The Best Publishing Industry Advice Deb Molly Ever Received

2012 Debutante Molly BackesThe best advice I ever got about the publishing industry wasn’t from a writer. Nor was it from an agent, editor, blogger, poet, or journalist.

It was from a tuba player.

Also, it wasn’t exactly advice.

More like a complaint, I guess, but I took it as a mantra.

In the early days of what only in retrospect can now be called my writing career, I didn’t know any other writers. I knew a lot of teachers and social workers, a good number of law students, a ton of idealistic non-profit workers, and quite a few baristas, but no other writers. The only person I knew who was actively striving to make a life (and living) for himself in the arts was my friend Nat the international tuba sensation.

(He’s great.)

A few months after I’d signed with my agent, I was talking to Nat about the whole process of revising the manuscript before we could even think of sending it to an actual editor, and how if we managed to find an editor who liked my book, that editor would probably want me to revise too, and how much time the whole stupid thing was going to take. And Nat said, “Everything takes ten times longer than you think it should.”

It’s not really advice, and it’s not specifically about the publishing industry, but it’s true, and it’s been my mantra throughout. Every single step of the publishing process takes ten times longer than you think it should, and you can either let it drive you crazy, or you can figure out something else to occupy your attention in the meantime.

My other favorite bit of advice these days comes from Friend-Of-Debs Kelly O’Connor McNees. I’ve been kind of freaking out about marketing/PR/events/etc for my upcoming book launch, and decided to solicit advice from every writer I know. I got tons and tons of amazing suggestions, hints, ideas, thoughts, and advice — so much that I’m now overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of awesomeness in my inbox — but I think my absolute favorite came from Kelly, who basically reminded me that I’d probably be fine and probably wouldn’t screw up my whole career forever and die alone.  Specifically, she said:

“My first piece of advice is to remember there is no right or wrong way to do this. I was obsessed with fear that I would make a mistake and it was paralyzing. But really, no one knows what works and what doesn’t, what is worth the effort and what is a waste of time. So when opportunities appear, just do what you can, but don’t feel guilty about letting some things go. You can’t do everything!”

(Don’t you love her? I love her.)

So that’s the advice I’m carrying around with me these days: Everything is going to take ten times longer than you think it should, and there’s no right or wrong way to do this. In other words, take a deep breath, be patient, do what you can, and enjoy the ride.

And if you* DO manage to totally screw up, you* can always quit your job and run away to work at a baby sloth sanctuary.**


**except a different thing. Get your own backup career; this one’s mine.

9 Replies to “The Best Publishing Industry Advice Deb Molly Ever Received”

  1. Thanks for the sage advice. I needed it this morning. Now I just need to pass this along to all of my friends and family.

    I started the first round of edits on my manuscript yesterday, and, of course, I’m a bit overwhelmed by just how much work there is to be done. The friends and family actually had the gall to say, “But you’re a good writer. Why can’t you just send if off now? I’m sure your agent and editor can fix the few typos…”

    Because, as you know, the process of writing, editing, and publishing is just so darn quick and easy. Right.

    And you can only work at the sloth sanctuary if there is room after I secure a position there. My whole family was ready to head back down to Costa Rica after watching that “Too Cute: Baby Sloths” show, and I am now begging for one as a pet.


    1. I feel you, girl. I had the exact same conversation with tons of family members and friends, and I’m sorry to tell you it doesn’t stop when you get an agent or sell a book. Then it’s “Why doesn’t your agent hurry up and sell your book already?” or “You already revised your book, what does your editor want you to do?” Or “So… this book that’s coming out now — what number is this? You published a book a few years ago, right?” (No, I *sold* a book two years ago and now the same book is being published. And it’s book number one, thanks.)

      Just remember that people are impatient because they love you and believe in you (and have no idea how crazy slow the publishing industry can be!).

  2. Oh, my gosh! I wanna run away and work with baby sloths. So cute!

    Great advice. Everything in publishing really does take ten times longer than you think it should. (Except for those brief, panic-inducing moments when your agent or editor needs something from you right NOW. But mostly it’s a lot of waiting.) And you can’t do everything. I keep trying to beat that one into my head, because I WANT to do everything. Sadly, the eventual need for sleep gets in the way.

    1. As my friend says, “You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want.”

      I’m just telling myself over and over that I’m not going to ruin my entire writing career by doing or not doing any one thing when my book comes out. I mean, within reason. I suppose I COULD ruin my career with one gesture, if I tried hard enough!

  3. Yup. That about sums it up. It’s very close to my personal favorite: Hurry up and wait. Like I’ve said a gazillion times, if I’d known way back when that I would 20 years working towards getting my first book contract, would I have said–Heck no!? No, I;m quite certain I wouldn’t have said that. When it’s something you want, you stick with it. But unfortunately, knowing it will take a loooong time rarely feels very comforting. Certainly not baby sloths comforting, anyway.

    1. I just realized that baby sloths are an apt mascot for a slow industry. We always say “We’re off like a herd of turtles!” but I might switch my animal of choice to sloth. Though the babies actually seem to scoot around pretty well — it’s the grownups who only come out of their tree once a week to poop. 🙂 Sloth trivia!

  4. I hate the 10x thing, but yeah, it’s totally true and you’re right that it’s best to figure out something to occupy yourself with. I just haven’t figured out what to occupy myself with that will really get my mind off the waiting. Sloths might just work, though.

    1. Working on a different project? Reading? Reality TV? Harassing the dog? Those are my general go-tos, and then searching for videos of baby animals on youtube. Obviously.

      1. I think being a multi-tasker at heart means I can worry and obsess about a lot of things while I’m doing a lot of other things. But I’m working on it. Baby animals on youtube do help…

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