The world of publishing can be a murky one. Many writers find themselves being told lies by well-meaning friends and colleagues as they attempt to navigate the publishing process and get their story to the top of the slush pile.
These are 5 of the most common lies that are passed off to aspiring authors as “advice”. Mark these lies well, and remember them as you trudge on. It could make the difference in your career.
The 5 most common lies writers hear about the publishing process
1. It’s okay to skip the proposal and just send your whole manuscript directly to *that* publisher because your story is just that good.
No. No it is not.
This is one of those lies that writer’s not only hear, but tell themselves over and over again. There’s a laundry list of reasons writer’s choose to believe this little piece of misinformation. Hubris makes us think that our story is somehow special. A lack of research leads to an ignorance of protocol.
Many publishers require a book proposal before requesting a copy of your full manuscript. Book proposals contain all sorts of valuable information like biographies, marketing ideas, titles, details about length and format and so much more. Publishing is a frantic business, and all publishing house employees will have multiple tasks and job titles. That means they don’t have time to read your entire manuscript to assess your ideas. So do them a favor and dismiss this lie. They’ll appreciate the professionalism.
2. Don’t circulate any of your work — someone will steal it.
This is one of those mixed bag lies. You don’t want to circulate the entirety of your work, but that has more to do with a little thing called “first rights” than literary theft.
Literary theft is incredibly rare. The best way to establish ownership of work and to build a fanbase is to share portions of your work — on a blog, in an article, or however you reach people interested in your work. You don’t want to publish the whole thing, just enough to get them interested and enough to allow readers to give you feedback.
Publishing excerpts can also help you prove ownership of your idea thanks to publication dates. So, if someone does attempt to steal your idea — hooray! There’s a handy-dandy date to prove you came up with the story first.
3. You need to copyright your story and trademark the title.
This is one of those crazy lies that I can never quite understand.
Any basic level of research would reveal pretty quickly that you can’t trademark a book title, nor are trademarked names protected by law when it comes to book titles.
You also can’t copyright ideas. The law recognizes that two people can have the same idea at the same time without ever having met one another. So, if someone has the same idea and comes out with the story before or at the same time as you — tough. If character names and world creation is identical? Well, that’s another story.
4. Get an agent. You have to have an agent to get accepted by a publisher.
While this is most certainly the case of commercial literature, it’s not a requirement.
Getting an agent is a good idea. They negotiate deals for you and have connections with publishers that we writers could only ever dream of. They receive more proposals than publishing houses, though, so getting one can take a lot of time and effort.
You’d be surprised by how many publishing houses don’t require you to have an agent, though. By checking out their proposal guidelines ahead of time, you can find publishers that publish in your genre without an agent. All you’ve got to do is invest a little time into researching which publishers these are.
5. Any ol’ lawyer will do when it comes to publishing contracts.
Publishing contracts are not like regular contracts, despite what you may think. There are many different factors and conditions that are unique to publishing contracts, so they require lawyers with a knowledge of publishing operations. Just like you need an editor to clean up your manuscript, you need a publishing lawyer to review contracts.
If you’re lucky enough to receive a publishing contract in your lifetime, get a publishing lawyer to review it before agreeing. You might save yourself a lot of time, money and heartbreak.
The publishing process can be a tricky one and it’s often tangled up in a wild web of lies. We as writers get lied to a lot, and we even tell ourselves some tricky lies along the way. Do your research and make sure you know what your dream publishers require in submissions. If they ask for proposals — write the book proposal. Don’t skip steps or presume your story is good enough to skip steps.
You don’t have to have an agent, but if you do manage to swing a publishing contract, make sure that you invest in a publishing lawyer to review it before any agreements are made. Don’t keep your work to yourself. Share enough of your story to generate interest and feedback, but don’t give it all away (and risk first rights!)