Saturday, October 23, 2010

Those darned publishing myths

We've all read them, and we start out with loads of misconceptions on account of them. How do we separate the industry wisdom from the urban myths? Research can usually turn up startling revelations, as can discussion with more experienced writers. There's nothing like personal experience, though, to drive the truths straight home. Here are a few urban myths of publishing, and my own experience in shooting them to smithereens.

Urban Myth #1: They say you can't get an agent unless you're already published, and you can't get published without an agent.

My experience: When I got my agent I had published squat. She wasn't a new agent looking to build her list; she had been in the business for 25 years, was highly respected and successful. Her clients include household names. Agents take chances on untried writers all the time. They just have to love your book enough.

Urban Myth #2: They say you must have publishing credits before an editor will take a look at your manuscript.

My experience: I had no pub credits when editors began asking for my full manuscript but hey, having those clips (from magazine sales, for example) can't hurt! Again, most editors consider the quality of the writing and their needs, not necessarily what and where you've sold before.

Urban Myth #3: They say the industry is incestuous and if you don't know someone it's hopeless.

My experience: I knew no one. The vast majority of authors don't when they're starting out. It's about the story, the writing, and the existence of a big enough market for what you write, not about having the right contacts.

Urban Myth #4: They say queries should be no longer than a single page.

My experience: I didn't know this when I was starting out and my first query was three pages long. An editor requested the full manuscript on my first try.

Urban Myth #5: They say if your romance novel is set in an 'exotic' country no publisher will buy it. As a matter of fact, a popular agent who didn't deign to respond to my query did a presentation at an RWA conference not long after I contacted her and said a foreign setting in a romance novel tops her auto-rejection list.

My experience: Café au Lait is set on a tiny Caribbean island. That's foreign to 99 percent of the market. The book sold, and the feedback from reviewers and readers indicates that the exotic setting is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book. There are similar myths about other genres. They are not cast in stone.

'They' say lots of stuff. Very little of it really matters: what matters is that you write well, query widely, learn all you can about the industry, and persist. Would anyone decide to become a professional diver and proceed to suit up, jump in the water and start raking in the big contracts? Or would he learn all he can about the business, practise until he's pretty darned good at the underwater stuff, and then have reasonable expectations that he can grow with?

So, which publishing myths have you shot down lately?


Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely many of these are myths. I had lots of publishing credits, in hardback anthologies,paperback anthologies, and numerous magazines when I started approaching agents. Nary a nibble on my manuscript. Ultimately I think it's largely about being a business. If the agent thinks they can sell it and make some money for themselves and their author, they'll sign you up.

Liane Spicer said...

Exactly, Charles. All the myths fall apart in the face of that.

Farrah Rochon said...

Great post, Liane. Thanks for debunking some of the myths that have stumped many writers throughout the years. With publishing, I think it's more about your voice and the market. And sometimes the market doesn't even matter. If a story is strong enough, it can blaze new trails in publishing.

Liane Spicer said...

Thank you, Farrah. You're absolutely right! The story and the market rule. I haven't even touched the surface of the myths that proliferate out there.

Emilija Sofeska, 1977 said...

If I may comment, all those myths are made from people who are not painstaking and worth...those are myths for everything in life...thank you

Liane Spicer said...

Emilija, welcome! How's the weather across there? Getting cold, huh?

You're right, of course. There are myths surrounding all sorts of issues. The trick is to take none of them for granted and find out for yourself what works and what doesn't, or as we say in English, separate the wheat from the chaff.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I'm glad I wasn't sufficiently aware of the myths to be discouraged from publishing my stories. There are indeed a lot of myths, which both of my books defy.

Liane Spicer said...

Jewel, there's a lot to be said for being a newbie who's blissfully unaware of the myths, rules and realities of publishing, otherwise we might never take that plunge!

Carol Mitchell said...

This was very encouraging to me. Thanks, Liane.

Liane Spicer said...

You're welcome, Carol!

Chris Stovell said...

I'd like to back you up on these, Liane - I was a complete and utter publishing unknown, I hadn't been a scriptwriter, editor and neither was anyone in my family! I didn't have an agent, but like you, I did it! Blow those myths away!

Liane Spicer said...

Chris, yay for myth busting! Congrats again on your sale - and to such a cool publishing house! Champagne & chocolates on release day? Sigh... :D