Publishing Industry Myths and Legends

by Constance Renfrow
published in Community

When I first entered the lofty realm of book publishing as nothing but a meek little editorial intern, I believed all sorts of misconceptions about the industry. Not least the editors’ choice: “So you just read all day, right?” Haha, that hasn’t gotten old! . . .

But over the years, I’ve discovered that’s just the tip of one very clichéd iceberg. There are so many myths floating around out there about getting published, so let’s debunk a few of the most common ones!

Myth: I need to have an agent or else publishers won’t consider my manuscript

Ehh . . . in some cases this is true, but it’s hardly a universal rule. Sure, some of the larger publishers won’t consider unagented submissions; however, many smaller presses actually prefer authors without agents. While agents can be incredibly useful (and kind and wonderful human beings!), their services are not absolutely necessary in all situations. I would suggest looking into the publishers that most excite you. See what their submission guidelines require. Then, by all means, start the agent hunt.

Myth: I’m not allowed to make any changes to the contract during the contract phase

False! That’s why it’s called negotiating a contract. You can definitely request changes, like higher royalties or getting to keep certain rights. The publisher doesn’t have to accept your changes, mind you, but that shouldn’t stop you from asking. Just be wary of going back and forth too much; if the publisher starts to get frustrated, they might decide you’re more trouble than your book is worth.

Myth: If a company publishes me once, they’ll publish my next book (and my next one and my next one . . .)

Yeeeaaahhhh . . . not necessarily. Sure, most publishers will put an option clause in their contract; this means they reserve the right to offer on your second book before you start sniffing around for a better deal. But that isn’t a guarantee. They might pass, for any number of reasons—maybe they only sold one copy of your last book (to your mom), or your murderific thriller isn’t really appropriate for a children’s book press, or maybe you were a big meanieface. That being said, this isn’t a one-way thing. If they do offer on your next book, you have every right to decline.

Myth: Comp titles detract from my uniqueness

Ohh just so very, very false. My inbox is flooded with submissions that get all huffy about comp. titles. “There are no books similar to mine!” they cry. “This is an entirely unique idea!” I hate to have to break it to you, but this is just about the worst possible thing you could say. A) Because arrogance isn’t sexy anymore, and B) We need those comp titles to sell the book. They show how similar(ish) books have sold and where they’re placed on bookstore shelves, and other important things. So just stifle your groans and do some clicking around on Amazon and Goodreads. And remember, you’re not alone; we all hate looking for comp titles.

Myth: I get final say on my title

I mean, obviously, right? Sadly this too is false. Or at least, probably false. I’m sure if you’re David Sedaris (in which case, hi David Sedaris!), your publisher is trying to keep you happy, but for the rest of us schmucks, the people who get the final say on titles and subtitles are the sales team. You might be happily going about your morning, only to find an email lurking for you, announcing Space: The Final Frontier: The Voyages of the Starship Enterprise in its Continuing Mission to Explore Strange New Worlds isn’t long enough and just isn’t descriptive enough and besides, there are already ten books with that same title. And once you get that notice, you just gotta roll with it. You’ll likely be asked for some other options—and your publisher might run a few ideas of their own by you (be open to them!). And that, my bookish friends, is how my anthology Quarter-Life Crisis became Songs of My Selfie. True story.

Wondering if your publishing industry fact is actually a popular misconception? Ask in the comments or Tweet at me @MissConstance21!

Constance RenfrowConstance Renfrow is a New York-based writer and editor. She is the lead editor for Three Rooms Press and a freelance editor and writing coach Her fiction and poetry have appeared in such places as Cabildo Quarterly, Denim Skin, Petrichor Machine, and she hosts a monthly open mic series at the Merchant’s House Museum. A lover of nineteenth-century literature, she’s currently completing a three-volume governess novel, her first full-length work. Lastly, she compiled the anthology of millennial fiction, Songs of My Selfie (Three Rooms Press, April 2016), now available for preorder!  Follow her on Twitter @MissConstance21 and/or @SongsOfMySelfie.

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