Myths vs. Facts of Publishing

The comments on Friday’s post confirmed that myths about publishing are alive and well, as they always have been. Of course, every myth has its basis in some kind of fact, and it’s not always easy to tease apart the truth from the lie. I’ll address a few common myths here, but just realize, for everything I say, there’s going to be an exception. I’m saying this from my perspective based on what I’ve seen.

1. Getting published is a catch-22.
I hear this all the time… it’s probably the single biggest myth about publishing 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Closely related is another myth, “Nobody’s taking on any unpublished authors.”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 complete and utter hogwash. Sure, it’s hard to break in to publishing. If you’re unpublished, it’s a difficult road. But understand this: 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. I’m still a newer agent; I’ve sold 26 books and of those, 21 were from debut authors. So don’t believe the ridiculous myth that you have to be published to get an agent, or that nobody’s interested in unpublished authors. It’s just harder, that’s all. But you already knew that.

2. Agents don’t read submissions.
Several of Friday’s comments expressed the fear that agents don’t even read their submissions. Ginny Martyn shared the 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 I’ve been doing it – which is to actually try and assess each project in terms of (a) whether I like it, and (b) whether I think I can sell it.

Obviously I don’t think agents use eenie meenie miney moe, and if they did, they’d either be very bad agents with a terrible track record of selling, OR their system works, they sell lots of books, so who cares how they choose them?

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.

3. Agents talk with one another about bad queries.
A commenter named Two Flights Down 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. I’m not saying it can’t occasionally happen, but it’s not the way most of us conduct ourselves on a daily basis.

4. If you don’t follow the “rules” you will get automatically rejected.
This is something that truly bothers me. I often blog and tweet about ways to make your writing better, ways to improve your queries, and what NOT to do in a query. A lot of agents & editors do the same thing. The problem comes when writers interpret every single thing 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. Everything occurs in context; i.e. making one little mistake in the bigger picture of a wonderful query or a wonderful book isn’t going to kill you. 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. (But still, DO pay attention to detail as much as possible.)

5. Most agents won’t consider any 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. (See my post, Writing the Break-In Novel.)

I’ll address some of the other myths in future posts.
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  • Timothy Fish

    >Obviously, unagented, unpublished author do get published, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Most authors will never have an agent or a publishing contract. For them, it does appear to be a Catch-22. Talk to a publisher and he says, we only work with agents. Talk to an agent and many of them say, “don’t call me, unless you are [insert name of famous author here] and then you can call me day or night.”

    I don’t think the fear that agents don’t read submissions is that agents don’t read submissions, but that agents don’t read submissions. When agents say things like, “I can tell by the end of the first paragraph whether I’m interested or not,” it is a good indication that the agent isn’t reading the submission, even if his eyes see every word. Not every great book is great on page one, so while it may not be eenie meenie miney moe, basing a decision on a portion of a manuscript rather than the whole thing is somewhat random. I don’t know that that can be changed, but it is random.

  • Joanne Sher

    >Thank you SO much for this, Rachelle. It is so encouraging to me. Looking forward to more posts like this.

  • Gwen Stewart–Singer-Scribe

    >Knowing that agents and editors can read three paragraphs and say "no" or "maybe" is unnerving to writers–but as a musician who's been through auditions as a singer and a judge, I know that's the way it happens. It only takes a few notes to know if you have the right singer for the song. Often, it really IS a case of a good singer whose voice is just not the right fit. It's very hard to say "no" to those auditioners…I sympathize with Rachelle and all agents and editors on that count.

    It's a tough business…and I'm not sure it's ever easier. Even if you DO get published, you have Amazon reviews to deal with. In art, as in politics, everyone has an opinion! :)

  • Anonymous

    >Err… Not to sound too obnoxious, but on the various blogs of other (less civil) agents, and their associates, every one of those myths has been either confirmed or implied.

    Sorry to be such a downer–I think you’re one of the better agents in the business. But perhaps your high ethical standards make it harder for you to see the dark side of publishing?

  • Jessica

    >I don't know why myth #1 is still around. I've visited tons of agent websites and hardly ever find them closed to submissions or closed to unpubbed writers. So I don't know why writers think there's this catch-22, unless they haven't done their research? Not to mention there are still reputable publishers who take unagented material. And then the publishers who don't will still take it if you meet them at a conference… So that myth has me scratching my head. Heh.
    The rest of them I can understand a little better.
    Thanks for clearing things up!

  • Krista Phillips

    >Great post! Thanks for the "debunking." Obviously I've heard all of these as well, but I think reality is that they are true in SOME cases.

    I think *ahem* that some of this comes down to entitlement. As authors, some feel entitled to certain things, like having their submissions read thoroughly by an agent. In reality, it's OUR job to make the first few paragraphs so great and awesome (as well as the rest of it) that said agent can't put it down. If you're bored after paragraph one, that's MY (aka author's) fault.

    Regarding the catch 22, ugh, well, yeah, it feels like that a lot, but every author that has MADE it broke in at some point. So really, it's done EVERY time. EVERYone goes from being unpublished to published who's already made it so…. we can't say it doesn't happen. It's hard, it's frustrating, it's tear evoking, but geez. Very few things in life come easy. And just because we wrote a book doesn't mean it's our "right" to get published. It just means we WANT it really bad. :-)

  • Anette Ejsing

    >Perspective plays an important role.

    An agent who works hard every day and who is genuinely looking for good manuscripts will say, "First time authors get published all the time!"

    An author who is looking at the 25th rejection letter and did not hear back from the other 15, will say "first time authors never get published." And then might get a contract from the 41st submission.

    We can pick up a fight over the fence that stands between these two perspectives. Or we can keep improving ourselves and doing our best.

  • CKHB

    >T.Fish, I have to disagree with you… I think many agents CAN tell in one paragraph if it's the right submission for them. After all, when you're in a bookstore, you don't read the back cover summary AND the first full chapter of every book to decide which you're going to buy, right? Agents know what kind of stories they want, what kind of writing they want, and what kind of books they can sell. A good query SHOULD reveal much of this information in the first paragraph, and if it's not a fit, then there's no point reading more and wasting everyone's time confirming it.

    Anonymous 5:59am, I can think of two examples where you're right about these myths being confirmed in other blogs. (1) Some agents do have specific lists of query rules that, if not followed, mean an automatic rejection. But, they have the list clearly set forth on the blog! All we need to do is follow basic directions! The vast majority of query "rules" are in fact guidelines to help us make our submissions shine. There are no HIDDEN rules. If an agent has a hard-and-fast rule (no bulk submissions to multiple agents in the same email), that agent is usually VERY open and clear about it.

    (2) Some agents make fun of queries in their blogs. It's true. BUT those queries usually fall into two categories: (a) Queries that have been submitted in an unprofessional manner, like being submitted 20 times in one week, or if the author wrote back to demand more attention or say "well, $@*^ you anyway." I think those are fair game. (b) Queries that are so shockingly bad that you almost wonder about the mental health of the author (sending erotica to a children's book editor, etc.)… okay, it's not the nicest thing in the world, but I think most of the times the mocked query had been "anonymized" enough to protect the author. And, hopefully, other authors will learn from their mistakes.

  • Anonymous

    >"I've sold 26 books and of those, 21 were from debut authors."

    Speaks Well of your (probable) Pick to Pitch Ratio. And . . . Speaks Hope to me, after having 2 titles published by tiny imprints (still classing me as a Simulator Pilot). THANKS

  • Regina Milton

    >Thank you for taking the time to address these myths and share the encouraging fact that 21/25 of the books you sold were those of debut authors.

    I think the most stand out thing I have learned from reading your blog and a few others is that unpublished writers just need to work hard, polish, work harder, and polish some more. I'm thinking the best way to break in to any industry is to have the best product available. That is something I do have control over, thus it is what I focus on. I try not to focus on anything that causes doubt or worry, it is counterproductive to creativity and excellence…and that is what I want my writing to be.

  • Regina Milton

    >Excuse me, 21/26* books.
    Apparently my eye for detail needs some polishing too!

  • Lea Ann McCombs

    >I think what most new authors haven't gotten our minds around yet is the overwhelming number of people out there all writing books and trying to get them published. I was surprised to realize how many people are trying to do this, and the sheer numbers are staggering. After slowly and carefully reading the first thousand or so submissions, skill picks up–whether agent or editor. When you do the same thing all day long every day, you get preety good at it. Certain aspects stand out in the ones that are going to be winners. The good ones always contain certain elements and those elements are what Rachelle and other blogging agents are trying to teach us.

  • Forrest Long

    >Great post. And it's good to have some of these things cleared up. I have a couple manuscripts read so I will be in touch. And yes, it is hard breaking in with the first book, but not impossible. I'm ready for my second and third. But it's no process for the faint of heart.

  • Rachel Starr Thomson

    >Excellent post. I love it that so much of your advice boils down to "Don't worry and don't stress," as in so much of life — yes, learn how things work; yes, do your best. After that, worrying won't add an inch to your stature or get your book published, so why waste energy on it?

  • Teri D. Smith

    >Thanks for debunking the myths and telling us the truth!

  • Rachelle

    >To Anonymous 9:05 am: I deleted your comment because it was inappropriate to single out a writer like that. My blog post tomorrow addresses your underlying concern of a perceived lack of quality in published books.

  • Roxane B. Salonen

    >Rachelle, interesting comments today. I think one of the things the discussion has proven to me is that it depends on what side of the fence you're on. It definitely can feel like a cold-hearted business at times to those trying to make a go of it. The frustration level of many writers who sacrifice so much to get their work out there is understandable. That said, it's always good to hear the other side and to remember that we can only control what we can control. Our job as writers is to focus on those things, and let the rest unfold as it's meant to. It can be a painful process, but it's always a growing process and that alone is worth something. Finally, I like how you always infuse your posts with realism and hope! And I love how you are trying to connect with us, to keep the communication going, because it is a "conversation" of sorts.

  • Timothy Fish

    >CKHB,

    For the record, I seldom read the first chapter before I make a decision to buy a book. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t passed on a few good stories because the cover had too much pink in it or because the back cover didn’t tell me what the story was about. For that matter, my shopping habits are not in question. The question is, “do agents read queries?” The answer seems to be that no they don’t—not completely anyway. It is a safe bet that some manuscripts slip through the cracks because the author didn’t hit her stride until later in the work and because she didn’t describe her work in a way that enticed the agent. How often does that happen? I don’t know, but if the product descriptions on Amazon.com are any indication, I would say it is a lot. Even many published authors are terrible at describing their work.

  • Ava Pennington

    >I am an unpublished author (had short stories and magazine articles published, but no books) who has heard these myths for several years. But they are just that – myths!
    This year, in the midst of a terrible economy, I signed a contract with a traditional Christian publisher for a non-fiction book, and without an agent.
    Rachelle is right – don't believe everything you hear!

  • Lynnda – Passionate for the Glory of God

    >Good morning, Rachelle!

    I appreciate your take on the myths. Your comment that stood out for me was this one: "There is a huge reading machine out there that needs to be constantly fed." That is encouraging to me; as long as we have readers, the publishing business will have an interest is finding new writers. The reality check on that need is Forrest Long's comment: "it's no process for the faint of heart."

    Tim Hawkins, a Christian comedian, said something on the "Family Life Today" radio program that made an impact on me. When asked how he knew God called him to be a comedian, he replied that it was the only work that he had done that he still wanted to do even if he failed at it. In every other endeavor, he quit after being rejected. No matter how much rejection he received as a commedian, he felt fulfilled.

    That is exactly how I feel as a writer. The satisfaction I receive from my writing does not depend on my publishing success. As we say in New Orleans, THAT will be lagniappe!

    Be blessed!

    Lynnda

  • CKHB

    >T.Fish, I absolutely agree that a great book could "slip through the cracks" because of a bad query, which is why so many agents take so much time telling new writers how to craft a good query. It's a business, there's a system in place, we all have to learn to work with it.

    But if an author doesn't hit her stride until later in the work, then I don't think that it has "slipped through the cracks" at all if an agent doesn't want to represent it. That author should go back and edit until the beginning of the work shines like the middle does.

    I didn't mean to harp on YOUR reading/book buying habits in particular… my point is that WE ALL, as readers, have judged books based on packaging, a quick summary, and maybe a first page. This is similar to the query system. If the first page stinks, I'm not going to buy the book. If the first page stinks, an agent will decide not to represent the book. To my mind, THIS IS FAIR. This means an agent HAS given the query fair consideration, even if s/he didn't read every single word of the original query submission.

    Agents read exactly as much of the query as they need to in order to make a fair assessment of the project. No writer would complain if an agent asked to represent him/her based on just the first page, so why should we complain when the agent knows it's not a good fit after the first page? Sometimes, you just know.

  • Heart2Heart

    >Rachelle,

    Thank you so much for breaking down these hard to understand theories people come up with to either discourage people seriously interested in writing or to just confuse the rest of us out there.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >Good post. How many un-pubbed used these myths as an excuse not to keep honing their craft? Pre-pubbed on he other hand are eating up all this advice and loving it.

  • Doug Spurling

    >Seems quite simple, maybe hard…but simple.

    Don't get in a hurry. Prepare. Or better PrePrayer.

    Learn all you can. Accept each "no" as an opportunity to learn rather than a personal rejection.

    Obviously, agents are not untouchables. This blog is an example.

    Give all you can. Too often we make excuses why we can't make it rather than admitting we're to prideful to change or too lazy to strive for excellence.

    Enjoy yourself. I may not have a clue, about the business of writing, but seasoned in the life giving joy and encouragement it can bring. And that, my friend is what will draw folks to want to read everything you write. (Look at Billy Coffey. He can write about a trash collector and I want to frame it.)

    Never quit.

  • Elizabeth

    >I am unpublished and recently agented.

    It took me a few years of working at my craft and two serial (and widely spaced) epiphanies to realize what I was doing wrong. I knew I could write lovely prose (something I already believed and several contests confirmed.) But my stories were average.

    Epiphany 1: have a great voice *and* a great story

    So I worked with that idea and created a new manuscript. Agents made partial requests–always followed with polite but firm rejections. Which lead to…

    Epiphany 2: have a great voice, a great story, *and* something the agent can sell in the current marketplace.

    I finally wrote that story last fall, collected lots of feedback, polished for nearly a year, and started querying.

    After several more partial rejections, I finally found the agent of my dreams. She loves the book. I'm glad that all of the others rejected me–because I have the right agent for my career now. And that's huge.

    I used to hear published authors say, "Bad agent is worse than no agent." And I would think, "Oh, yeah, easy for you to say." But it is true.

  • T. Anne

    >OK. I'll bite for number one. It may not be true but feels oh-so-true.

  • Reesha

    >I'm glad you posted this. It sounds like a lot of people are stilling having trouble believing you though.

    In any case, at least I know that there are exceptions to rules and the publishing industry is more flexible than I thought it was.

    Remember the movie The Pursuit of Happyness? The guy breaks all the rules about job interviews, shows up "dressed like a garbage man" and still gets the job.

    None of us, I think, would ever risk a possible job opportunity by dressing like a garbage man and showing up on purpose. But sometimes you just can't help it.

    I know I don't want to risk a possible agent or publisher liking my book by presenting them with a garbage man query. (No offense to garbage men! You guys are awesome! It's just a stereotype. Please still take my garbage out on Friday!) But you know, I suspect there are writers out there who have circumstances that have kept them from polishing their queries, their first pages, or toning down their word counts. Is it still possible for them to get published even if they disobey all the rules? Yes. But do I want to be one of those people if I can help it? No.

    Wow. This is a long comment. Sorry guys. I'm, uh, going to go post it on my blog now before it gets any longer.

  • Rochelle Spencer

    >So glad you posted this! It's a daunting industry, and it helps to know that one can still get published if he/she isn't perfect or famous.

  • Shennandoah Diaz

    >I agree with this post. I went to the Writers' League of Texas conference and there were dozens of agents eager to find a new voice. They were friendly, kind, and patient and put up with unknown numbers of people trying to get their attention. They want to help writers and most of them blog openly and kindly in an effort to help us. I have also learned that there are very few hard and fast rules and you are allowed to make mistakes. Just be honest, considerate, and work hard and it will all pay off in the end!

  • Jennifer Roland

    >CKHB is right: If your first paragraph doesn't shine and make the agent/editor/reader want to continue, then you need to go back and polish until that first paragraph is so compelling no one would dream of putting your book down until they see what happens in the second paragraph.

    And, Rachelle, I appreciate your reminder that there is a huge reading machine that needs to be filled. Think about what goes into writing a novel-length work–the hours of researching, drafting, editing, polishing; the weeks spent biting your nails while you wait for feedback from beta readers, critique partners, agents, and editors; the hours of sleep you have lost and the time that could have been spent with your family. Then think about the last time you finished a book in one night because you couldn't put it down. Even if you read one book per week, there is no way a single author could keep up with you. As long as this equation is true, we writers will have a chance to be published.

    I am looking forward to tomorrow's post. It sounds like a great topic.

  • Debbi

    >I've never heard any of these myths. But, if I had, I wouldn't have believed them.

    I'm an author and I think what it comes down to is that it's extremely difficult to get agents to notice us.

    First, agents are simply overwhelmed with submissions. They may have no time to read past the first page (probably), so if you can't impress them quickly, you won't get anywhere. No matter how talented you may be, it's true.

    Especially in a highly competitive marketplace, like crime fiction (my genre of choice). Our queries and manuscripts must be super-polished to make an impression.

    And the ultimate decision about representation requires the agent to simply fall head over heels in love with your work. So even if you're great, you simply may not be right for that particular agent.

    Anyway, just thought I'd throw in another author's perspective on this. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go off in the corner and cry some more . . .

  • S. Paul Bryan

    >Thank you for the great post!
    It seems publishing myths (just like writing myths) are so often repeated within the writing community that writers begin to take them as gospel.
    As you pointed out, while these are all based in truth, they are not written in stone, as many seem to believe.

  • Anonymous

    >Everyone has different tastes so it makes sense that you have to wade through lots of material to find what you like–agents are no different than readers.

    I've picked up many a promising book only to be bored by a listing of back story or a detailed description of a person drinking coffee and contemplating their day. Who cares? How do some of these boring first-chapter books get published when we're told ours need to be exciting and PERFECT??

  • Anonymous

    >Hi Rachelle,

    I'm anon 9:05.

    That's fair. I wanted to give an example, lest my pressuppositions be met with the counter-argument that these are only perceptions.

    I've looked at other offerings on CBA's best-seller fiction list and could give similar critiques.

    It's just not that good.

    This has been a problem in the industry for years. I can't believe there's not an appetite for better writing in the Christina community.

    When agents and pubslishers put their money behind something, they should be prepared for the criticism.

    And any writer better darn well be ready.

    I am.

    I would gently nudge you to post my criticism of those grafs, if only to demonstrate to your audience what they face.

    And to demontstrate that sometimes, it really isn't about the writing.

  • Anonymous

    >Make that "Christian" community. See. Editing.

  • Rachelle

    >Anon, feel free to email me if you'd like a personal response. Thx.

  • NikoleHahn

    >I'm aiming for 300 pages double spaced, times new roman at minium for my book, but I'm seeing the story goes. Great blog! Some I did know and some I did not know.

  • agentgame

    >I'm not sure I agree about #5 (both because some genres will accept a 150k book and because some agents will take one on and then work with the writer to cut it down), but the other are spot on. Thanks for posting them!

  • Karen Walker

    >If the myths aren't true, and I believe you that they aren't, how long do you suggest an unpublished author continue to submit queries before giving up? I tried for almost two years, with no success. How are we to know whether it's a) the query letter is no good or b) the book itself is uninteresting?
    Thank you for what you do here on your blog.
    Karen Walker

  • Sara J. Henry

    >Er, afraid some agents don't actually read submissions, at least not partials. They have their readers read the material, and base their response on that … I realized this while talking to an agent about my partial and it was clear that this particular agent hadn't actually read the pages – which of course made the entire conversation a waste of time for both of us. And I've had this confirmed by other agents.

    Illogical, yes, but it does happen.

    Nikole – hope you're joking! Forget page count (it varies too much depending on font and spacing) – use Word Count (under Tools in Word).

    And yes, my novel, LEARNING TO SWIM, coming out with Shaye Areheart Books next fall is my first novel. Not counting the very bad one I started at age 12 and never finished.

  • K.C. Collins

    >While it's good to hear that some of these are myths to most agents/publishers, item No. 2 is a toughie to believe sometimes.

    I am unpublished, and I follow tons of agents and writers alike on Twitter. There are times where agents will post things like "It's a downer when I know I'm going to decline a query after 10 paragraphs."

    You bet that's a downer. A downer for the agent if the query is actually that terrible. A downer for the writer if that agent has already cooked his/her goose before anybody's shown up for dinner.

    I agree that writers gain no mileage worrying about this. But this type of mentality can cut both ways.

    Agents are looking for writers just like we're looking for agents.

    You think I'm going to send my stuff to prospective agent that HAS SAID he/she has made up his/her mind over past queries in a page or two? No way, Jose. I want a better agent than that.

  • Anonymous

    >To add to what CKHB said, if the beginning isn’t gripping and the book takes a while to get into its stride, it won’t grip readers.

  • Rachelle

    >KC Collins,
    At the query stage, all agents make decisions based on a few paragraphs, or a most, a few pages (if the query includes sample pages pasted into the email, as our agency requests).

    At the query stage, we don't make "yes" decisions. We decide either "no" or "I'd like to see more."

    If you're going to eliminate agents who make "no" decisions based on a couple of pages, you're eliminating every agent, and most editors, too.

    That's the whole point of the query system. Because of the volume of submissions, an agent must be able to make quick decisions if they have any hope of success.

  • Anonymous

    >Anon 9:05 here.

    The supposed need to grip the reader is part of what is killing off literary fiction.

    Do we always need a spaceship on the first page?

    Read the first grafs of Grapes of Wrath. Anything gripping there? Not unless one has the mind and stamina for a slow burn and lyricism.

    If not, pick up a cozy romance, or whatever they are calling it these days.

  • Kelly Combs

    >Re #4 – At the writers conf I attended one speaker said that if your email doesn't contain your proper name (not your email address) she deletes it without reading it.

    NOW – you have said it is a "pet peeve" of yours, and I totally respect that (and actually changed mine after reading your post), but to say "I delete without reading" I found to be completely overkill. My opinion, of course.

  • Anonymous

    >If an agent is that ANAL, who wants to work with them? Sure, we can follow rules and deadlines but some agents are so nitpicky and downright rude (even on their blogs–not you!), that I steer clear. We creative types need to be encouraged, not constantly pistol-whipped.

  • Kristi Holl

    >Thanks so much for an upbeat and honest post. It's always been hard to break in–and these myths were going strong thirty years ago at least. 8-)

    Kristi Holl

    Writer's First Aid blog

  • K.C. Collins

    >I understand that agents are in a tough spot based on the sheer volume of queries. Too many words, too little time.
    I also understand the need to keep pages turning, too.

    Like I said, I'm unpublished, so I'm just kind of learning as I go here. But I'm a reporter for a newspaper by day, so I also get that we're living in a universe with shortening attention spans all over the place.

    I would love to be published some day. Anybody reading this blog feels the same way.

    I know agents don't eeny meeny miny moe. But it's frustrating knowing that the first 1,000 words better blow an agent's doors off or the next, say, 69,000 words won't get looked at.

    And as a first-timer trying to get published, you've gotta have those 70,000 complete – even though every prospective agent won't read them all. Enter Myth No. 1: Catch-22.

    THAT SAID, I guess the easy fix is to make those first 1,000 words as groovy as the rest, so they get to see words 1,001-70,000. Even though that's easier said than done sometimes.

    (Did I just make arguments for both sides in the same comment? Man, I love this blog!)

  • R. K. Mortenson

    >As in politics and, well, life–perception is reality. I queried my you-know-what-off unsuccessfully to get an agent. I went to a conference, met some editors, and eventually got published without an agent. Then I got an agent. That was/is my reality, so although it's not always true, or even mostly true, it still seems true. It's tough to bust those myths, but thanks for chipping them down to size. :-)

  • C.R. Evers

    >Thnx for posting this. Very encouraging! :0)

  • Amy Sorrells

    >Thanks, Rachelle. Hugs for your forthright insight, and thanks.

  • tracey solomon

    >thnx so much for the myth busting!

    Hmm do you have a beret? (I have all boys, we love that show:)

  • Ginny L. Yttrup

    >Rachalle, thank you for dispelling these myths. I am an unpublished author who's spent the last 15 years working hard honing my craft. Last week, I signed an agency agreement with an agent who is excited to represent my first novel to the industry. It happens–but it takes work and perseverance and a lot of faith!

    I learn so much from your posts. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us.

  • Mariana

    >This is a great post Rachelle! Thanks for demystifying so well our concerns on the publishing industry.

    All the myths you mentioned, including the real one, are pretty logical conclusions for the rational mind of someone who's doing the proper research. However, we're emotional beings, and consequently fret unnecessarily over things.

    This is most encouraging. Thanks again!

  • Carroll

    >I think the problem is, the people who believe these myths are going to keep on believing them, whether or not you debunk them. See above discussions about whether or not the first few paragraphs are enough to make a decision on the entire manuscript.

    My two cents: I don't have any novels published, and my experience on workshop forums is that *I* can tell within the first few paragraphs whether or not a story is publishable quality. I've found that the problem is often writing technique, as opposed to plotline, and you can tell that almost immediately.

    But I'm not an agent, and haven't seen the same volume of submissions. Anyone else want to weigh in?

  • Nikole Hahn

    >Sara,

    Yes, I do know about word count and where it is located in word. 300 pages is approximate and it is what other writers of mass market books use. These are people I know who write mass market. Also, I have not decided whether the book will be a trade or mass market and so 300 pages approximately is what I am aiming at right now. We'll see how the story goes as it is the story directing me. I may exceed it. However, when writing query letters, I use word count. My book may well exceed 300 pages because of its content. It's a little too early to tell at the moment.

  • Tara

    >Thanks for the post. It's amazing how these myths seem to find their way into our comments.

  • Joel Huan

    >Thanks for the post. I think there is still hope. Some of the best sellors in today's market were total rejects years ago. Many went thru the self-published route. Incidently, I posted an article about the persistent Jonathan Livingston Seagull: be persistent and keep on working at it. Also, I think we need to write with a theme that is special, so that it can pop above the milling crowd.
    Joel Huan
    http://wulfstein.wordpress.com/

  • Joel Huan

    >Thanks for the post. I think there is still hope. Some of the best sellors in today's market were total rejects years ago. Many went thru the self-published route. Incidently, I posted an article about the persistent Jonathan Livingston Seagull: be persistent and keep on working at it. Also, I think we need to write with a theme that is special, so that it can pop above the milling crowd.
    Joel Huan
    http://wulfstein.wordpress.com/

  • Charles David Eyer

    >Reading about the last myth, which is supposed to be really true, I realize my 172,000 word novel will probably not get published because it is too long and I'm new. I guess now I must write a smaller novel and put the epic aside for a few years while I establish a track record.

  • Penmad

    >Interesting comments–so you produce a great premise, story and a killer first chapter–and get told that it's well written but the agent "isn't as taken as they hoped."

    In my case, I think they were expecting "serious literary" but I've written "light-hearted, entertaining."

    But as my character said, "I'm an irreverent baggage despite my corset."

    Alas.

  • Catherine H

    >Arggh, this was helpful and encouraging…and not. My book is so long but I know its bloody brill. (excuse language please). Still can't find the answer as to what to do with a story that has a big secret that you don't want to reveal in the pitch/proposal.
    P.S anyone know a good critiquing group I can join online? I'm at the bottom of the earth here!
    thanks

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