There is a wonderful fantasy around ‘being published’. This includes the process of finding a publisher, the publishing experience itself and the finished product’s shelf life – as well as how it makes its way to the shelf. Being published, while incredibly exciting, isn’t always as glamorous as the movies make it appear to be.
Below, I have listed a few general myths and misconceptions that I have come across in my time in publishing. Of course, this is a generalisation and won’t apply to everyone. Each author has a unique experience, and every publishing house is different. I can only speak from my own inhouse experience and from the knowledge I have gleaned from colleagues in other houses.
But the simple truth is that at the end of the day publishing is a business, and a very competitive one at that.
Right, let’s get to it…
IT IS ALL ABOUT THE MANUSCRIPT
When you are trying to find a publisher then it is certainly not just about the manuscript (MS). It is about the whole submission:
- The synopsis
- The cover letter
- The formatting
- The polish of the manuscript
- Finding the right publishing house, at the right time, with the right publisher who sees potential in your MS, the competition…the list goes on.
A PUBLISHER HAS ACCEPTED YOUR MANUSCRIPT… YOUR WORK IS DONE!
The work you have done so far is so that your MS might be seen by a publisher. My way of explaining this: a model won’t show up for a modelling audition without his/her makeup done, they want the job, so they want to look as good as they can…this doesn’t mean that the stylist won’t amend their look for the actual shoot if they get the gig. Publishing your book is the same, the prep work is essential, but it’s not the end of the story.
The work you have done so far is great, it is possibly a part of the reason a publisher ‘picked you up’ in the first place, but it doesn’t mean your hard work is over. Your manuscript will need yet more editing. The inhouse editor will be looking at all the same things as your freelance editor was looking at, but they will be looking at it from an inhouse perspective. Each publishing ‘house’ has a particular style and they will want your book to adhere to that style where possible. So that is at least one area where you will be edited.
Then there is the ongoing promotion of your book – which is VERY important. It is important to cultivate your own public profile where possible. Make sure you network and create an online persona for you and your book. The more work you can do on you and your book, the more likely you are to shift copies of your book.
Hell, I suggest doing like Carey Bradshaw from Sex in the City; pop down to your local bookstore and replace a book on the bestseller table with a copy (or multiple copies) of your book. Anything you can do to get your book SEEN is a good thing…unless you are breaking the law…but then, that would be a form of publicity in its self…but I don’t encourage breaking the law!
YOUR PUBLISHING TEAM IS YOUR NEW FAMILY
I am not sure what the world of publishing was like pre-digital. All I can speak of is this new world of telephones and email…because in all honesty, that is how most of the business is done (especially if you – the author – are not based near the publishing offices). You might have a couple of face-to-face meetings, but the chances are that the bulk of your communication will be via email or phone (or perhaps Zoom these days!).
The publishing team might be like a family to one another, but, really, they would be lucky to recognise you if they walked right into you. We would love to know you more intimately, it’s not that we are too stuck up to associate with you, but the reality is that we just don’t get the chance – or have the time – to make you feel like our long-lost cousin.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t want the best for you and your book…in fact, this is often a source of conflict for us, because we know what you want… and we know what our publisher wants, and we know that those two don’t always match. It is our job to not only edit and nurture your work, but to negotiate the needs of both the author and publishing house to ensure all parties remain happy and get the book that they all want.
Sometimes you might feel that we force things on you – and it isn’t always the way you had imagined your book to be. But from our perspective, we aren’t trying to destroy your vision, we just want to make the best decisions for it so that it finds a strong foothold in the market. As we all know, the market is competitive so we need to make your book the best version of itself it can possibly be (this includes content, art, marketing etc). So although it might not be the way you imagined your book…it is the way we think we will be able to make it successful. And let’s be honest…we really need it to be successful. Because otherwise we won’t be able to publish your next book…or any other Jo Blow’s book.
AS AN AUTHOR I WILL HAVE CONTROL OVER MY COVER DESIGN
I really feel for authors on this one, because I think this might be the biggest misconception of them all. Most authors think they will have a significant say in how their book will look.
The truth is that you really won’t have much – if any – control over the look and feel of your book. You will actually be lucky if the publisher asks your opinion at all. In most cases you will be shown a few ‘final design choices’ for your ‘input’. And, of course, if you absolutely hate them all then I am sure the publisher will discuss this with you… but the discussion will likely be more of an opportunity for the publisher to outline why those design choices were made and why they will be good for sales and marketing – as much as we all (this includes publishers and editors, not just authors) hate it, the marketing and sales teams have A LOT of authority these days.
Also, to defend this way of doing things: the team working on your cover design are vastly experienced and will likely come up with something pretty amazing. They will think up something new and original… because this is what they do day-in and day-out. They are the pros. And, speaking from experience, the design teams in publishing houses are some of the most talented in their field. You need to trust that they will do their very best to come up with something awesome. And by the time it gets to you it has already had the professional scrutiny of many, many experienced staff members whose job it is to find a cover design that will sell your book as best as it possibly can. Also, as much as we might ‘hate’ the marketing and sales team… we want them to love your book… because they are the ones who are going to be selling it. So if they love it, the chances are that they will be better placed to sell it into the bookstores and get the booksellers excited about it… and if they are excited about it, then they are more likely to sell your book onto the clientele who waltz into their bookshop.
End of story.
I AM GOING TO BUY A CASTLE WITH MY ADVANCE…
I actually think this is a myth that has been busted in recent years. Most authors now know that you won’t necessarily be able to give up your day job once you get a publishing contract.
The average debut author might receive an advance anywhere from $1000 to $10,000, which must be earned back through book sales before royalties can be collected. Not so glamorous, eh?!
Goodness knows how writers actually make money… there is no guarantee that you will make any money at all!
ALL PUBLISHERS WANT TO ACQUIRE GREAT BOOKS
This is true to a point, but really what publishers are looking for is a book they can sell. You might have the best book out there but if your book is too similar to another they already have on their list they may not want to acquire it. Alternatively, they may love your book and have nothing else like it on their list, but still they can’t acquire it – because it doesn’t fit with their publishing list. The publisher might think the book is great, but if they can’t see the sales potential (for instance, it might be too literary to sell big) then they will offer you a polite letter of rejection.
A PUBLISHER CAN MAKE A BEST SELLER, IF THEY WANT IT TO BE
I don’t doubt that if a publisher gets ‘behind’ your book then that is a very good thing.
You want them to be excited about it because then sales and marketing will be excited, and if they are excited then it is more likely that the booksellers will be excited…which could equate to more sales. If the publishing team are excited it might also mean that you will get a larger marketing budget allocated to your book and have the PR team onboard in a more engaged way.
A publisher can also decide what their ‘big book for Christmas’ will be etc. They decide on when your book will be released, what kind of book it will be and how big it will be – how many will be published, and how much they get behind it.
For instance when a bookseller asks what their ‘big book for Christmas’ is, well, the publisher controls which book they promote.
The publisher will choose the book based on how popular they think it is going to be, and how much they feel they can make it into the ‘next big thing’…because ultimately they want to make as much money as they can from this book in order to support the books that don’t go so well.
And if they are onboard, then it might mean other media outlets lend some weight to the cause. But it still doesn’t mean your book will be a bestseller.
No matter how much a publisher may or may not believe in a particular book, a bookseller still has a mind of their own…the booksellers don’t have to get behind the publisher’s chosen BIG book.
It is also almost impossible to predict what will sell. Publishers make an educated guess about what the market wants, but at the end of the day, that’s all it is: a guess. It is the market – the book buyers – who determine a bestseller.
MYTH (SORT OF):
I NEED A LITERARY AGENT TO GET PUBLISHED
This isn’t strictly a myth…
Honestly, I think literary agents serve a purpose – for both the author and the publishing house. Actually, I should rephrase: I think good literary agents serve a purpose. You want someone who has got your best interests at heart, but also hold great relationships with publishers. The last thing you want is an aggressive agent who knows how to get you the best deal out there, but can’t quite land it because publishers feel he/she doesn’t have the right bedside manner.
Having an agent means that you have someone to champion your cause. Someone who is prepared to go into battle for you with the best intentions of getting the best possible deal out there. They are great because you might get seen somewhere you otherwise wouldn’t have been seen. And once you do get a publishing deal they are able to help you navigate the contract, to ensure you are getting the best possible contract – that covers aspects that you might never even consider…e-rights for instance, or international rights…
And an agent is great for the publisher because it means that the work has already been vetted for quality by an agent whose opinion they value – or, at least, you hope your agent has a good relationship and reputation with publishers.
However, having an agent is not the only way to get published.
For a long while publishers didn’t want to wade through a ‘slush’ pile – they didn’t want unsolicited manuscripts. But there are now many, many publishers that will accept unsolicited manuscripts in programs like Allen and Unwin’s The Friday Pitch.
Like everything in publishing…no one element will get you published. It is myriad of elements that come together, when the stars align, that could mean a ‘publishing deal’.
Also: finding an agent to represent an unpublished writer may be just as difficult as getting an unsolicited manuscript accepted. At the end of the day, do what you feel most comfortable with, and if that is not working then perhaps try something different and see what happens.
I HAVE A PUBLISHING DEAL, SO I WILL HAVE A BOOK IN A COUPLE OF MONTHS!
Publishing is speedier than ever before (which sucks for poor inhouse editors working their bottoms off), but the publishing process is still a drawn-out experience. It can be anywhere from 1-3 years before you see your finished book on shelves. (It can also be shorter… depending on so many factors – like everything else in publishing really!)
These are but of a few of the myths and misconceptions, I am sure there are plenty others that I haven’t remembered to include or don’t even know about. Feel free to share others that you might know of in the comments box below.
Good luck in your publishing journey!