Publishing Advice

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Mar 06 2009

Like many of you, I have a number of social network profiles. Amazing how much time we could spend in those places, isn’t it? While I don’t go to them daily, I do try to check in regularly and keep my contacts up. On my linkedin profile, for example, I try to check in on the Writing and Editing Question and Answer Boards and answer any questions people might have on publishing, how to get published, and the publishing process. And I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrating it can be.

You all feel that the publishing process is mind-boggling, confusing, and frustrating, and in many ways it is, but I’m here to tell you that you are already miles, years, heck light-years ahead of many other people when it comes to getting published. Why? Because you read this blog, and because you read this blog, I assume you read other blogs, belong to writing groups or organizations, or just generally have some idea of what publishing means. Let’s face it, I live in a publishing bubble. This is my life, so it surprises me at times what people don’t know. It’s actually not the questions I worry about. Questions are fine. In fact, questions are great and heck, we all have to start somewhere. We all, at some point, had no idea what the first step was to get published. All we had was an idea, and to learn we have to ask. It’s the answers that kill me and, obviously, make me a little angry. No wonder you are all so confused and frustrated. Ugh!!

For example, in a recent question I answered the person asked, quite simply, how to get published. There was no mention of fiction or nonfiction and he wanted to know additionally if he needed a literary agent. If I were in a room with the people giving the answers, I swear my face would be beet red and I’d be yelling. The answers were astounding and horrifying and frankly, I really hope this isn’t the only place this writer goes for his answers.

I read that you should only consider self-publishing because all publishers are going out of business and no one is buying books. I read that waiting for an agent is ridiculous and that getting a publisher is a waste of time because by the time they’re done with the book it doesn’t resemble what you wrote anyway. I read that since War and Peace was self-published you should definitely consider that route. I read that a publisher takes your copyright and I read that publishers won’t allow you to include contact information in your book so that readers wanting to reach you need to go through the publisher.

Huh?! While there was some good advice there (in the answers, not in my examples) and of course I added my fifty cents, I worry which advice the author will really follow and I worry how frequently people identify themselves as experts and yet don’t know anything about publishing.

So just when you think you know nothing about this business, I think you can happily pat yourself on the back and remind yourself how far you’ve come. You know where to go for great information and you know what a literary agent can do for you and hopefully you know that the publishing process that War and Peace went through does not translate to today’s market.


36 responses to “Publishing Advice”

  1. Avatar Jennifer M. says:

    hi Jessica,
    i completely agree with you – there’s a lot of conflicting information out there! but blogs like yours really help writers (like me) figure out the best route to get our work noticed… so thank you for that uplifting note going into the weekend (esp since we all know how slammed agents are with queries right now!)
    have a great weekend 🙂

  2. I think this is why the publishing industry seems hard to navigate for new writers; everyone has their own take on what to do or what not to do. Thankfully, we’ve got folks like you, Kristin Nelson and Nathan Bransford (to name a few) to help set the record straight and keep us on track!

    Word ver: tormato, as in you say tormAto and I say tormAHto – how fitting!!

  3. I’ve also noticed an increase in people who like the idea of being a published writer, but don’t want to do the writing. Not that they’d pay a ghost writer — they simply think that, whatever they write, those of us who are published or who work in publishing “owe” them to get them published.

    And, the other frustration on several boards I frequent/used to frequent is that new hopefuls enter the board, but they don’t bother to look in the archives and the same questions come up over and over again. When you take the time to answer them, especially when you get into practicalities such as honing the craft, learning about grammar and structure, you get responses like ‘oh i dont care if i never get paid i just wanna write for me i dont have to worry about stuff like grammere cause thats why theres editors.’

    Or, when you take the time to write a detailed response, the questioner can’t be bothered to say thank you. Whether someone uses my advice or not is a choice, but at least say ‘thank you’ when I’ve taken time out of my writing day to answer your question, even if it’s something you choose not to use.

    I’m answering fewer and fewer questions on these boards lately, waiting until I’m sure someone actually wants to do the work and isn’t just flirting with the fantasy.

    My time is better spent on my own, contracted, paid work and the work my clients pay me to do.

    Sorry for the rant, but your post hit some buttons for me on things that have bothered me lately.

    I’m sure you deal with these issues much more frequently than I have to — and you’re probably more diplomatic than I’ve become!

    Have a great weekend.

  4. Avatar Joseph Lewis says:

    Also, the War and Peace publishing process produced…War and Peace. Have you read War and Peace lately?

    I didn’t think so.

  5. Avatar Dara says:

    I think writers make it hard on themselves and create their own obstacles in trying to get published. Most questions can be answered by taking a little time to do research–whether that’s on the Internet or browsing the shelves at a local bookstore or library–and it amazes me how many writers just don’t do that. I’m fairly new to learning about the publishing world (only really started researching a few months ago) and I am constantly surprised by the lack of incentive by writers, especially when they are aiming for publication.

    Of course I’m still learning; I’m just hoping more writers become wiser and start researching before they send off their queries.

  6. Avatar Jenn Nixon says:

    I’ll be completely honest. If the internet wasn’t here, I’d be just as clueless as some of those people. HOWEVER…you can find just about anything on the internet these days.

    Just type in “how to…” something and you’ll find at least a hundred sites. If these people are already on forums asking questions…why can’t they just do the research themselves?


    I read too many blogs. I hope it pays off in the end! 🙂

  7. Avatar Rachelle says:

    Wow, Jessica, you and I are thinking the same way today. My post is startlingly similar. I’m so thankful for all the people who read our blogs and make the effort to get educated about publishing.

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Great advice, as usual.

    However, what do I do when after thinking I finally know a bit more, I still get a form rejection?

    If after spending time researching, soaking up all this valuable info to the point where I’m ready to query, I get shot down with no idea of why or where I went wrong?

    I used to be a firm believer in “Just move on to the next agent.” Not so much anymore ’cause I thought I’d found the right agent for me.

    I thought I had done everything right. Obviously not, but I don’t know where to go from here.

    Whiny writer today. Fortunately, tomorrow’s another day.

  9. Since you brought up questions, can I pose one? (other than that question, ha!) How do agents/publishers feel about self-pubbed works? Should you mention that in a query? I’m having trouble finding out what extra info I should put in a query for a self-pubbed book. Would the recipient like to see some snippets of the professional reviews received? Things like that. I’d love to see a blog post on it 🙂 Thanks for your time.

  10. Publishing question…

    How do y’all get that glue that holds all the pages together to stick forever – or at all?

    Haste yee back 😉

  11. Avatar Amy Nathan says:

    It’s not easy to write a book or publish, but it’s easy to get information on it — real, honest, solid information. When someone doesn’t do that, or just asks around without doing any work of their own, I think it speaks volumes. Asking is ok – as long as there is follow-up or something that precedes it. I usually reply with a long list of websites, including yours.

  12. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Thanks Jessica. The publishing world is confusing, even with all of the blogs. It is hard to get past getting a book published isn’t about writing a good book. It is about becoming informed and luck. We now have to be writers, researchers, marketers, internet experts, and do a lot of kissing up. Dara and Jenn, I have to disagree with your comments. It’s not about laziness or refusing to do leg work, their reluctantness is about principles, and the shock of seeing the system as it really is. Lucky for them there are sights like this one that lead you in gently. It would be nice if getting published was about writing a good book, but since that is not likely to happen we are lucky to have Jessica and the others to lead us along. Jess thanks for your patience with all of our shocked outbursts.

  13. I run into the same thing. Not just about getting published but about ALL aspects of writing. People ask about word count and get ridiculous answers. People ask about submissions and get ridiculous answers. And I won’t even go into all the craft of writing baloney that gets floated around out there. It’s very frustrating.

  14. Jessica,
    Great post today! This week a writing friend and I had this very discussion.

    We are involved in a group that meets once a month. But after attending (for quite a few months), we realized that most of the writers in the group aren’t taking their writing serious enough for professional publishing.

    There is either no homework being done on the writing process, or publishing process.

    Last week we found out that most of the group is self published. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I’ve tried to read some of their books…I had nightmares for a week).

    It’s a little discouraging! We decided to leave the group.

    Thank goodness there are people like you to help us along!

  15. Avatar Lady Glamis says:

    Great post, thank you! Helpful as always. 🙂

  16. Great post, Jessica. I sometimes wonder on those other sites if people dispense advice for the simple pleasure of being heard? And those seeking the advice are perhaps looking for an easy answer (instead of getting down to writing a good book and researching agents who will represent that book)?

    I’ll stick to reading agent blogs such as this one and using the search tool to read the archives in order to answer a specific question. Thanks for all your sage advice.


  17. I’ve had the same experience on Yahoo Answers. It’s kind of scary, and I don’t have time to answer ALL the questions ALL the time; that makes me feel bad.

    I guess we just do what we can.

  18. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Actually…this leads me to a question I’d LOVE to see you discuss on the blog.

    Recently I ran across an internet discussion about PublishAmerica, where a few commenters said something to the effect of how writers should be careful because agents and editors Google you and if they see you’ve been Saying Bad Things about a publisher they might think badly/reject you.

    While I believe that if you’re, say, a HarperCollins author constantly blogging about how much everyone stinks at HarperCollins (just an example; I believe HC is a fine company full of wonderful people) you may indeed find people reluctant to work with you, my feeling is and always has been that agents and editors aren’t at all bothered if their authors spend a little time helping other writers and playing Watchdog. My–or any other author’s–occasional posts on how PublishAmerica is a vanity press, or how it’s not a good idea to submit to brand new epublishers because they might go under, or that agents should have verifiable sales and you shouldn’t submit to them if they don’t…

    Is that really something that an agent or editor would look at askance?

    I already have an agent and two editors, so I’m not worried for me, really; it’s more that I’m curious in general. (I should probably ask my agent and editors about this too, huh.)

    I’d love to see your thoughts on this. Thanks!

  19. Avatar Diana says:

    I don’t realize how much I’ve learned on this blog, other agent/editor blogs, and at conferences until I meet someone who has written a manuscript and has no idea what the next step is in turning that ms into a book. I think if you truly have no idea where to begin your search for information – if you don’t even know the vocabulary – it’s difficult to get the right information.

    Inevitably, their friends have given them lists of vanity publishing web sites along with promises of success and wealth. It makes me cringe.

  20. Avatar Sooki Scott says:

    Insightful post, Jessica. Thanks for taking the time to help us.

    I believe naïveté is an important state of mind. Often it propels us to try to publish. I think without it, many great but insecure writers would never make an effort. Fortunately, when the publishing complexities become poignantly clear, the writer is hooked and can’t quit. Thank God, since I’ve read fantastic works by authors who at one time contemplated giving up.

    Confucius says; man who eats photo of father, soon spitting image of father.

  21. I think the internet has made it a lot easier to learn about the publishing industry. Of course, there’s a lot of BAD information out there, too. But hopefully as we frequent sites like this we can learn to sift out the good stuff.

  22. Avatar Sheila Deeth says:

    Thanks. Seems like there’s lots of misinformation about every topic out there. Trouble is, when you’re looking for information, part of the reason is you don’t have the tools to know which information is bogus. Thanks for this blog.

  23. Avatar Susan Hare says:

    I’ve been reading the LinkedIn writer groups too and have decided that people who ask for publishing advice on LinkedIn get exactly what they deserve. I realize that sounds snotty, so let me explain. The writers I know are smart. Some smarter than others about marketing, but all are smart people–otherwise they would not be able to piece together words in a coherent fashion. They also care about their craft. That means they’re in a writer’s group or two, been to a conference or two, read a quality blog or two. If someone has done the above, they will not be asking silly questions on LinkedIn.
    I like LinkedIn. It is a site developed for the business professional. The groups aimed at specific business professions (such as mine, marketing)are fairly good. However, LinkedIn was not developed for the writer. In marketing speak, writers are not its target market. That said, it is a valid place for a writer to leave her digital footprint and perhaps get a bit of exposure, but it certainly is not the place to ask newbie questions.

    The smart newbie writer will find a quality writers group to join, such as Sisters In Crime Guppies, for the mystery genre. In that forum silly questions get smart answers–because smart writers gravitate toward their own.

  24. Avatar superwench83 says:

    It’s certainly true in my experience; most people have no idea about how the publishing industry works. A lot of people also have no idea what constitutes good writing and yet think they know that, too. It doesn’t bother me to find people who are uninformed, but it bothers me to find people who are uninformed and yet think they know all there is to know about writing and publishing.

  25. Avatar L.C. Gant says:

    You’re so right. It’s amazing how much bad advice is out there. As they say, “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.”

    My dad has always wanted me to be a writer, mainly because he wanted to be one but never really got started. He considers himself a writing expert of sorts, yet his first piece of advice to me was to self-publish because I would “make a lot more money that way.”

    He has a Ph.D and is probably the smartest person I know, yet he had completely wrong information. Thank goodness for blogs like yours! They are the reason that ignorance of this industry is no longer an excuse.

  26. Avatar Litgirl01 says:

    I’m the type to fully research anything I am interested in. I have to say that I am glad I found Agent Query. That’s how I started reading blog rolls etc. Now I am addicted! 🙂

  27. Avatar Anonymous says:

    While I agree that we should keep our optioins open and “query widely,” I’ve found that the personal touch works best. So far, the only queries agents respond to favorably w/ requests for partials or fulls are the ones in which I mention an author they know or represent who has a similar book.

    You don’t want to be one of the masses who causes an agent to reject or delete without a reason or response. Doing your homework pays off!

  28. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Guys, it’s super-simple:

    If the person giving “advice” is unpublished (and by published I don’t mean self-published or e-published), then don’t listen to them, for they speak not from experience. Which is 95% of the people on these blogs! All agrreing feverishly with the agents on every point. But they know not what they say, for they have not DONE.

  29. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Sounds like somebody needs a cookie

  30. Avatar Anonymous says:

    And there ya go–they get all mad if you say what any outside observer would acknowledge is true: Wannabe’s preaching to other wannabes based on the informal, generalized advice of an agent!

  31. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Make that two cookies

  32. Avatar garridon says:

    One of the things I’ve learned lately is to look at the source of the information. The source should be working in the business or, if a writer, writing in your genre. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve run across writing advice for a novel that’s just plain wrong, and when I checked the bio, it was by a non-fiction writer who had never written a novel. They’re not the same thing!

  33. I absolutely want to scream when I hear someone waxing poetic about the virtues of self-publishing or e-publishing.

    One lady used to get very defensive any time someone gave her advice about improving a story. “A thousand people have read my stories online and they never complain about my punctuation.”

    This same woman is convinced she will be on the NYT best seller list any day now.

    There is so much good information out there. There is no reason not to be able to find it. It’s just good to reach out to a reputable source.

    Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.

  34. We are SO lucky we have so many resources available to us compared to the wasteland of information in the past.

    Ignorance is no longer an excuse.

  35. Avatar Anonymous says:

    It’s really sweet that you care so much about new writers and I love your blog because you give great info about publishing. But I don’t think you should worry so much. If writers want to publish they will do the research, and for every crappy source on the internet there are wonderful people like you getting the proper information out there.

    When I first started doing research I found a lot of really random information, websites talking about how you should prepare a mock-up of a book cover when sending manuscripts and other such rubbish. And naturally I believed everything I read. BUt the thing is, the more research you do, the more you find out. And after a while it becomes really clear that some people are just more reliable than others. I have a whole list of blogs that I frequent now, where I know I’ll get info I can trust. And I’m sure the writer asking the questions will do as much research before making any decisions. It’s only logical.

  36. Avatar Jane Smith says:

    This lovely post calls to me.

    I got so very irritated by these same issues that I started a blog purely to answer all of those “how publishing really works” questions (and the observant among you will recognise the name of my blog there). I’ve worked in publishing for years, as an editor and a writer, and am amazed by some of the rubbish that’s spouted by self-appointed experts who don’t seem to have ever even read a book, let alone written, edited or published one.

    My blog’s doing well: but a fair proportion of the people who comment do so in order to argue with me about some of the points that I’ve raised (especially when I talk about self-publishing and vanity publishing). Their opinions are usually based on what they’ve learned from their self-published conspiracy-theorist friends, who they’ve known for all of three weeks. But hey! That apparently beats my quarter-century of publishing experience into the ground because I’m old-guard, and times are a-changing. Apparently.

    Phew. That feels better. I’ll stop now!