Barrett Manor

Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Publishing Myths, Part 1: Background and Ground Rules

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Yes, I've been meaning to start this series for some time, and now seems to be as good a time as any. Today's entry will be divided into four parts:

A bit of background
Why I'm doing this
What it is
What it isn't
A link to parts 1-10 (All of the series as of 3/15/2015)

But first, let's start with a disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, and any legal issues I mention are not to be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney for the best advice regarding your situation.

There are exceptions to every rule, and I don't want to hear anyone whine about how they're one of them. If you're an exception and things are working out for you, then I'm happy for you. As we go along I plan to talk about why the exceptions work (most of the time it's through hard work and knowing your markets, but sometimes luck plays a hand), and when it can be a wise idea to go against conventional wisdom.

A Bit of background

This series is geared primarily at novelists, but I'll touch on issues for non-fiction books as well. It's hard to get published, and there are reasons for that. Publishers have to make money in order to stay in business. In good times and bad, that means they have to commit to publishing books they think will turn a profit. Publishers know that the buying public expects quality, so it takes time to produce a book. This is fairly simplistic, I know, and I'll expand on this later. 

Yes, the publishing industry is changing, but if there's one thing that moves slower than a government bureaucracy, it's this business. Change won't happen overnight, and that's a fact we all have to accept. The people who read the books ultimately move the market. Oops, here's an exception: I should say that this series of articles applies to the trade, or consumer market.

And no, I don't have anything against self-published authors. A self-published author can make good money if he or she has the drive and know-how. There are some very good reasons to do it yourself, and that's something we'll get into later.

Why I'm doing this

Conveniently, that brings us to myth #1:

People who talk about how the publishing industry works are failed writers. They're jealous that (Publisher X) didn't pick up their book and so they are dissing them. Or, they're successful writers afraid of the competition.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm not on the best seller list, but I've been published by major houses. My work has appeared in local, regional, and national periodicals. In addition, I write copy for ads, web sites, catalogs, you name it. I've been burned by magazines that didn't pay as promised. I know people who have been caught up with the wrong publisher. There was a time early in my career that I might have been taken in by a less than reputable publisher, and I'm fortunate that I wasn't.

Back when I was just starting out I managed to get hooked up with a network of aspiring and published writers. We were on the receiving end of some excellent advice from the pros ranging from plot mechanics to how to submit and who to submit to. They also told us who to avoid like the plague.

No one was jealous. Nobody gave bum advice just to see a fellow writer fail. It's the same today. It wasn't easy to get published then, and it's not easy now. Markets are cracked with a combination of talent, perserverence, and knowledge. Luck does play into it, but authors don't become bestsellers overnight. That lesson was burned into our brains then, and it's worth repeating now because it's still true.

What it boils down to is that I want to pay it forward. My agenda is to see writers succeed. Isn't that competition for me? The more the merrier, I say.

What it is

Essentially, I want to help writers avoid some of the pitfalls that entrap us all. I say "some," because even though we exercise diligence, it's possible to end up in a bad situation.

I have my opinions and biases, and will try to clearly label them as such. Still, my goal is to be objective. I understand what works for me may not work in your situation, and vice-versa.

My plan is to approach this from a "mythbusting" angle. Like today's urban legends, most myths are rooted in a grain of truth, and that's why they keep coming back.

What it isn't

This isn't a place to advance an agenda, except the one stated above. As I've said over and over, if something works for you, then great. As long as you go into a situation with your eyes wide open, then you'll be in a position to better avoid the land mines.

I'm not out to get anyone. If I don't name your publisher or agent specifically among the reputable ones, it doesn't mean there's anything wrong. Your agent may be one of the best, but she may not rep my genre. I wouldn't submit my novel to a company that specializes in computer books, but that doesn't make them a bad publisher.


Snuck another section in on you! This series of articles wouldn't be possible without all the members of the writer community who work hard to expose the bad players, and those who help all writers improve their craft. The list isn't mutually exclusive:

The SFWA's Writer Beware project, spearheaded by A.C. Crispin, Victoria Strauss, and Richard White. Their charter is to help all writers, regardless of genre.

The folks who run AbsoluteWrite, especially the moderators at the forum including owner MacAllister Stone and moderator James D. Macdonald. And, of course, all the folks who post over there.

Preditors and Editors, which is maintained by Dave Kuzminski.(Update: Dave passed away in 2013, but the site was taken over by several folks who keep it running.)

Patrick and Teresea Nielsen Hayden. Making Light is a must read, particularly the Slushkiller post.

P.N. Elrod, author of The Vampire Files books, who also puts on "nuts and bolts of writing" seminars at conventions.

Miss Snark, the literary agent, is sadly retired from the world of blogging, but her blog (and wonderful advice) are preserved.

Every writer on the planet who has mentored another writer. And that's darn near all of you.

Next up: Definitions.
Here is a list of all of the posts through 3/15/2015:

Part 1: Background and Ground Rules (You are here.)
Part 2: Definitions
Part 3: Self-Publishing is Great! (Except When it Isn't)
Part 4: My Book Deserves Publication
Part 5: The Publishing Industry is Broken
Part 6: If I Could Just Get My Name Out There...
Part 7: My Publisher Has Distribution!
Part 8: You Can't Tell A Book by its Cover
Part 9: Everyone Has to Start Somewhere
Part 10: Realistic Expectations, Anyone?

Filed under: Publishing Myths            
1/24/2009 10:23:03 PM
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