Q4U: Surprise!

Many of you have been on this pursuit-of-publishing journey for awhile now. Whether you’re just starting to write, or you’re already contracted, or you’re somewhere in between, I’ll bet there are things that have surprised you along the way. I’ve been in publishing for so long, I’m not surprised by much of anything anymore. So I want to hear what it’s like for you. Tell me:

→ What have you learned or experienced that surprised you?

→ What piece of advice did you not expect?

→ What “rule” or protocol or guideline did you find astonishing, confounding, or just plain dumb?

→ What encounter with a publishing person threw you for a loop?

Don’t hold back, I really want to know! Maybe this will help some of us on this side of the desk to stop being so mean and snarky have more empathy and understanding for writers. (One can hope, anyway.)

Looking forward to learning a lot from your answers. 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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  2. PatriciaW on October 6, 2009 at 1:53 PM

    >I came back to see what other surprises folks had.

    One other surprise for me has been how welcoming and warm the writing community is. Never got that feeling from the techies I work with.

  3. Glynis on October 5, 2009 at 10:56 AM

    >I am still wet behind the ears. I have yet to experience all the above and more.
    The one thing I am learning, is that folk like yourself are VERY valuable to me, thanks.
    Glynis @ http://www.glynissmy.com

  4. Kristin on October 4, 2009 at 8:17 PM

    >I never expected to find an agent who believed in my novel more than I did. Definitely a pleasant surprise. 🙂

  5. gabe on October 4, 2009 at 9:45 AM

    >I'm surprised at how slowly the publishing world moves. Patience has been the big lesson for me.

  6. Stephanie Shott on October 3, 2009 at 9:37 PM

    >I'm only a year into the world of writers, publishers and agents, but my experience has been a great one.

    1. What have you learned or experienced that surprised you? I was surprised by how helpful agents and writers are. There's quite a large online community of writers and agents who are constantly advising newbies like in our writing journey. Rachelle is one of those gems who blogs wisdom for writers through cyberspace on a consistent basis. I'm so thankful for their willingness to share what they know with those of us who don't really know much about the business.

    2. What piece of advice did you not expect? I haven't really received a lot of advice that I didn't expect. If I could rewind this past year, I would have sought out an agent before I sent out my manuscript. Although it was accepted and comes out next year, I think I could benefit greatly by having someone who knows about this wide world of publishing. Maybe next book. 🙂

    3. What "rule" or protocol or guideline did you find astonishing, confounding, or just plain dumb? The waiting. I found that the protocol for most publishers is at least four months. Don't they realize that four months seems like four years for someone who is constantly watching their inbox and running to their mailbox for a response. My "yes" took a year. A year! I have a great publisher, but that was one long year for me.

    4. What encounter with a publishing person threw you for a loop? Can't say that I had anything that threw me for a loop except for the reality that a writer is responsible for marketing her own book. So a new writer not only has to learn to hone her craft, but she also has to learn how to market her book, develop a marketing strategy and take the necessary time to carry it out. I used to sell advertising and helped develop advertising campaigns, so that background has helped me begin thinking in that direction, but the world of marketing has changed tremendously in the past 15 years, so I've got a lot to learn about marketing as well.

    All in all, I've been pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie among writers and agents and I'm thankful for all of the advice they so willingly give.

  7. Heather B. Moore on October 3, 2009 at 7:51 PM

    >There are so many things!

    1. Self-promotion is a huge part of being a successful author.

    2. Agents really are nice, but they have a really tough job.

    3. How other writers think they can get their "first" novel published easily.

    4. Book signings are NOT glamorous.

    5. Those "huge" named endorsements on the backcovers are usually commissioned by the publisher and said author never even read the book (and didn't write the endorsement either).

  8. Jeremy and Rachel on October 3, 2009 at 6:50 PM

    >No doubt I'm the newest newbie commenting on your post. At the moment I have an idea burning in my heart and a knot in my stomach! Tangibly, I don't have too much more than an outline and am working on the proposal for a non-fiction book.

    What has surprised me the most? The sheer number of people trying to get published.

  9. D. Michael Olive on October 3, 2009 at 4:39 PM

    >What have you learned or experienced that surprised you?

    I am a scientist with a fairly credible reputation in my field. But I am also a Christian, something that often astounds my colleagues, as if the two are not compatible. They drop their teeth when they learn I was actually a missionary in a Middle Eastern country for a number of years working as a tentmaker in the Medical School. I began writing a series of novels that revolve around an angel who is more like a Dirk Pitt-type character and who is immersed in a variety of contemporary geopolitical situations. My intention was to reach men (and women) like myself who love thrillers, technology, and lots of action. But in the midst of the novels, I mix both Biblical wisdom and quotations with the action. Because I wanted to reach out to people, and knew that getting an agent would be a long process, I began posting the novels as eBooks of a variety of sites and including my email address for comments. The second book has been downloaded over 800 times, often by Muslim men. It has given me tremendous opportunities to discuss issues of faith with a group that, while on the surface seems quite closed to the gospel, in fact hungers for truth. I’m still looking for an agent, but I’m torn because the eBook route has allowed me to establish e-relationships that I never dreamed possible.

    What piece of advice did you not expect?

    Don’t write series. I found that interesting since some of my favorite authors (Lee Childs, Jim Butcher, Brad Thor, etc.) all have developed a main character whom they follow in all of their novels.

    What "rule" or protocol or guideline did you find astonishing, confounding, or just plain dumb?

    In this era of electronics and virtual communication, it amazes me that so many agents only accept paper queries. My experience is that sending a paper query is akin to posting something in a black hole. I’ve found that those who accept electronic are much more likely to respond in a reasonable interval. At least then I know where I stand.

    What encounter with a publishing person threw you for a loop?

    Honestly, I’ve not had a bad experience. Maybe that throws many for a loop. All the publishing people I’ve met and talked with have been encouraging and instructional. While I’ve written dozens of science papers, most of which would cure the average person of insomnia, and have patents valued at over $500 million (I don’t see a dime), I’m new to the world of creative writing and appreciate all the input I can get. As a scientist, I’m used to criticism—it’s what we do in order to get at the truth, so any criticism I get for my writing is mild by comparison.

  10. Anonymous on October 3, 2009 at 4:32 PM

    >I was surprized to read that if you use any postage stamp other than a business one, the helpers throw your query in the slush pile. How utterly stupid is that?

    I was also surprised that an agent wrote that it doesn't matter how tremendous your platform is; your book must be great. Yet you also read no matter how great a book you write doesn't matter; only a tremendous platform matters.

  11. Nicole on October 3, 2009 at 4:10 PM

    >"What 'rule' or protocol or guideline did you find astonishing, confounding, or just plain dumb?"

    Not exactly a rule per se, but the fact that a writer who does follow protocol, and whether or not the professional likes their work notices all the i's dotted and t's crossed, doesn't bother to even send a form email to deny interest. Rude.

    Not sure which category this falls into but:

    The platitudes drive me absolutely nuts such as "Write the best story you can write." No, I'm gonna write the worst story. "Great writing gets published." Oh, so that's why I've just read three mediocre novels and two truly lousy-written ones.

    That's why I've always appreciated your mention of the subjective factor.

  12. Anonymous on October 3, 2009 at 2:00 PM

    >Frankly, I'm surprised that many agents don't bother to reply at all–even after they request partial or full mss! Why do they bother to request novels when they don't take the time to give you a response at all?

    More than one agent breathlessly asked for my full after seeing a partial, then I never heard from them again. I'm not asking for feedback–tho that'd be nice–but please give me the courtesy of a response! Did they hate it that much or what happened?

  13. Jessica on October 3, 2009 at 1:12 PM

    >You know, I haven't really seen or heard alot about mean CBA agents. Recently I did, but there was some excuses that seemed to explain the professional's behavior.

    I think overall what really surprised me when I first started writing for publication was the relatability of authors and agents. I went to my first conference and was amazed to talk to these people and see how NORMAL they were. And then I'm on a lot of loops where I've asked a question and these bestselling authors actually reply to my question. Some have offered to read my queries even. That really, really surprised, amazed and humbled me. I really think the writing industry, esp. CBA, has some of the kindest, most generous professionals in the world.
    And I totally mean that. I'm not exaggerating. 🙂

  14. Mjstrinity on October 3, 2009 at 12:10 PM

    >In my experience, I've searched directly for the publisher's themselves, rather than the agents for the past couple of years and have actually received an offer(out of the 4 percent that have actually been accepted.) However, because of the lack of resources I was unable to follow through with it at the time. That was a surprise to me.

    Now, I'm resorting to the search for an agent to represent me and my novel.

  15. Christine H on October 3, 2009 at 12:02 PM

    >I have another question. I apologize, because I know it's off topic a little, but pertaining to one of the other comments…

    If you or your agent submits a manuscript to a publisher at their request, and the publisher does not respond within the specified interval, are you obligated to wait for them to respond before you send it elsewhere?

    And if they do get back to you after you've already sent it elsewhere, then what?

  16. Cassandra Frear on October 3, 2009 at 10:52 AM

    >From Michael Hyatt's blog:

    "The dirty little secret of book publishing is that most books fail. Based on research I have seen through the years, something like 90% of all books published sell fewer than 5,000 copies. And by almost every commerical publisher’s standards, these books are failures. If this is accurate, then it means authors have a one-in-ten chance of being successful."

    This really surprised me. I had assumed that the very strenuous "vetting" process which authors go through to find a publisher, the extensive advice they get from professionals in the business, and the ongoing research of the market by publishers would foster more success than this.

    Now, the question I am asking is, "Why?"

  17. Christine H on October 3, 2009 at 9:42 AM

    >Aimee States… could you please elaborate on your comment? Or email me? Because I have already inserted what is essentially an exploding bomb in my first chapter, on the advice of other writers.

  18. Dr. David and Lisa Frisbie on October 3, 2009 at 7:35 AM

    >A full-length mirror hangs over the back of our closet door. Our biggest publishing surprise: Every day we smile at our marketing team in that mirror.

    Ten books, four publishers, one great agent — and to sum up, the marketing for books is done by — the authors. We honestly thought the publisher(s) would be sending our book(s) out to book reviewers, key editors, and other publishing professionals. We braced ourselves for (hopefully constructive) criticism.

    When you wake up tomorrow, smile at your marketing team and get to work. Writing is the first step on a long journey.

  19. Wallawuwu on October 3, 2009 at 1:43 AM

    >→ What encounter with a publishing person threw you for a loop?

    In three years of querying agents, I had two encounters that really threw me. One was when an agent called to offer representation and then a week later informed me he was 'off the project'. No explanation, no apology.

    The second was when I won an on-line first page contest judged by an agent where the prize was to send in a partial. It took eight months and two status queries before the agent asked me to send another copy, since apparently she'd misplaced it.

  20. Kimberlee Conway Ireton on October 3, 2009 at 12:06 AM

    >The "encounter" that threw me for a loop was the checklist rejection letter I got from a (Christian!) magazine for an article they had requested.

    "Dear (my name handwritten here), Thank you for your submission of "(my article title scrawled here)." We have decided it does not meet our requirements at this time, for the following reasons:"

    And then, I kid you not, a list of 12 different reasons why they might reject a piece of writing, with a check box next to each one. Lucky me, they only checked two of the boxes, and neither of them was the "you suck" box. Whew!

    At the time I was so affronted I vowed never to submit to them again (a promise I broke once I figured out this was how the business sometimes works).

    Now I just laugh–partly at my own righteous indignation and partly at the unbelievable rudeness of that letter. You get enough rejections or non-responses, and you learn there's not a whole lot else to do…except cry, and while I've done my share of that, it's not nearly as fun.

  21. A.L. Sonnichsen on October 3, 2009 at 12:02 AM

    >I was surprised to learn that I had to cut out most of my adverbs. I always considered myself a proficient adverb-picker. Now I've had to change my habit and pick strong verbs instead. And tags! I thought all my creative tags in dialogue were so wonderful. Now, I try to stick to he said/she said. Still, those two writing tips were definite shockers when I first heard them.

  22. Anonymous on October 2, 2009 at 11:25 PM

    >Kathleen Maclver:

    It is sad, but what you experienced is far too common. I've seen very similar things happen over and over. Christians should be humble, and servants. Yet so many are very arrogant and even nasty. Are they really Christians? I really wonder.

  23. Roxane B. Salonen on October 2, 2009 at 10:19 PM

    >I do think that the realization of just how much marketing an author is expected to do was a surprise to me when I first entered the inner circle of the publishing world. It's no longer a surprise but a reality I've absorbed. I feel like I understand the business so much more than when I first entered the publication realm and will be more prepared when my next contract is written up. In other words, the rose-colored glasses have not only been removed, they're nowhere to be found. I still find it a fascinating business.

  24. Kathleen MacIver on October 2, 2009 at 9:04 PM

    >I'd have to say that the only thing that truly surprised me (as in shocked) was how the "Christian" writer I once emailed was ten times as rude as the two "secular" authors I've written. The other two were kind, polite, REAL people. The "Christian" author (who is know for her powerful stories about godly love) made me feel like I had no business emailing a star like herself.

    That really surprised me, and now I can't bring myself to read any more of her novels, even though I tell myself that she may just have been having a bad day, or been facing a deadline.

  25. Marcie on October 2, 2009 at 7:56 PM

    >I am both surprised and scared to have agents, editors, and publishers following me on Twitter. This forced me to treat writing as a business and to be cognizant of how I present myself online.

  26. lynnrush on October 2, 2009 at 6:47 PM

    >Great question, and I've enjoyed reading the responses as well. Happy Friday!

    I'd say one thing that surprised me was how helpful other writers are to a newbie like myself.

    I showed up to the ACFW organization by referral back in May of 2008 with an 87,000 word novel I had no idea what to do with.

    I never expected to write a novel.

    So, I joined a crit group, they hashed it (very respectfully in addition to very HONESTLY!) and I revamped it….then wrote quite a few more after that (Yeah, that surprised me as well…)

    It was their grace, understanding, and honesty that nurtured me, a clueless writer, who just took the next step (joining ACFW) suggested by a friend.

    So…here's to a wonderful journey, whether it leads to publication or not!

  27. Pam Halter on October 2, 2009 at 6:20 PM

    >What has surprised me.

    That has to be the encouragement and time my mentor has given me. She's a full-time, well known writer in CBA and is gracious and loving and smart and always has time for me.

    I know how busy she is and am always more amazed than surprised that she takes the time to talk to me.

    But it was a surprise in the beginning.

  28. Janie B on October 2, 2009 at 5:56 PM

    >I guess I am surprised by the lack of empathy from publishers. I realize they are busy, but they should at least honor their own submission rules and reply to writers. I've been quite disappointed that my submission hasn't even been acknowledged after more than 2 1/2 months. At this point, I just wish they would send my book back so I don't have to copy it again. I tried to email them and I wrote a follow-up letter. Nothing acknowledge. Bummer!

  29. christicorbett on October 2, 2009 at 5:26 PM

    >My big surprise…getting an agent doesn't mean your novel gets submitted to publishers right away.

    I have an agent, but I found out you might still have to do a significant amount of revising in order to make it to the "submission" step.

    Guess what I'm doing this weekend? Yep…revising.

    Happy Friday!

  30. Reesha on October 2, 2009 at 4:21 PM

    >I've only just started writing two separate novels and have never been published. I'm very new to this business and already there have been some surprises.

    I was surprised that writers keep track of how many WORDS they write, not how many pages or chapters. I thought that was way cool.

    I didn't expect to be advised to write two books before seeking publication. I was against it at first but now I'm glad I've chosen to do that.

    I think it's absolutely dumb that writer's don't have as much say as they should in the title of their piece. Cover art I can understand but title…meh. I'm willing to give that one up even if I disagree with my future publishers/agent. But it'll be tough.

    Mostly I just got overwhelmed with all the information that's out there on publishing. Who's blog should I follow? Should I start a blog? What's Twitter? etc.

    The social networking thing bugs me and threatens to take over my writing time.

    Here's to learning how to balance schedules!

    Oh, and I also didn't expect to hear so many writers say they had to give up playing World of Warcraft to find time to write.

  31. Debbie on October 2, 2009 at 2:55 PM

    >My amazing fact: Despite all this rejecting that goes on, there are actually 250,000 books a year that DO get published (plus another 250,000 self-published)!

  32. rebeccaluellamiller on October 2, 2009 at 2:52 PM

    >What have you learned or experienced that surprised you?

    After teaching English for years, even teaching short story units I still needed to learn how to write fiction. It's not as easy as it looks.


  33. Timothy Fish on October 2, 2009 at 2:32 PM

    >Jumping off from Arabella's comment, after hearing so many people say, "you've got to blog, you've got to blog," it surprised me when I went and checked up on the most highly successful authors. Only a small percentage of them have their own blog and an even smaller percentage allow comments to their posts. Does that mean anything? I don't know, but I found it interesting and surprising, considering what people are telling us.

  34. Arabella on October 2, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    >App. ten years ago, I'd written several books and started marketing, going to conferences, etc. Then I stopped to go back to school, etc. Now that I've come back to it, I've learned how much more the market has gone over to the internet. Every writer's got a blog (and agents too, obviously). I was finally bullied into joining facebook . . . I'm not exactly surprised–it's just the way of the world right now.

  35. Liesl on October 2, 2009 at 1:26 PM

    >How funny. I just posted about a piece of advice that threw me for a loop when I started out.

    "Write what you know."

    What does that even mean to fiction writers? We make a bunch of stuff up! Anyway, it took me a while to figure out my issues with that, but I think I'm on the right track now.

  36. Kat Harris on October 2, 2009 at 12:55 PM

    >The thing that surprised me most?

    The amount of patience this endeavor takes. 🙂

  37. Amber Argyle-Smith on October 2, 2009 at 12:52 PM

    >1. I was surprised by how little respect authors actually have. Agents get snarky, publishers ignore submissions, agents don't answer emails.

    The whole atmosphere is kinda mean.

    2. I didn't expect all the authors that would tell me to quit if I could. Nor did I expect to pass along that same information to other wanna be authors.

    3. The rule I found most flabbergasting what that authors shouldn't pass a MS under the bathroom stall door. I thought you guys would appreciate something good to read while you, um. . . sat. lol

    4. An encounter that threw me for a loop was a guy who won a first sentence contest for a line he stole from a song.

    Really? Nobody picked up on that?

  38. Timothy Fish on October 2, 2009 at 12:06 PM

    >I suppose the thing that has surprised me the most is the number of times I’ve seen published authors talking about how their agents and publishers were so eager to publish their book, believing it would sell very well, but we can look at the book and see that it is an obvious flop. I saw one such book the other day. It was about getting personal meaning out of the events of some religious observance or another. I know some denominations may get more meaning out of that sort of thing than others, but even if it were something that most Christians observe, such as Easter, I don’t see it as being a hot seller. But it isn’t limited to denominational propaganda. I see novels also, that when I learn that they have flopped, I think, “I can see why.” On the other hand, I see books like The Shack that though I don’t agree with it and would never have offered to publish it myself, I can see why some people are attracted to it and I am surprised that a traditional publisher didn’t make an offer on it sooner.

  39. PatriciaW on October 2, 2009 at 11:56 AM

    >What surprised me? How many people of color are writing faith-filled books because they are few and far between on the shelves of Christian bookstores. I also now know of the CBA, which is entitled to define it's publishing/bookselling scope, but I sure wish they'd broaden it. Christ and Christianity are much bigger than how the CBA narrowly define them. Whole slices of life are left out because they don't fit into the box.

    What confounds me? That single-space after a period thing, because I'll never type that way, having learned on an IBM selectric. But that's what the Find/Replace feature is for.

    Then of course, there's the should I/shouldn't I indent the first paragraph of a scene or chapter. Still don't have a definitive answer on that one. I'll figure it out, but I'd much rather focus on story.

  40. Jungle Mom on October 2, 2009 at 11:55 AM

    >It has all surprised me! I never knew…
    The advice that I did not expect was to learn that even christian publishers seem uninterested in mission memoirs. I am seriously considering writing it as an autobiographical novel.

  41. Andrew on October 2, 2009 at 11:41 AM

    >I was naive; the biggest surprise I have had is how stiff the competition is. Everyone who has read my first novel likes it; heck, I read a lot, I've read the thing numerous times after writing it, and I STILL like it.

    And the only bite I got was from a reading fee agent, who collected money, asked for edits, and then did not read the ms. They probably should remain nameless here (I don't want to get myself, or Rachelle, in libel trouble), but I'll never do that again.

    The other surprise is that I'm staying with it. The path has been horribly discouraging, but I'll keep trying. Not for God, not for my 'paper children'…

    I don't know why. But I'll still be here.

  42. Anonymous on October 2, 2009 at 10:56 AM

    >"→ What encounter with a publishing person threw you for a loop?"

    It blew my mind when my agent (who deals largely in the CBA world) told me that he wouldn't submit my work to a CBA house except as a last resort because my book was too good for it and quote, "CBA will publish anything, it's shameful."

    It was interesting to hear that coming from someone that not only works in the CBA market but is a former editor at CBA's biggest house.

  43. Nicole O'Dell on October 2, 2009 at 10:53 AM

    >I'm still focused on your post from the other day about marketing. I was surprised to find out all that went into a book after it was written. It's like opening a small business. The work doesn't end with "The End."

    Thankfully, I've found that I enjoy that part too. It's a nice change of pace and it feels good to have that much direct impact on the success of something that took so much heart and soul.

  44. T. Anne on October 2, 2009 at 10:45 AM

    >I was a bit surprised to find out there were so many constraints on storyline when it comes to publishers. Some won't even look at your Romance unless it's written in third person etc.. Also I'm a bit taken back by the fact there are so few Christian literary agents that actually represent Young Adult. When you take the limited number of Christian agents and then slice that by half, it's not a big pool. I would think YA would be a great way to steer young readers into the genre. (I still think I'm right 😉

  45. Brittany Landgrebe on October 2, 2009 at 10:30 AM

    >For me, the surprise wasn't actually about the rules and expectations of querying or published authors interacting with their readers, it was the unpublished authors that put the quizzical look on my face.

    Like how many times lit agents on twitter and in blogs have to keep stating the obvious about querying. Yesterday @Ginger_Clark had to tweet to everyone that a writer SHOULD NEVER QUERY THEM VIA TWITTER. I mean SERIOUSLY, that to me makes a whole lot of sense. A little research, common sense, and courtesy can save both agents and writers loads of time in the querying process.

    One thing that DID shock me, horribly, was a link on an agent blog to a website for authors who apparently like to burn bridges. They load up the rejections they received from literary agents or publishers, then lampoon the agent/ publishers in their anger, saying some very nasty things. http://rejectioncollection.com/ no longer comes up when I click on any links I find, which makes me wonder if the creators – and the rejected writers – have realized that agents and editors do know their way around the internet and have found, and recognized, the letters they or their colleagues have sent.

    Way to ruin your chances. This is not just a publishing business, its a people business, and to see writers act so negatively at rejection, its likely they'll be a handful for the agent who does take them on. I don't like seeing a few make the rest of us seem stupid, but you get that everywhere.

    Really, I'm just eager to write the best book I can and find the agent and publisher thats best for me. And I'll do that the right way: Research, common sense, and courtesy.

  46. Lea Ann McCombs on October 2, 2009 at 10:27 AM

    >One thing that pleasantly surprised me was how genuine, humble, and approachable were the successful, multi-published authors I've met. At the conferences I've attended, the highly-sucessful are not highly arrogant, as I had assumed. There is a sincere desire to encourage and motivate those of us not there yet.

    It gives me an excellent model for future reference, and one day when I'm in their shoes, I hope I pass on this Godly heritage.

  47. Dara on October 2, 2009 at 10:23 AM

    >Well when I first started out, I thought it was one of those things where the only way you could break into the publishing world was if you knew the "right" people. I've since found that you don't really have to know anyone–it's the writing and the story that matters (along with a few other things, like if there's even a market for the book, etc.)

    Lots of things surprised me when I started learning, although I'm not really surprised now by things I read. I may only still be in drafting stages of a novel but I've learned a lot already!

  48. Ungrateful Writer on October 2, 2009 at 10:03 AM

    >I was most surprised to learn that the author is the player with the least amount of power in the publishing world(unless the author is a mega bestseller,which is so weird becasue there would be no books without authors. And that key information (like sales figures)is often not shared with the author.

    As far as rule or protocol, I was surprised to discover that authors often have to hunt down royalty statements and checks, especially if an agent moves around a lot. It would be lovely if publishers issued two checks and statements, one for the agent and author, instead of just to the agent.

    Also as an author you can make very few mistakes because you're slways judged by previous sales.

  49. Christy Trujillo on October 2, 2009 at 9:55 AM

    >I recently (yesterday) published my first eBook. I have been surprised by how hard it is to promote! I thought it would be a tad easier, I don’t know why!

    I have learned: Don’t fall in love with your words. Fall in love with you story, your characters, and your voice but never your words! They are subject to change!!


  50. LurkerMonkey on October 2, 2009 at 9:44 AM

    >This is a big one for me …

    I was surprised to learn about the non-contractual revision letter. Before I started shopping books around (through an agent), I figured it was mostly an up-or-down thing, but no. Not so. In reality, I've spent many months working with various editors at various houses, doing full rewrites based on detailed, multipage rewrite letters, WITHOUT a contract offer. If this had happened once, I'd think it was a fluke, but it's happened more than once now, and I still don't have a contract offer. True, these editors have made me a much better writer, and they've invested significant time of their own, but I'm still surprised by it.

  51. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God on October 2, 2009 at 9:42 AM

    >Good morning, Rachelle,

    After spending almost 20 years as an electrical engineer for a Fortune 500 company, I had no idea what to expect when I began exploring the publishing world. What surprised me most was how highly sophisticated a business it is. I find that almost every non-technical experience I had in my previous profession has prepared me for working in this one. God has so thoroughly led me in acquiring the skills I need that I see a natural progression from where I was to where I am now.

    Now that I write this comment, my question to myself is "why should I have been surprised?"

    Have a great weekend,


  52. yarnbuck on October 2, 2009 at 9:25 AM


    Yeah, shocked . . . that sooo many people write. I never thought I was cool, just didn’t expect to find ‘single cell organism’ next to ‘first time author’ in my thesaurus. And the contract to submission ratio? Are you kidding? Funny, I don’t smoke or play the lottery because I passed third grade math. But I query. Go figure.

    The real butt kicker came when my novel busted through the royalty pub curtain to a house not packed out. Slugging out of the deep muddy ditch, I found myself at the foot of the hill.

  53. Sharon A. Lavy on October 2, 2009 at 9:11 AM

    >I only had one shock or surprise in my several agent encounters. I find most are encouraging if you are open to suggestion.

  54. Rachel Starr Thomson on October 2, 2009 at 9:08 AM

    >Wow, this is a fun comment thread :). I started researching the craft of writing and the business of publishing when I was 12 or so, so while everything was new then, nothing has really been a surprise.

    But my favourite thing in the modern publishing landscape that wasn't around when I was 12? Agent blogs! Folks like you and Nathan Bransford and our dearly loved-and-missed Miss Snark have made the submitting side of the industry SO much less confusing and SO much more accessible. Thank you!

  55. Matilda McCloud on October 2, 2009 at 8:59 AM

    >Having worked in publishing, I come from a different perspective, but I have learned a lot from this process:

    Despite all my years in publishing, I made the usual beginners' mistakes and didn't start figuring out what to do until after I read Miss Snark and other blogs (I worked in children's books, but I'm writing fiction for adults so I had a lot to learn). For example, on several occasions I had Post Office Syndrome, ie the minute I put the ms in the mail slot, I realized how to fix it. I then asked the agent to disregard the ms because I was sending another (big no no).

    That it doesn't matter how many connections you have in publishing, you still have to wow the editor. My husband works for a major publishing company and this can grease the wheels a bit, but that's it!

    That life on this side of the transom is so hard and so painful sometimes. Things are much more blunt and honest than when I worked in publishing. For example, I read slush for three years and I would hold the rejection letters for two weeks to spare the writers' feelings (ie so that they didn't get the rejection in the return mail). So I was shocked when I got a rejection on a full less than 24 hours later. I have become used to this, but for beginners it might be intimidating. Develop the hide of a rhino!

    That YA is so smokin' hot. When I worked in publishing, it was the backwater of the list. We published maybe one or two earnest YA books with uplifting themes etc, but nothing edgy or fun.

    Not to sound like a Pollyanna or a suck up, but I haven't had any awful experiences submitting my ms. I've been surprised at how many agents have been willing to take a look at my work. I've seen a progression from no reponses (when my work was pretty bad) to requests for fulls. So I've learned that the key is to spend my time improving my writing and not kvetching!

  56. Anne L.B. on October 2, 2009 at 8:53 AM

    >After fighting cynicism about mainstream Christianity, I'm so encouraged by how many Christians truly pour out themselves to exalt the Lord. I've been utterly humbled to see the hearts of other writers, and pleasantly astonished that so many publishing professionals seek to so thoroughly serve the Lord as well.

    I'm honored to be a part of this community.

  57. Christy Truitt on October 2, 2009 at 8:20 AM

    >Similar to other comments, I've been most surprised by how much of a craft a novel is – one that's done right of course. For years, I banged away on the keyboard, allowing what I felt to be a God-given talent to chart the course of the novel. What I've learned from studying, attending conferences and receiving mentoring from better writers is that I had no idea what I was doing! I've learned that writing is a journey rather than a destination, and I hope to enjoy the patches of sunlight along with enduring those moments under the clouds.

  58. Aimee States on October 2, 2009 at 8:07 AM

    >→ What have you learned or experienced that surprised you?

    That writing is really, really, really hard, when done right.

    → What piece of advice did you not expect?

    To relax and not rush to the payoff in every chapter, to ease into the necessary setup. Finally, someone had the decency to say that to me after two years of typing.

    → What "rule" or protocol or guideline did you find astonishing, confounding, or just plain dumb?

    "Start where the action is". Now, it's not bad advice overall once you figure out what it MEANS. But I do crits all the time for new writers where a bomb goes off in the first paragraph (or something similar). Whoa, Nelly. There is so much well intentioned advice out there that actually makes people worse writers than they are, because those standards aren't deeply explained–just thrown around like bad cliches.

    → What encounter with a publishing person threw you for a loop?

    I had a request from a great agent for thirty pages and I was pumped! Then I realized upon form rejection that my first novel was terrible, as many are (and it was terrible, not just opinion there). I figured out that this writing thing takes a lot of time, patience, and schoolin'.

  59. David A. Todd on October 2, 2009 at 8:01 AM

    >"What encounter with a publishing person threw you for a loop?"

    Glorietta conference, 2006. I had two 15-minute appointments with editors with a 15 minute gap in between. Shortly before the first one, the power went off in the building. The appointments continued, in the dark with what ambient light was available.

    By the time of the second appointment, the power was back on. This was the one editor I really wanted to meet with, and I thought my book fit his house better than others. But everyone was kind of giddy and feeling odd after the power failure, so I went with an unconventional approach. I started by saying my book was too long, in the wrong voice, and in a dormant genre, but it told a powerful story.

    Wrong approach, I guess. I then went into my five minute description of the book, after which the editor laughed and said, "Who writes a book like that?" I should have gotten up and walked out, but I stayed, finished out my appointment listening to him, and left. And I haven't scheduled an appointment with him since.

  60. Anonymous on October 2, 2009 at 7:38 AM

    >I'm surprised that:

    1. not all agents accept queries through email or online form; and,

    2. that they don't all have auto responders that confirm receipt of the queries.

  61. Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought on October 2, 2009 at 7:38 AM

    >I honestly didn’t know how very many hands touch/influence a book from its inception to when it is shelved in bookstores until I read your recent post.

    Thanks for the continual education.
    ~ Wendy

  62. Jan Dunlap on October 2, 2009 at 7:35 AM

    >The thing I learned that most surprised me is that self-published books are on bookstore shelves right along with those published by 'real' publishing houses. When I went to my first group author signing at a big chain bookstore, I was astounded to learn that several of the other authors had self-published. I had always assumed that every book on the store's shelf had been purchased by an editor at a house. Although this explains why some really poorly written books are on the shelf for sale, it has now made me extra-cautious when I buy books – I check out the name of the publisher after I see the name of the author! So, becoming an author myself has reminded me to "Buyer, beware!"

  63. Christine H on October 2, 2009 at 7:34 AM

    >I have very low expectations, and pretty much figure I have a snowball's chance in Hell of ever getting a book deal. I guess I'm the opposite of many authors. I don't think I'm brilliant, and actually have tried to give up writing as a futile exercise many times.

    But the Big Guy won't let me.

    So, I'm still plugging away at it, very slowly.

    The thing that has surprised me is how positive most of the feedback on my chapters has been. I mean *really* encouraging. I tend to think of publishing as some sort of mysterious, magical kingdom to which only a few hold the passwords, but now, to my great surprise, I'm starting to think that I might actually be able to make it in.

  64. CKHB on October 2, 2009 at 7:19 AM

    >I'm an attorney. Publishing is NOT a mean industry. The only reason it sometimes seems that way is because many authors don't treat it as a professional business, because they somehow think that the creativity of their efforts changes things.

    Agents laugh about people who write in saying that they have a great book idea, it'll be on Oprah for sure, let's join forces and split the profits. And a lawyer would similarly laugh his or her butt off if they ever got a cover letter from another lawyer saying "I've got a great idea for a legal argument, I'll tell you about it, you write up the research and arguments, and I just know the Supreme Court will want me to argue it."

    The only thing that's surprised me so far is the TIME involved in all stages of publication.

  65. Marybeth Poppins on October 2, 2009 at 7:08 AM

    >The most unexpected thing I learned was the whole double spacing rule. I was flabbergasted by this. I'd always been taught two spaces after a sentence. But now that I am used to it I have no troubles.

    I know it's small and silly, but seriously, this totally rocked my world for an entire day!

  66. Katie Ganshert on October 2, 2009 at 6:26 AM

    >The most surprising thing to me (and the thing I think most "normal" people don't realize) is how much time, effort, and collaboration goes into one book. Now, when I walk into a bookstore, I'm almost overwhelmed by how much time and tears that store represents. Even before a book gets published, it's crazy how much thought goes into each chapter, scene, word!

    Another unexpected outcome (nasty side effect, actually) of studying the craft and learning how to write well? It's harder for me to enjoy a book. I have to tell my internal editor to shush up quite often.

  67. Bonita on October 2, 2009 at 6:25 AM

    >→ What have you learned or experienced that surprised you?

    I was surprised that the emphasis is less on great writing and more on platform and whether or not you can make $$ with the book. I'm more than a little disheartened that if you happen to be famous and can't write worth a flip you are more likely to get published than those who invest heart and soul into learning the craft.

    I'm also surprised at the sheer gluttony of Christian books out there! Do we really need ten books on every possible itty bitty topic that pertains to Christianity?

    → What encounter with a publishing person threw you for a loop?

    I've had several encounters with agents who had egos the size of Texas. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why.

    On the other hand, I've also been pleasantly surprised by the humility of some very successful people in the publishing world.

  68. Karen on October 2, 2009 at 6:19 AM

    >Years ago my first novel made it all the way to committee at a publishing house only to be rejected. The reason for the rejection, according to my agent at the time, was because I was an unpublished author (although I was writing for several magazines and a newspaper). I dug out my old copy of Catch 22 for comfort.

  69. Sulci Collective on October 2, 2009 at 3:42 AM

    >I think what I have found consistently the hardest thing as a playwright and novelist of 25 years trying to get an agent, is that rejected submissions come back with no feedback. I appreciate that there is no economic sense in them spending time and effort on a script they have no interest in, but the mechanism of posting a script, sitting back and waiting for for anything up to 4 months, only to rip open the SAE for a form letter wishing you 'good luck with your future career' is a little crushing through its vacuity.

  70. Erastes on October 2, 2009 at 2:46 AM

    >→ What have you learned or experienced that surprised you?

    That some professional authors can be just as unpleasant/bitchy/aggressive as those I left behind in fandom.

    → What "rule" or protocol or guideline did you find astonishing, confounding, or just plain dumb?

    That so many publishers (especially those in the UK) still insist on paper submissions by post.

    → What encounter with a publishing person threw you for a loop?

    The first editor I had who didn't know a single thing about the Regency but questioned me on every fact instead of checking first.

  71. Skeptic on October 2, 2009 at 2:35 AM

    >In my professional life, I work with psychiatric patients. Publishing has nothing on meanness and snark. If I work a day without obscene insults, I'm probably not having patient contact. Believe that if nothing else.

    Different businesses are like fast food restaurants – some have a little more onion or mustard on their burgers than the others. In the end, a burger is still a burger whether it's flame broiled or fried.

    I don't see publishing in much different light than any other profession. If you walk in blind and cling to preconceived notions of what anything is, disillusionment is probably right around the corner. So what I find the most astonishing is that without doing any research, people are surprised to find that it is not what they expected.

  72. Marsha Moore on October 2, 2009 at 2:26 AM

    >I had a vision that I would get a contract, get published and my books would magically appear in all bookstores up and down the country!

    Now I'm learning that getting a contract and getting published is really only part of the battle. You need to market, market, market to help get the book top-of-mind with bookstores so they actually place orders with distributors! If you're with a large publisher it might be easier, but with a smaller one you really need to push to get your book into bookstores.

    I was really looking forward to the day where I could stroll into Borders on Oxford Street and proudly hold up my book for all to see. But now I'll sell my book on the street corner if it means somebody buys it!

    (OK, it's not as bad as that, but I'll do whatever it takes to get it to the public!)

  73. Camille Cannon Eide on October 2, 2009 at 1:34 AM

    >I must be really tired (from working past the Leno hour on novel revisions…) because I read over the last question twice and still got "What encounter with a publishing person threw up on you?" both times. Time for glasses or a nap.

    I don't remember being shocked by much of anything after the first initial shock. I decided to write a novel. A few chapters in, I figured I should look up the publisher I planned on asking to publish my book, and then discovered that they only take submissions through an agent or something foreign sounding called a writer's conference. Seemed a little fishy. But they were good enough to recommend Sally Stuart's Christian Writer's Market Guide, and from there, I found sites, courses, groups, organizations, networks and countless ways to learn the craft and get connected up in the biz. Because of that $20 CWMG, I've learned more than I would have ever imagined, met people, been given opportunities, gotten involved in writing organizations and grown some deep friendships, all which have truly changed my life.

    So I guess I just answered the question: This has been my biggest surprise. I had NO clue how consuming, depressing, exhilirating, rewarding and life-changing the life of a wannabe novelist would be.

    [Mean & Snarky can't touch that. :-)]