Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Myths, Lies and the Publishing Industry

Okay, I know this is bad form. But I forgot to do a blog today and was reminded of one of my very first posts on my other blog, so I decided to repost it here.

Updates to this since I wrote it last year? Sadly very few. :-)


A couple of recent posts on writer-lists I belong to have prompted me to do something I swore I’d never do with this blog (but already broke in the first week). I hadn’t planned to use this blog to foist my opinions about publishing on the world. Enough people already do that and do it well… But sometimes, it appears, I just can’t help myself…

So, at the risk of having cyber-tomatoes tossed my way, I find myself wanting to voice a few opinions about small pubs, e-pubs and (gasp) self-publishing.

I’m still very early in my—what I hope will be a—writing career… but, except for about ten minutes after one particularly disappointing bit of news, I haven’t even considered an option other than shooting for a contract with a major NY publisher.

Why? For me, it’s about knowing what you want. It’s about setting goals and sticking to them even if it requires a little harsh reflection and honesty—not to mention a lot of hard work on your craft and probably tossing a few early manuscripts into the trash bin.

Not that I think there’s any one right way to get published—or even a best way—I just know what I want and based on some things I read on the loops, some (emphasis on some) writers end up at e-pubs without much forethought or because they weren’t honest with themselves about their writing or about the industry.

In other words, if a writer decides to target a small press or e-pub, he/she should be very clear about why they've made that choice.

In my opinion, it comes down to goals. Writers (I hope) write because we love to write… So why do we want to be published? That’s a whole other question. Some writers may be happy just to see their name in print on a book cover. Maybe it’s being able to use that elusive title "author". Maybe they just hope a few people who don’t know them will actually read their stories. On the other hand, some writers have different goals. For example, seeing their book in major chains, reaching for or hitting bestseller lists, reviews in major publications, possible movie deals, having thousands of people read their books, earning a modest living…

If those latter goals sound like you… Then my advice is to stay focused on getting that contract with a major NY publishing house.

What saddens me most, I suppose, is when I see writers falling into the trap of believing certain myths about the industry that get perpetrated amongst we pre-published authors. Yes, it’s a tough business. Yes, the odds are against a new writer. Yes, it’s very subjective. Yes, there’s some luck and timing involved, but some things I hear out there just aren’t true. For example, I’ve heard people claiming that to get a major NY contract or even land a reputable agent:

  • You have to know someone

  • You have to be pretty

  • Your book has to fit into some kind of cookie-cutter mold

  • You have to learn a secret handshake no one’s willing to teach you

Yes, these little lies writers tell themselves can help take the sting out of the inevitable rejections that come in this business—but they are lies. Believing that you need an "in" to get published by a NY house, or that the major houses never take chances can lead writers into a world of delusion. Yes, small presses and e-pubs have launched certain fiction sub-genres -- they can take more chances because the costs are so much lower... But once those barriers have been broken and it’s proven a market exists (say with erotica or paranormal right now) NY starts clamoring for those types of books and if your writing is good enough, your storytelling gripping, your voice strong, you will find an agent and get a publishing deal with a NY house.


This is what I believe.

Am I the one who’s deluded?

I don't have a book contract yet. It took me 3 completed manuscripts to get a great agent and I recognize that it might take a few more manuscripts to get that contract... Don’t get me wrong… it will break my heart if the book my agent is shopping right now doesn't sell... But I'll recover. I also know each book I write gets better and for me (emphasis on for me) going with a small pub or e-pub is a compromise I'm not willing to make. It’s just not compatible with my goals. Your goals might be different. Just be honest with yourself and don't buy into the myths.


Anonymous said...

Maureen, smart words. I've been reading a few agent blogs, and they all say the same thing.
There is no secret. Chances are that if you have a wonderfully written, excellent book, you'll have your pick of agents.
No secret society, just the right book at the right time, and the chances of that happening increase with each book we write.

Alli Sinclair said...

Worth posting for a second time, Maureen. I couldn't agree more. I have non-writing friends say to me "so is your book published yet?" and when I try to explain to them how the industry works they nearly faint. They think it's easy. And sure, I could see me MS's in print via self-pub or whatever.... but my dream is to have my book published by a large publisher - worldwide (of course!!). ;-) I'm willing to do the miles and do the time - I won't let the dream go, no matter what.

Anonymous said...

Love your attitude Maureen.


Molly O'Keefe said...

You're a little deluded...but it's what I like about you. Great post - proving once again you are smarter than the average bear..or Molly.

Maureen McGowan said...

LOL about my delusions, Molly.

You know, maybe we all have to be a bit deluded to be in this business.

That makes it less about setting goals and more about choosing your delusions. :-)

Kristy Kiernan said...

Hang tough, Maureen. You are, you will, and it will happen.

I felt the same way. I wanted it, but I wanted it a certain way. It was important...TO ME. (Still is.) I pursued, I sacrificed, and I got it. I did as much as I could, and WANTED, to do. And I genuinely believe that you'll get it too.

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