Deb Erika Deb-unks More Publishing Myths…

Erika MarksDeb Joanne covered some biggies yesterday, but if there’s one thing that isn’t a myth in publishing, it’s that there are plenty of myths in this business. So I thought I’d add a few more to the heap…

Myth #1: It’s impossible to get an agent without having a connection.

Now I’m sure there are stories of writers who spent one long summer writing the novel of all novels, tucked that first draft under their arm, walked into the office of the agent who represented their BFF Stephen King, walked back to their hotel with an offer of representation then proceeded to open the minibar and find everything free.

I am not one of those stories. (Although I do have that free minibar dream from time to time. I have another one about the dessert bar at Sizzler…)

No, I was almost twenty years before I was officially offered representation, and it happened after hundreds and hundreds of queries. It took lots of manuscripts and lots of tries—sometimes to the same agents (but always with new work) until eventually I built up enough of a rapport with one agent that she felt comfortable referring me and my novel to someone she knew. Believe me, when I set out to query my first manuscript (and I use that term loosely) in college, the only “connection” in my arsenal was my copy of the Romance Writer’s Pink Pages.

Like any relationship, it takes time to get to know agents–and for them to know you. Not only do you want to present yourself as someone with a strong project, you also want to build a reputation for yourself as someone who is pleasant and professional to work with. Which is all the more reason not to rush your novel out the door, or follow-up with a request (however “gentle”) for a status report on your 48-hour-old query.

Myth #2: If you publish a book, they will read it.

Now if by “they” you mean your parents, your grandparents, your spouse and your high school English teacher, then yes, “they” will. They will feel obliged too. And let’s be honest; that’s why we love them. But I’m guessing you’d like to have more than just a handful of people read your book. Which is why you can’t assume that just because your book made it this far, that just because it is on Amazon and on bookshelves, it will fly off into the world on momentum alone. You need to market your work, and there has never been a better time to do that. Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads (just to name a few) are wonderful ways for you to connect with other writers and readers all over the planet, to get the world to know how much you think they would love to read your book and how much you want to hear back from them when they do.

Myth# 3: If you have a typo in your query letter—put a fork in yourself, you’re done.

Now, please understand: I’m not encouraging typos or sloppiness. God knows I’m a “measure twice, cut once” kind of gal (that’s from my carpentry days–but I think it fits here) yet still I’ve sent out my share of unfortunate spelling errors over the years, and realized them with clammy horror seconds after hitting the send button, or slipping the letter into the mailbox slot. (Oh, those were the good old days, when you could stand around in the freezing cold waiting for the mailman to come by and empty the box so you could plead for him to let you just have a witty-bitty quick peek at that letter right there; see it, the one that says, To Agent X? Oh, those were the days, all right. Good luck pleading your case to cyberspace, people!) Proofing your query letter is smart, professional practice—but hey, we’re all human. We all ball things up from time to time. And I suspect most agents won’t bench a darn good query on the basis of one punctuation misstep. No, in fact, I’m fairly certain of it. (Dear agent readers of the Ball, please feel free to set the record straight on this in the comments…)


12 Replies to “Deb Erika Deb-unks More Publishing Myths…”

  1. Thanks for more great tips! I’m especially happy to read about the building relationship piece; once again the importance of person to person contact comes through. Thank you for the reminder! p.s I miss the days of mailboxes too (although email is a lot easier if more dangerous!).

    1. Julia, it’s so true–sometimes I can’t believe how long we had to wait for replies–but of course we did–that was how you did it! We are so spoiled now, aren’t we? 😉 All those SASEs and printing out letters and then…waiting.

      But all that said–and at the risk of talking out of both sides of my mouth–there is still that eensy-weensy part that misses the anticipation of opening that returned SASE. I’m not saying it’s not thrilling to open that email, but it really isn’t quite the same.

  2. Erika, I love this, especially #1. Most of us query cold, but in my long run at this, I have also found that being professional and genuine in dealing with people only helps when down the road, especially if you find yourself querying them a second (or third) time. This business is all about relationships.

    1. It really is, Joanne–and it is a very small world, which is part of what’s wonderful about it. I think as writers seeking publication, it isn’t only about learning the craft of writing, but also the craft of marketing our writing to agents and editors. Marketing ourselves, to a certain degree, too.

      1. No kidding! My husband was trying to give me a pep-talk yesterday on how I need to buck-up and get in the race already (the man’s just finished up a stint as a cross country coach, can you tell? 😉 ). As he likes to point out, I was in the theater for crying out loud, this marketing stuff should be easy! But the truth is it’s not the same thing–acting is easy. You’re not YOU. And you’re reading someone else’s lines (usually, anyway).

        But then we all get together here and are reminded how fortunate we are to have the support of so many great readers–and each other!

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