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Thursday, March 10, 2011

7 Myths about Publishing

I've been at this publishing gig seven years now, which means I've learned 7 Myths about publishing, one for every year. So without further ado, here they are:

  1. All authors make a bucket load of money. (Actuality: We make about 78 cents a book. Most of us make less than a teacher’s aid).
  2. Rejection ceases to exist once you’ve signed your first book contract. (Actuality: It gets worse, and the rejections hurt more.)
  3. The process of getting Published is akin those models who get discovered in diners. It just happens without much effort. (Actuality: 10,000 hours of writing finally makes you a master at it. That’s about ten years. When I signed with an agent and sold two books in that year, folks thought I arrived quickly. Wrong. I arrived after 10,000 hours of my behind on the chair.)
  4. Publishers revel in marketing your books. (Actuality: They do the best they can, but in today’s climate, it’s truly up to the author to get the word out.)
  5. Authors don’t go to the grocery store. (Actuality: Um, yeah, they do. Off to Kroger soon…)
  6. You can usually skip the busywork of writing for smaller publications and go for book writing out of the gate. (Actuality: It’s better and more “normal” to have a wide body of periodical work published before you find an agent. Otherwise, how will an agent know if you can write, meet deadlines, and take editorial direction?)
  7. Book signings are the cat’s meow for authors. (Actuality: We don’t really like them, often because folks don’t show up and you feel like a 7th grader again, standing near the wall, waiting to be asked to dance. So not fun. Although I will say it’s an author’s rite of passage to attend a book signing and sell zero books. Yes, this has happened to me. Many times.)
Question for you: What is a publishing myth you've discovered? 

Mary DeMuth is the author of ten books, publishing myths notwithstanding. She mentors writers toward publication at The Writing Spa, and she blogs every single weekday (like a crazy woman) at 


  1. I think you hit all the major ones. Before I started writing seriously eight years ago, I read everything I could get my hands on about the business. I came in with eyes wide open. I don't like the unexpected (except in my books) so I wanted to know what I was getting into. Often it is difficult to dispel these myths to those not involved. I know my family and friends still don't get some of these, especially the money part. My friends keep telling me to remember them when I'm rich and famous as a writer. I've stopped trying to correct them and just smile.

    Thanks for your post.

  2. You covered it. If I had one to add it would be the myth that "writing and publication is easy"--you know, you just churn out a book in a few days and publishers in New York release "the breath they didn't know they'd been holding" once your book finally crosses their desk. 8-)

    Actually, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me "did you get published yet?" I'd be rich and not worried about selling books at all. 8-)

  3. Great list, Mary! I've been collecting my own list of similar publishing myths for a while. Here are a few from my list:

    * Better writers sell more books. (Stephanie Meyer. Paul Coehlo. Nora Roberts. And on and on. There's gotta be at least one name there who strikes you as a hack.)

    * The reason you're not published is because your manuscript isn't good enough. (The corollary.)

    * Editors and agents know what readers want to read. (If they did, every published title would be a smash hit. Editors and agents know how to work the publishing industry, but that's not the same thing. Ultimately, you need to know what your readers want to read, and give it to them.)

    * Getting published is the way to success. (The way to success is savvy marketing, hard work, and probably a bit of luck.)

    * When great writers break the rules, it's because they know what they're doing. (Actually, it's simply because they can get away with it.)


  4. Excellent, Mary! Thank you for the post. I find it rather humorous that when people find out you're a published author they automatically think you're rolling in the dough. Um, no. If only...

    I'm not sure you could call this a publishing myth, but one thing I've found is people think you're an expert in the writing/publishing field. I can't speak for anyone else, but I find myself very unequal to the task, and feel like that '7th grader again'!

  5. Love this. Thanks for the candid reality check (and the warning about book signings - ha!)

  6. Christine, you bless me! I'm so glad to hear you did your research. So few do. Kudos!

  7. B.K., you're right about the publishing is easy myth. It's certainly NOT easy. And even now as I'm working on a self pubbed book about how to get published, self publishing isn't easy either!

  8. Tim, you should write this post! Great insights.

  9. Amanda, yeah, I try to set people straight.

  10. Aimee,

    Book signings are not my favorite thing to do.

  11. You hit all the biggies. The most difficult for me to face, though, is the perpetual doubt of my calling or qualifications.

    I thought that once I sold my first piece or first saw my name in real, actual print that I would be confident in the chosen path. But I think I face more doubt now than I did then.

    I'm never sure if I'm pursuing my actual purpose or if I'm wasting time on a pipe-dream. I mean, who am I to write anyway? There are many, many people far more talented, far more qualified than I.

  12. Uh oh, I think I'm depressed now.

    So, I get less than $1 per book?

    But if I self publish my book and sell e-copies for a $1 on Amazon, and never go out of print, and do my own marketing because I have to anyway, and not have to wait forever for publishers to reject me, and not have to feel terrible when they do reject me...

    Why should I go through a traditional publisher, again?


  13. Mary,

    Are you serious about the .78 cents per book? If so then I should be celebrating.

    I'm earning .80 per book! And my hourly rate for the time I put into getting published has to be at least .35 cents per hour.


  14. Your list is good, and I whole-heartedly endorse Tim's list.

    My favorite myth: Only the best writing/books get published. Uh-huh. Yawn.

    And to emphasize one of Tim's which is so appropriate: If the publishing industry really knew what readers wanted, most of their books would be bestsellers, not in the high 60% of them not earning back their advances.

  15. Yeah, most of us make less than a dollar a book. You start making money when you start selling a bucketload of books, a la Kingsbury or Grisham or Donald Miller.

  16. Mary, this made me laugh but also made me remember what I learned at She Speaks in 2009. You did a great job at making this informative and easy to accept!


  17. Larie, I'm glad I made the pill easier to swallow.

  18. OK, that's one more get-rich quick scheme to avoid ...

  19. Great list, and I agree with all of it!

  20. I agree with all your myth-busting comments, and would add one more myth. "Published writers become a celebrity." Maybe I'm the exception, but I don't get stopped on the street and asked to autograph one of my books, although a few people do ask for my signature on a check. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Hi Mary. Great article - enjoyed reading it. Also, it's only going to get more and more competitive out there with the digitalization of literature. Totally agree that writers/authors need to build their own platform/fan base outside of what a publisher would do for them. Social media gives a wider array of tools than ever to interact with your audience. Get on them and start building your author profile...!

    All the best


  22. Richard, I resonate with your words. Yeah, I might be infamous, but certainly not famous.

    Adam, I agree, it will get more and more complicated.


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