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

Publishing Myths Series Revisited (Again)

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


Way back in 2009, I wrote a series of blog posts on publishing myths, with a quick update in 2011

Changes in the industry have rendered some of my information out of date, but I'm leaving it up for archival purposes.

The biggest news since then is the continued rise of ebooks and self-publishing. We've also seen several small publishers collapse, and further consolidation at the top. What's an aspiring author to do? First off, it's your choice to do it yourself or look for a publisher. Whichever route you chose, remember Yog's law:
Money flows toward the writer.
Simple, isn't it?

But wait! What about self-publishing? Don't I have to pay someone to produce and market my book?

Yes, or you can do it all yourself. But not all services are equal. Remember, the goal is to make money. Publishing is a business, whether you do it yourself, go through a commercial house, or hire someone to do all or some aspects of the work. Whichever route you go, you need to thoroughly vet the publisher or service:

* What is their payment rate? How is it structured? An advance against royalties? Royalties only?

* How often do they pay? Do they have a record of timely payments?

* How is their editing and cover design?

* What do they do to get their products (your books!) into the hands of readers?

* What is their acceptance rate? This is very important. Some small publishers are pushing as many books out the door as fast as they can. How can they do a good job of marketing your book when they have so many in the pipeline? 

* How do they pay their editors and cover designers? Can they retain good editors? Some of the smaller presses pay royalties. I've heard tales of good editors leaving small presses that pump out a lot of books because sales are low and royalties don't cover their time. If sales are so low that editors are leaving, what chance do you have of decent sales? 

If your publisher does a substandard job of editing (or expects a fully edited manuscript on submission), slaps on a cover, and then expects you to do all the work promoting and marketing the thing, then what the hell are you doing with that publisher? Waiting out a rights reversion, I hope.

If your acceptance letter includes a pitch for "publishing packages," chances are you'll be paying far more than you'll ever get back. While there are a few success stories with this model, it's generally a bad business move on your part.

One of the more interesting developments in the last few years has been online magazines. Some pay pro rates and and are approved markets for some groups like SFWA. Vet them like you do a standard publisher. Watch what rights they acquire and for how long. You don't want to lose your work to a rights grab.

What do you do if when you get a rejection? Remember that your story does not deserve to be published. Also read Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Slushkiller and John Scalzi's Ten Things About Literary Rejection. They both date to 2005 or so, but the advice still stands. Read #3 in Scalzi's list. Burn it into your brain.

P. N. Elrod (disclosure: we're been good friends since college) has been doing an occasional series of "Dear Aspiring Author" posts on her Facebook page. She's been reading slush for a publisher, and much of her advice is very similar to the two links above, but with delicious snark. (Well, if you could eat snark, this would be delicious. So there.)

It's not the big bad publisher's fault that you keep acquiring rejection letters. (That's a myth!) You can increase your chances by doing two things: Adhere to the publisher (or publication's) guidelines to the letter, and keep writing and revising. If you get a personalized rejection letter, it often means you're doing something right, even if your work wasn't right for them or their schedule (or issue) is full. If you get an R&R (Revise and Resubmit), do it. You still may not get an acceptance in the end, but I guarantee you'll have a better story.

That brings me to another myth I keep hearing after all these years: "The evil editor is going to ruin my story!" If you have that manuscript with a reputable publisher, that ain't gonna happen. And if you think they're ruining it, then it's time to have a long talk with the editor about your vision and theirs. Please consider that an experienced editor has been at this a long time, and they know a lot about story structure. If I disagree with an editorial direction, I can go back and explain that the reason I'm doing X is Y. The editor will consider it and tell me why their suggestion will make it better or suggest an entirely different approach, and tell me why. If you honestly believe they're ruining your story, prepare to turn in your advance and walk away.

And that brings me to another myth: If the book doesn't earn out you have to pay back your advance. I've heard of a couple of small publishers that have tried to sneak this in a contract, and authors who have not been successful at striking that clause walk away without signing. Here's how it really works: Remember way up there when I said that publishing was a business? If they're going to pay you an advance against royalties, they're confident that they're going to sell a certain number of copies. If the book doesn't sell as well as they'd hoped, well, they lose the bet and you win. If the book sells as many as they hope, you've both broken even. If it sells more, then you both win. You'll get more royalties! 

Still, there are certain situations when an author will have to return their advance, and they all involve the author not adhering to their end of the contract. Generally, your end of the contract is to produce that manuscript on time (if the contract isn't on acceptance), do requested edits on time, and follow the legalities. If they discover you've plagiarized, they're going to ask for their money back.

But if for some reason the publisher walks away during the process through no fault of yours, the advance money is yours. Maybe the bean counters decide to cut the list down and your book gets axed. It's very disappointing, but at least you have some money and a manuscript (that may have undergone some editing) that you can shop around elsewhere.

There is one other big myth that is becoming more and more of a reality with small publishers. Some publishers require you to have a social media presence and promote the hell out of your book. Some are now asking for marketing plans for fiction. Damn it, Jim! I'm a writer, not a marketing guru. Part of the job of a publisher is to get those books (print or electronic) into the hands of readers. If I'm sitting here in my dark corner of the innerwebs jumping up and down and screaming "look at me!" it's not as effective as a publisher going out to physical and online bookstores and saying "look at our authors!" This costs money, and should be part of the cost of doing business. If you go to a physical or online bookstore and see the "we recommend" section, chances are the publisher paid for placement. This is part of their marketing budget. If you attend a genre convention, your publisher may buy an ad in the program book. This is how they advertise themselves - and you - to the world. You support that with your online presence. But you shouldn't be expected to do the publisher's job. 

When a publisher puts the entire burden on their authors, what do you think is going to happen? Imagine walking into a room full of people jumping up and down and begging you to look at them. You get to choose one or two people to take home to have dinner with you. How do you choose? How do you chose wisely? I'll leave that as an exercise to the reader. But suffice to say the room is getting more and more crowded.

Tags: Writing Publishing Publishing Myths

Filed under: Publishing Myths   Writing   Publishing      
1/21/2014 12:53:41 PM
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