DEBUNKING PUBLISHING MYTHS

(Originally featured in Arizona City Independent Edition, March 14, 2007)

When I tell people I’m taking the self-publishing route, they often wonder why I don’t look for a regular publisher to accept my books. They think that publishers treat all writers the same. The fact is, until they became successful, authors who are now household names struggled just like the rest of us. And as famous as they are now, they still don’t have the freedom that self-published writers do.

Let’s consider several of the myths about publishing:

MYTH #1: It’s easy for good writers to get published.

THE FACTS: The growing number of would-be writers versus the shrinking pool of traditional publishers makes getting published harder all the time. Thousands of great writers will never be accepted by traditional publishers. The two most important factors in getting accepted are writing exactly what a publisher wants and knowing who to approach about getting published. In fact, selling a book is almost as complicated as writing it in the first place.

Publishers offer guidelines that hint at what they’re looking for, but being accepted or rejected often depends on the personal whims of a single editor, or a reader who decides what is sent on up the line to an editor and what goes back with a form rejection. Some writers believe that a rejection can even be the result of something as trivial as a character’s name or the color of her hair.

The best way to get your work considered by the right person is to attend professional writers group meetings and conferences, where you can often meet agents and editors and tell them about your work. This isn’t possible for all aspiring writers. Some people have to explore other, often less effective, ways to get their work considered.

MYTH #2: Self-published books aren’t good enough for traditional publishers.

THE FACTS: With so many on-demand publishers doing print runs to match order size, many excellent writers are self-publishing these days. In fact, several successful self-published books are being picked up later by traditional publishers. On the other hand, editors at traditional publishing houses no longer edit books the way they used to, so responsibility for writing quality lies with the writer.

If you study the works of a prolific author, you’ll often find differences in the quality of their earlier books when compared with their later ones. It could be blamed on the writer’s complacency, but another factor could be the publisher’s demand that successful writers turn out books quickly without regard to quality. That bottom-line mentality also forces writers to produce similar works over and over, instead of being encouraged to spread their literary wings.

Editing quality still depends on an author’s integrity. If the point is to see one’s name in print, then anyone can get published. But pride drives good writers to produce the best work they can, no matter who publishes their work, and a person who isn’t very skilled at the basics of writing can hire an editing service or a book doctor to help them spiff up their work.

MYTH #3: Writers control their own work.

THE FACTS: When Leisure Books published our book in 1986, they changed our title from The Wedding Dress to the more sensational Love's Legacy. The new title wasn’t that bad, but the publisher didn’t care whether we liked it or not. They also had their cover artist paint a lurid picture of a shirtless young man embracing a bare-shouldered woman wearing a pink ball gown.

The picture was totally ridiculous. The heroine whose long life spans five generations of our saga would never have worn such a dress until she was much older than the ingenue on the cover, who was a simple Irish farm girl. Only the small portrait of a bride on the spine, and the thatched cottage in the front background and seashore on the back relate to our story.

The editors also showed an arbitrary streak by changing a single paragraph late in the book, replacing our wonderful metaphor with a statement that made no sense in context. My partner and I decided they did it because they could find only two or three words that actually had to be changed in the entire 512-page book, and they decided to exercise some level of power over my nearly flawless writing.

On the other hand, I was the one who corrected a dozen or so errors on the galley proofs, which was more than their editors found. And I did the same when I got hold of the proofs for Lion's Pride and The World I Imagine. I even found one error in the former manuscript when I was choosing excerpts to post on the web page the publisher provided when my book came out.

This time I got to keep my title, which has both literal and figurative connections to the plot, and the publisher used my bio info and back-cover blurb and only added a tiny blurb of their own on the front cover. I also enjoyed working on the cover, which turned out better than we imagined, thanks to the creative support of the publisher's custom-cover designer.

MYTH #4: Traditional publishers help writers publicize their books.

THE FACTS: New authors with media connections, such as a person who works for a newspaper or a magazine, do have that kind of support to help them publicize their work. But traditional book publishers focus their publicity resources on their biggest-selling authors, and the rest of their authors are left to fend for themselves.

On the other hand, my publisher provides media contact lists and press-release mailing services, and I can purchase a more comprehensive media package, if I choose. Thus, I’ll receive far more publicity support from the self-publishing company than my partner and I had from our traditional publisher two decades ago.

MYTH #5: Getting a book published with a traditional company guarantees wide distribution.

THE FACTS: The proliferation of online distribution services, such as amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and borders.com, is one of the biggest reasons most publishers use the same distribution services. My publisher even lets writers set discount rates for their books, giving us control over the range of distributors that will handle our books.

MYTH #6: Traditional publishers keep books in print for a long time.

THE FACTS: Most publishers keep a book in print only a few months, unless it sells extremely well or the author turns out a number of successive--and successful--books in the same genre. And series genre books, such as category romances, are retired quickly, no matter how well-known an author is.

Traditional publishers still do print runs, from a few thousand for unknown writers to hundreds of thousands and into the millions for books by best-selling authors. But since on-demand publishers only have to store a computer file, they can keep a book in print as long as the author pays a small annual maintenance fee.

Self-publishing can be a good choice for little-known writers with at least one strike against them. On the other hand, the arrangement has so many benefits when compared with traditional publishing that I might keep doing this with all my books, even when that traditional publisher comes a’courtin’ with a million-dollar advance check for my future novels.

Well . . . maybe!

 


Debbie Jordan