take that approach.
>I'm with Krista Phillips above. I won't give up on my first book, especially since my second book is a spinoff from the first.
Besides this being my first novel, and I'm a newbie, other rumors have also discouraged me: Literary is out. Memoirs are out unless you're famous.
So for someone looking for an agent for her first book and whose genre is a literary memoir and who has changed her genre to a fictionalized memoir only to find that fiction isn't selling either unless it's plot-driven and not character-driven, and who writes in first person (rumor is they don't sell either), I'm apparently spinning my wheels for nothing.
But I carry on in spite of it all.
>I think what scares me most is the self publishing debate. I did self publish my book as it was not a work of fiction and more of a how to craft book, so it did have a limited audience. Doing it all myself is daunting, finding the publisher, making sure the book was the best it could be, hiring an editor, graphic designer for the cover, proofing the copy and now promoting and marketing. When you self publish you do it all with no help unless you hire it.
Choosing this route seemed easier for me then going through the process of finding an agent and publisher and all the rejection letters due to the fact that they (publishers) would have no idea about the subject. It is costly, but all the profits are yours end the end and you still own your book not a publisher.
Am I being naive about the publishing business…probably, but I wanted my book out there now and not in a couple of years.
By the way, if your book is good and there is a market, it will sell.
I do benefit greatly from blogs like this one. Thanks for all the wonderful info.
>You can't follow the publishing industry without hearing how the economy is knocking a few bricks out of it. But if you listen close enough, that's not all you hear.
Every so often I get just enough of a reminder to "never give up" that I'm good for another query letter and synopsis. And of course I'm encouraged by one of your earlier posts mentioning those who published "late," particularly Frank McCourt.
So I believe I'll survive the bad-news and/or rumors because I just can't quit!
Thanks for your good words.
>A sign of a long day is when you have to look through the 38 previous comments to make sure you hadn't already commented on Rachelle's blog:-)
Rumors? I guess I don't pay TOO much attention to them unless they come from agents/editors. Like the whole "chick lit is dead" mantra.
I think the one I've heard the MOST that bristles me is that no one gets their first book published. In fact, I hear the whole "it's usually your fourth completed book that sells" or fill in the number depending on who you talk to. I'm sure that's true for many and is an average, but for someone who completed her first book and spent the last two years revising, rewriting, editing and applying everything I've learned into my first book… and am just this year to the point where I want to start seriously querying it… somedays I think, "Should I just shove it in a deep drawer and move on?"
But… I have to at least try!! (while, of course, I write my 4th novel…)
>Hillary, not true.
To move forward: write like crazy. Learn to rewrite. Rewrite more. Join a writing group, online or in person, and have your work critiqued. Rewrite again. This is the hard part.
Send out query letters, sign with an agent, sell your book. This is the easy part. I started querying in May; signed a two-book deal in July, with the first novel I ever wrote. Mind you, I rewrote it many times.
>It seems that memoirs are hard to sell, And christian memoirs are harder yet… or so I've heard from more than one agent. Very discouraging because I do have a story to tell.
>What have you heard about agents or publishing that scares you, discourages you, or makes you mad?
Promotion, both in terms of the amount of time and the amount of money it takes. I know several recently published writers and they all admit to spending much more than their advance on promotion of first books. They also spend a lot of time on blogging, responding to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. They also have husbands or large incomes to support their writing habit.
As an unpublished writer who still needs to work a full time job in order to pay the bills, I can't imagine that I'll ever be successful, even if I write the modern equivalent of War and Peace.
Overall, does the incessant online "conversation" about publishing help you or discourage you?
I think it helps. At least I'm now aware of what the situation is and won't be surprised when I'm asked about my 'platform'.
>The online information has been helpful, though it's not the only way to learn. Being in touch with other writers is also a great way to learn the business, and reading books on writing and publishing. We are blessed to have all these resources at our disposal. I think it's a matter or sorting through it all. Like others who have commented here, I don't relish the thought of wasting time, and almost always find your blog to be edifying. It's one of my must-reads, so please continue sharing. 🙂
>What have you heard about agents or publishing that scares you, discourages you, or makes you mad?
I not sure this discourages me as more overwhelms me….but the process of editing and revision once your manuscript is purchased. Of course that would be such a horrible problem to have, right? A publishing company buys your book and then the editor helps make your book better. Seriously, though….just how long is the process, usually? The waiting part…waiting to see your book out there…must be difficult.
What have you heard that you're not sure is true?
Submitting to more than one agent at a time. I know you can send out multiple queries, but what if there are three agents who have asked to see your manuscript after a verbal pitch at a conference? Do you send to all three? All three agents have a great background and cover the genre, so it would be fantastic if any one of them wanted to represent me. But should I only send to one at a time?
Overall, does the incessant online "conversation" about publishing help you or discourage you?
It helps, without a doubt. Not only do I get practical information from people who know the industry, but I stay connected to the experience of being a writer. Which is not the same thing as writing. I can write in somewhat of a vacuum, but to be a writer I feel I have to immerse myself in the world of publishing.
One final comment, related to an earlier post: Before attending the PNWA this summer, I honestly thought agents were 'not to be approached'. The idea of agent simply scared me. Will they give me dirty looks, yawn if my pitch sucks – or worse, simply walk away. Do they ever smile? I had this image of that scene in Christmas Story, where Ralphie finally gets to sit on Santa's lap, but he freezes and cannot ask for his BB Gun. He just keeps saying "uh-huh, uh-huh" to anything Santa offers. Then as Santa pushes him down the slide, Ralphie takes hold of the sides and yells out about his Red Ryder BB Gun. So you think you can get your great pitch out, but Santa slaps his boot in your face and down you go.
Well…after the conference I realized that agents are people! They smile, laugh, welcome your ideas….they are not just waiting to give you the boot. Or if they are, they do a hell of a job pretending otherwise. They listen and they really seem to want you to make it as a writer.
>I love this blog. It's very helpful and encouraging.
As for rumors, I've heard the same for years: if you're a new author, you can't get published. A woman I recently met, who desired to be published in the Christian market, went to several conferences and came away believing that rumor. So she self-published her two books and didn't even bother trying to get an agent.
I feel sad for her, and I refuse to believe this rumor! My faith is in God, not the ever-changing market place.
>I've recently heard about a machine that can publish a book while you wait. Also, I heard the the same rumor about the growth of e-books that another commenter mentioned. To me, this is encouraging. I figure a publishing company could potentially take more chances on new authors if there is less up-front cost to publish them–either by print-on-demand, or e-book form. I think both of these elements of publishing could also open more doors to smaller markets and writers who specialize in books that might traditionally be slower sells.
>Rachel, the more I educate myself on the publishing business, the more daunting the task seems to get published. I’m also more confident because the message has become clear; if an author writes a great novel, it will be sold, period.
It’s a simple process to get published. It really is. The hard part is admitting that you’re not quite ready to be published and to keep writing until you are. Love your craft and strive to perfect it.
>I think many of the blogs about writing and publishing are helpful. Yes, some of it is discouarging in a way, but it's better to get a dose of reality and know where you stand than grope in the dark.
The part that scares me the most is the way the economy has made the process even more difficult.
But many thanks to you, Rachelle, for keeping up informed here!
>HI! Happy Friday.
I don't let too much I read on the net discourage me. I just keep plugging forward.
When it comes to learning the craft and/or reading about market trends, I have a few sites/people that are pretty respected in the fields, and I mostly pay attention to them and what they have to say….
So, we always have to consider the source of what we hear, pray about it, and then ultimately, figure out where God wants us to go with the information we receive.
Thanks for the post. Have a great weekend.
>Good morning, Rachelle!
I spend so much time in the world of my imagination, where I can (to some extent) control what happens, that coming into the real world of publishing is always something of a shock. However, with every hour I spend on-line I learn something new about the craft or the business.
Nevertheless, I recognize that learning via the internet gives me a spotty education. I know that I have gapping holes in my knowledge of the craft that need to be filled. Blogs and web sites provide the basics and the over-flow from experts in this business. This source does not replace the education we must receive from reading books on the business, from formal education, or from mentoring.
Thanks to Kristi ("…both encouraging and overwhelming this aspiring writer" in a previous comment) I know what I am at this point in my career. I am an aspiring writer. Regardless of my success in sharing my stories, I am a writer; I am an aspiring writer because I aspire to be published. At that point I will still be a writer, but I will also be a published author.
Right now being a published author is still in the world of my imagination, but by God's direction and with my hard work, I will see it become reality. It will be nice to come back to reality for a surprise instead of a shock!
>The book is dead. That is my biggest fear. I know people love their e-readers, their iphones, kindles, and computers. I love my computer too, but my paper books are so much better. Maybe its just because I'm getting old and its the best technology from my childhood, but books are like comfort food. Curling into a chair with bound paper in my hand is the best part of a day.
>Oh, and Susan G., I'm with you when you said,
One thing that upset me recently is hearing Nathan talk about the death of straight-on mainstream commercial fiction. Some of my favorite books fit smack into this category and as a writer, so do I.
I engaged Nathan in that debate – because I, too, was mystified by his assessment that people like Anita Shreve (a writer I admire) didn't belong in that category. It's hard hearing that literary fiction is dead – and at the same time, that mainstream fiction doesn't exist. I don't want to write genre fiction (at least, not yet)! I don't often disagree with Nathan, but that day I did, so you're not alone.
>While reading various blogs (like yours and Nathan Bransford's), I've come across two disturbing factoids:
1. That "literary fiction" is a dying art form.
2. And that most agents won't consider any manuscript over 120k words in length.
I sure as heck hope both aren't true.
Still, I agree with Kristi – I find the publishing blogs both helpful and overwhelming. I'm glad that I've been absorbing so much about the biz this summer (after nearly a decade of working on my first novel in my little "cave"), but it can be deflating sometimes, and as with Matilda McCloud, I sometimes feel that I should do the sensible thing and stop writing.
But it's a calling, so that option is out. Which means I just have to push on, keep working, and stay hopeful.
>The list is long. We have the self publishing debate, the e-book speculation, and things of that nature. But what really spooks me is the never-ending rant that the publishing companies are running out of money, not taking on new authors and cutting back on everything. Then on top of that we hear about how tough it is to get an agents attention. Add those two together and it can seem like getting published is an impossible task to accomplish. I will keep charging on though.
>I like reading the blogs and the info is so useful to me. Yes, it's often of the "tough love" variety, but it gets me thinking. Still, the more I read, the more I feel that I should be sensible and stop writing. I'm struggling with this issue right now. But I often think about your guest blogger's post about he kept trying to quit writing, but couldn't (one of my favorite posts–I could really relate to this one!).
>Not sure about all this cross-genre fiction. Don't like or read paranormal, sci-fi, YA, blah blah…Seems new novels must have several of these elements nowadays. What about a good old-fashioned mystery with lots of clues and suspense? (I'm not old either and I love TV shows like Leverage, Psych and Castle)
>The thing that worries me the most is that a vast majority of stories about finding agents I hear or read about in blogs, message boards, or authors' websites involve some lucky break or some connection.
Granted, perhaps an unrepresentative sample, but the story rarely seems to go: "submitted query, requested partial, requested full, offer."
Often, I read, "manuscript, bizarre incident, sister-in-law's college roommate is an agent, offer." Or something to that effect.
>I enjoy all the chatter. I do go back and forth sometimes between feeling super hopeful and a bit hopeless.
>I don't know about rumors, but I always hear it's hard to get in, the money isn't good outside erotica, and it'll take years to go anywhere.
Oh, and sci-fi never makes it to the best seller list.
I write because I enjoy writing. If publishing becomes an option at some point than so much the better. But I'm not trying to support a family on a writing pay check.
>Discouraging: WHen you hear that publishers are probably not going to be interested in what your currently writing. Yet you can't stop writing because you like the characters too much to leave everything unfinished. (Yeah I know, it is probably a waste of time.)
Encouraging: There is alot of information. Which leads to understanding why things get turned down, why things get accepted, etc. etc.
Sorry, to general for the heart of this topic.
Okay a less general one…
It's the whole message vs writing thing…I don't disagree with it.
I don't like to read preaching in fiction…I tend to close the book when it gets to that.
I wondered if I where less attached to what I'm writing, would I close the book? Don't know…
Anyway it is discouraging in a way, since I haven't quite figure out how to write without a message in mind. Wondering if I ever will.
However overall I would say it is encouraging since. I may not have realized this was a problem without the help of the online blogs.
>I have been encouraged by the different blogs that I follow. They have been full of great information and what I have liked best is that they paint a realistic picture that writing is wonderful and fun but very very hard work. I like knowing the obstacles that I have ahead of me. Thank you for the great variety of information and stories you post.
>I heard something really horrible…
A girl I knew from high school dated a guy that had a roommate who interned for an agent. She said that HE said agents NEVER read the manuscripts. When it is time to choose they lock their office doors, close their office blinds and employ…eenie meenie miney moe.
>I've heard that publishers won't consider new authors in this economy. That scares me.
>The thing that makes me mad is the current claims about the "Death of Chick Lit." It's apparently a brutal market out there for anything that can be called chick lit, because who wants to read about buying Prada and boozing it up when we're in a recession?
My chick lit novel is NOT a shopping-drinking-sex novel. But, because I have a 20-something urban female protagonist, written in the first person with a somewhat confidential and humorous tone, I'm getting lumped in with the worst of the genre. This makes me angry. So I've been ranting about chick lit on my blog, and hoping for the best.
Young-women-coming-of-age stories can't REALLY be dead. It's just an unfortunate marketing bias, but it's a hard one to get past.
>I'm encouraged. Sure the industry is competitive and hard to break into, but we all knew that getting into this! It might be hard in some ways, but it's always been hard. Sure we have bigger advantages and more knowledge than writers did 10 to 15 years ago, but we also have more people out there trying to be writers now. At least now we have friends and acquaintances to acquire and commiserate with us!
>I keep seeing: to get published you need an agent, and to get an agent you need to be published. For those who are virgin authors, what is the best way to move forward?
>hopeful published authors, have all these writing rules that they swear you must follow. I wonder how many are true. For example, if you have "was." you won't get published.
>The self-publishing debate! I hear it's awful, self indulgent and doesn't make you "really" published. Then I hear "it's the new frontier," and The Shack, and all that.
I understand that since each book stands alone there are good & bad self-published books, but I get tired of the debate.
Also, everyone is talking about E-book being the next big thing. I really like the feel of a book, I love the library, and I can't imagine everything going away. (I know you love the kindle). It's just me.
>Some of the online chatter bothers me because it's become repetitive. I know: there are new people needing this information every day, but for those of us who've been around awhile, it's old. I want something new.
One thing that upset me recently is hearing Nathan talk about the death of straight-on mainstream commercial fiction. Some of my favorite books fit smack into this category and as a writer, so do I. Writing is cyclical, but I do wonder if we've reached a point where publishers only want to put out genre because it's so much easier to classify, explain, and market.
>Everything I've read online about publishing and agents has both encouraged and overwhelmed this aspiring author. I gave up the dream when I was too young and sometimes worry I picked it back up when it was too late. However, it is a wealth of information online that certainly wasn't available to me 20 years ago.
I think the thing that is most frustrating is "platform" and having to show previous publications in query letters. It's like when you go to get a job for experience, but they won't hire you without it.
Self publishing is the most controversial issue that I read about and find it hard to figure out if it's good or bad. I have a tough time believing it's all bad. That subject scares me and the fact that publishing books is such a risk 'these days' for publishers is also frightening.
However, I keep my butt in chair and tell myself that I'll be the one to spark some interest. 🙂
>The thing that I find most defeating is hearing about 1% (yes, one percent) of writers who submit will get published. On it's own, that seems like such a minuscule amount, but when you consider how many writers don't finish a novel, or don't take time to study the craft, that number seems real enough. I've been writing for a decade, with a hiatus here and there, but I've grown as a writer, so I'm hoping to be in that 1% someday.
>First off, I just want to say that I'm not planning to publish. I read these blogs out of curiosity…my husband says it's not as strange a hobby as I think it is in my head.
Overall, I agree with the other comments that all this talk on the internet seems encouraging. I mean, we can educate ourselves from people who work as literary agents. How cool is that? And you can tell from their blogs whether or not the agent is trust-worthy, as long as you take the time to read them. So, the blogs I follow, I trust, and they really have never contradicted each other, either. As the goal is to educate, I trust them.
But I would like to bring up a concern, as I'm curious what other people's concerns are.
I think if I were making a submission, I would be worried about making a fool of myself with the query. I mean, there's a lot of information from blogs about what not to do in a query and sometimes the agent seems a tad frustrated with all the writers making this mistake, so they want to educate everyone on not to do that. There's a lot of good advice out there on what you can do, as well, but I think I would worry about being one of the ones to make a crazy mistake that I didn't know at the time would annoy the agent.
The logic part of my brain tells me that if it hasn't been made clear before, the agent would understand and simply inform the world that they don't like what writers are doing.
Another part of my brain pictures an agent reading my letter and thinking, "Ugghhh…that again!?" DELETE.
Then speak with other agents about how horrible and annoying my letter was. Do agents discuss things like that with each other?
I'm also curious about the whole, shred some of the pile before reading theory.
Anyhow, hope this sparks some discussion.
>I have a dark suspicion that some UK agents do not read all submissions.
Now I'm not complaining they don't read everything a writer sends – I know from my time on YouWriteOn and Authonomy that often just the first paragraph makes it clear the book is no good at all. I certainly don't expect an agent to waste her time plodding through dud chapters.
No, what concerns me is that with piles of submissions arriving daily, if the agent is busy and they pile up, the temptation must be to shred the lot and post off form rejections to everyone. After all, what are the odds there'd be a diamond in the slush?
>I love the online talk about publishing, ESPECIALLY your blog and Nicole O'Dell's blog. No matter what I have going on during the day, I always read both blogs-both have been such an asset to me. I am learning so much, taking it all in like a sponge. Had I not taken time to become famillar with the online talk about publishing, I think I would be very intimadated-now I feel I have much more clarity on the subject.
>The talk about publishing online helps me, I believe — I think if someone is going to become discouraged by the talk online about publishing (which is a fantastic resource for unpublished writers), then maybe they won't be able to actually handle the reality of it? Unpublished writers should be aware of the way in which everything works, and accept the way things are.
>Hmm – I've been writing my paranormal romance forever and I should have moved a lot faster since apparently the markets now flooded. That's kind of scary after all this hard work. So that definitely discourages me. But I also know there's exceptions, you have to work harder and do better. I write the story anyway because it's the story I want to tell and whether or not it sells doesn't matter to me as much as trying.
Not sure for the second question because I believe everything I read, I'm beyond help hehe 🙂
Overall, it encourages me. Utterly overwhelms me sometimes, terrifies me others and sometimes makes me feel like I am kidding myself – especially when it comes to the paranormal romance thing. On balance it all helps because it shows me what I need to learn and I can do that, it's hopeful.