Busting Myths About Writing & Publishing
There are a lot of preconceived notions about writing and publishing. One of my favorite “that would never happen in real life” moments comes from a television show called Mike and Molly. In the first episode of season five, titled “The Book of Molly,” during a writer’s workshop, a publisher expressed interest in Molly’s short story, leading to a substantial advance for her first book. Her husband, Mike, felt relieved as the advance check would almost eliminate their debt.
Time to bust a few of these myths about writing:
- A publisher wouldn’t approach a new author at a writer’s workshop to offer them a contract. A more realistic thing that could happen would be for a publisher to suggest to the author to submit to them directly with either a query, the first three chapters and a synopsis, or even the full manuscript. Most acquiring editors for a publishing house have to pitch the book they want to purchase to a committee. Only a few of those books get chosen to go to contract.
- No publisher would give an advance or even a contract based on a short story to an author who has never proven they could write and finish a book. The only exception to this might be if the author has a tremendous platform on social media and several thousand followers who actively view their content. But in that case, it’s not the short story that generated the interest, but the influence the social media brings to the table.
- A substantial advance is very rare these days. While there are exceptions, most of the six and seven-figure advances go to established authors with a proven track record of earning out their previous advances. In most cases, a debut author can expect a low four-figure advance.
But it’s not just publishing that has preconceived notions, here are a few myths about writing as a craft that have prevailed.
Myth #1: You Have to Be Inspired to Write.
BICFOK is the acronym for butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. In other words, if you wait for a brilliant lightning strike of inspiration, you’re leaving a lot of writing time on the table. The idea that the muse must visit you leaves many writers paralyzed in anticipation. The reality is that writing is a craft demanding discipline and commitment. Waiting for the elusive lightning strike can lead to an endless staring contest with a blank page. Successful authors, like J.K. Rowling, understand that inspiration often arises during the act of writing itself. Rowling famously conceived the idea for Harry Potter on a delayed train.
Myth #2: Writing Is a Solitary Endeavor
While writing necessitates focused concentration, the notion of it being a solitary, isolating pursuit is deceptive. Engaging with other writers, participating in writing groups, and seeking feedback are indispensable to the process. Bestselling author Stephen King himself sought the advice of fellow writers when crafting “The Stand.” Collaboration and shared ideas offer fresh perspectives, constructive criticism, and a sense of community.
Myth #3: Writers Must Stick to a Strict Outline
Some writers thrive on structure, while others find it stifling. George R.R. Martin doesn’t write outlines. Gillian Flynn starts with a basic outline but allows room for the story to evolve organically. This is how I like to write my books. I want to know enough to get me to the next pinch point or plot twist, but I don’t want to be locked into a narrative that could back me into a corner if a better idea comes along.
Myth #4: Editing Is a One-Time Event
Nope. You are constantly editing. There’s the editing you do before you submit your manuscript. Then if you get a contract, you may have to go through a developmental edit with the publisher to make the book more marketable. Then when that’s done, there’s a line edit that’s usually done to make sure the book flows and the changes make sense. Then a new editor does copy edits to catch any remaining grammatical or spelling errors. And finally, there’s a proofread edit. The author is involved in all these edits.
Myth #5: Successful Writers Are Overnight Sensations
The belief in overnight success can be disheartening for aspiring writers. The truth is, behind every seemingly sudden literary triumph lies years of hard work, rejection, and perseverance. J.D. Salinger worked tirelessly on The Catcher in the Rye for a decade before achieving success. Rebecca Yarros, whose book Fourth Wing is one of the bestselling books of this year, has written several books over the past seven years.
As with everything, there is a lot of misinformation out there. If some people believe it, even if most people believe it, doesn’t make it true. Do your research, but also be aware of your own process and procedures.
Don’t confuse rumor with fact. Don’t let myths about writing derail you, but most importantly, don’t let anyone discourage you from writing.
Writing involves choices. Word by word we can harness the power and magic of words. Let’s make the most of our writing choices with today’s post.