Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
As I read my mail and cruise around the web, I’m gratified to see that people’s general level of knowledge about publishing is much higher than it was several years ago. Access to information on the web has changed everything for writers! I’m so glad about this. But I also see that some myths about publishing are still alive and well. Here are a few common myths—but for everything I say, there’s going to be an exception. This is my perspective based on what I’ve seen.
Myth #1: Getting published is a catch-22.
I hear this all the time and it drives me crazy because it’s so untrue. People say, “You need an agent to get published. But you can’t get an agent if you’re not published.” Writers believe this lie and then spend all kinds of time and energy fretting about it. Closely related is another myth, “Nobody’s taking on any unpublished authors.” Both are completely untrue. Sure, it’s hard to break in to publishing. But there is a huge reading machine out there that needs to be constantly fed. We need new content, and we will always need the infusion of new voices. Our agency takes on many unpublished authors every year.
Myth #2: Agents don’t read submissions.
I’ve often heard the fear that agents don’t even read their submissions. One writer shared her suspicion that when it’s time to choose projects to represent, agents “lock their office doors, close their office blinds and employ eenie meenie miney moe.” How fascinating! That would sure be easier than the way we’ve been doing it – which is to actually try and assess each project in terms of (a) whether we like it, and (b) whether we think we can sell it. Bottom line, any agent who’s actually looking for new clients is reading submissions; if you happened to get a pass letter from an agent who didn’t read your submission, then they don’t have time for new clients or they’re not the agent for you anyway. So there’s no mileage in worrying about this.
Myth #3: Agents talk with one another about bad queries.
A commenter once said she pictures an agent reading a query and thinking, “Ugghhh…that again!?” Then speaking with other agents about how horrible and annoying the letter was. The truth is, most agents are way too busy for this. Some agents write about bad queries, good queries, and mediocre queries on their blogs as a way of trying to help writers. But as far as calling up our friends and going, “You wouldn’t believe this horrible query I got…” Well, there’s just no point. With dozens of queries coming every single day, we don’t have time to gossip about them.
Myth #4: If you don’t follow the “rules” you will get automatically rejected.
This is something that bothers me. Agents sometimes blog and tweet about ways to make your writing better, ways to improve your queries, and what not to do in a query. The problem comes when writers interpret everything we say to mean, “If you don’t follow this ONE piece of advice, we will immediately reject you, and you will never get published.” That’s NOT what we’re saying! Every piece of advice is simply that – a tip to help you become a better writer or create more powerful queries. So please, take our tips for what they are—TIPS—and try not to stress out so much thinking any little thing can make or break your entire writing career.
Myth #5: Most agents won’t consider a manuscript over 120k words in length.
NOT a myth – this one is true! Until you’ve proven yourself with a couple of books that sold well, you’re not likely to sell an epic or saga much over 100k. There are always exceptions, of course. But if you’re trying to break in, your 180k-opus is probably not the ticket.
Myth #6: Once you get a publishing contract, you can quit your day job.
For the most part, we don’t recommend this, and many successful authors who eventually did quit their day jobs will tell you they didn’t do it until they’d had a string of successes. If you can separate your writing from your family’s need to buy groceries, your life will be much less stressful.
Myth #7: Getting an agent means you’ll get published.
This is usually true, and if an agent takes you on, they’re typically going to work very hard to get you published because agents don’t make any income otherwise. But sometimes, hard as they try, an agent can’t get you a publishing deal. At that point, there are various routes you and the agent can take, such as trying again with another book, or parting ways.
Myth #8: Agents are snarky, scary, and just plain mean.
This one, of course, is true.
What are some myths you’ve believed about publishing but found out they were untrue?
Did you believe any of these myths about publishing? Click to Tweet.
Separate truth from fiction in the publishing world. Click to Tweet.
Well, a HALF truth…that all agents can be bribed with chocolate. One must use Amadei or Scharffenberger.
One of the things I love about Books and Such blogposts is that they are informative, insightful, and thought-provoking. 🙂 And, they’re often fun.
*I’ve been reading agent blogs since my early days of writing. I think this has helped me see the Myths for what they were pretty early on.
*And Andrew debunked the one myth I was certain was true. Agents won’t take chocolate in exchange for representation? 😉
*Great post, Rachelle.
Only the best, so the minions say,
of choc-y delights to an agent bring;
if you truly want their hearts a’sway,
’tis meet recompense, their palates sing.
I see the rules you reference, Rachelle, as the lines at the edge of the pavement that keep me out of the ditch. The trip “as the crow flies” might be shorter, but it greatly increases the risk that I won’t reach my destination. I am grateful to Books & Such for the tips that guide me forward.
But we crows do have a good time…and sometimes not getting there is half the fun!
* (I’m being serious…I had fun being an inept amateur, and think that the demands of professionalism might have killed the joy of the game, had they come when pursued.)
One thing I’ve always heard is that you have to be somebody–famous, well-known–to get published. Like you said, published to get published. You all here have shown me that’s just not necessarily true … and that God can use anyone He wants to use. I’ve learned that the heart’s intent weighs heavy, love weighs heavy, determination weighs heavy. There are many heavyweights here … I think Andrew has said that before … and I hope to be one of them one day.
Great insights, Shelli. God’s plans are so much greater than our limited expectations. 🙂
Years ago, I knew someone who worked as an editor in a Big House (not, not editing a prison newspaper…c’mon!).
* Anyway, he said that he worked mainly on bios of notorious people.
* So I asked, “What makes the lives of dudes who stamp legal documents after looking at your drivers’ licence so interesting?”
* Clearly, there are lightweight here too, and as The B would say…”dumber than a box of rocks”.
Ahem, Andrew. For folks from Michigan, there is only one BIG HOUSE!
🙂 Go Blue.
Rachelle, I’m glad to see you dispelling these myths. I’ve heard each of them at one time or another…except maybe the snarkiness. Actually, I heard that as well, but after getting to know several agents, I realize that’s just another myth. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for this post, Rachelle. To echo others’ comments, Books and Such blog continues to be a wealth of invaluable knowledge for me. I can say without doubt that I’ve learned more here, collectively, than any other site/blog. I admit to having wondered about a few of these myths. This isn’t a myth, per se, (and will likely sound ridiculous) but before pitching to my first set of agents at ACFW last year, I hadn’t considered the fact that agents were people too. I know, I know! Crazy. But, I was so wrapped up in being nervous to present to such experts in the industry, that I was pleasantly surprised to discover we weren’t all that different.
*The first agent I pitched to seemed a bit nervous, too. (Lesson: it’s a two way street and she’s pitching herself to me just as much as I’m pitching my book to her.)
*The second agent brought up a concern she had about a plot point in my book that she said she’d have to have me change if published. (Lesson: I may decide an agent isn’t right for me, not the other way around, and standing up for my convictions about my book is my responsibility.)
*The third pitch I did was the last of the day for both me and the agent. We were both obviously a little tired and worn from the day. We talked for a moment, woman to woman, before beginning the formal pitch. (Lesson: First and foremost, agents are people with needs and feelings…and EVERYONE can benefit from a friendly hug…it’s not all business all the time.)
Janet Ann Collins
Teresa, before my first writers conference I thought agents and editors were so special they would glow in the dark. Now I consider them all friends, and understand even though they may reject something I write that doesn’t mean they reject me.
Thanks, Rachelle, for another post packed full of great info. Myth #8 made me laugh. In my limited experience with agents, I’ve learned they’re honest, and I appreciate that. My goal is too important to me…and I still have so much to learn about the publishing world…that I want the facts: here’s what’s working, here’s what’s not, here’s what you need to do. Again, my experience is limited, but agents have been more than helpful by being honest (and thankfully not snarky, scary or mean…yet!).
Wait. If some of these myths are true, does that mean Unicorns exist as well?
Story idea percolating!
As if they didn’t.
A common myth I hear among writers is you’re not a REAL writer until you’ve published a book. I’ve gained so much satisfaction from article writing that I’ve quit worrying about whether I’m a REAL writer or not. If God’s plan for my writing moves me toward a traditionally published book, I’ll be thankful, but until then, I’ll continue my article writing journey. Thanks for your helpful post, Rachelle.
Jaxon M King
I actually believed that failing to follow the “rules” would result in an automatic rejection. Blogs I’ve read in the past have given me that impression, but it’s refreshing to hear that it is not the norm. I mean, it’s obviously not the best thing to do, but knowing a submission mistake is not an automatic sentence to the chopping block is comforting.
I appreciate your post and the insider information you’ve provided. I have been waiting on God to share his wisdom with me, regarding submitting a query for my first novel I published on Amazon last September. I’m still not sure if that is His plan for me, but it’s helpful to receive this kind of support. Thanks!
Jaxon, I love that the people here give us permission to be real. 🙂
Jaxon M King
Yes, Shelli. And how great it is to be able to be real!
Awesome post, Rachelle, thank you for myth busting!
*Dispelling Myth #4 was a real confidence booster for me. I’ve always interpreted submission guidelines as a pass or fail test. Creating a perfect, don’t stray from the path query sends me scrambling for chocolate every time.
*I’m also wondering if anyone else heard the tune Ghost Busters while reading today’s blogpost?
The one I keep hearing around the conference circuit is, “Don’t even bother talking (or pitching) to an agent if you don’t have a completed manuscript.” That bugs me to no end! Yes, an agent might be hesitant to contract you without a completed manuscript, but it never hurts to TALK to them. If fact, it’s a good idea to get to know the professionals at conferences and realize they’re humans, too. That will take the pressure off a little when you are ready for the next big step.
Elizabeth Conte Torphy
After coming back from a conference…I found that mosts agents were very delightful, approachable, helpful and sincere. Sorry to burst your myth! : )
But seriously, great blog. Things that need to be reminded once in a while.
Actually, if you believe the last myth, #8, make sure not to quit your day job. 🙂
Thanks for this post, Rachelle. Lots of great information. I really like the last myth. 😉 LOL
Okay, I’m sorry but some of those are funny! Yes, I’ve heard several of them and thought one or two myself. Seeing them in print makes me aware of how silly a few of them are.