Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Publishing Myths

by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Publishing is a changing world and it stands to reason that writers and publishers who are adaptable have a much better shot at survival than those who aren’t.

But how should writers and publishers adapt? One way, I think, is by realizing there are industry myths that might cause them to make poor choices. The danger is in not digging deeper for information and simply adopting these beliefs (some of which may have varying degrees of truth) as complete truths…and then being disappointed in the results later.

Indie publishing myths:

Online, I frequently find the fervent belief that indie publishing is the savior for those who haven’t been able to break into traditional publishing. Among writers pursuing e-publishing, I’ve noticed some misconceptions.

Myths that authors cling to that may make them choose indie publishing:

I will get rich with e-publishing. Even some formerly traditionally-published writers who decided to publish an ebook have run into problems or have found their books haven’t taken off the way they’ve hoped. As writer James Maxey put it in his post, Pouring Cold Water on the Kindle-ing :

It’s easy to talk about success. But the thousands of writers who self-pub their ebooks and sell less than 4 copies a month… they aren’t blogging about their failure.

Most readers have e-readers. Although they’re experiencing huge growth, e-readers are still working on making the inroads to younger readers that they have for middle aged to older readers. Bottom line is that by publishing straight to e-reader, you are cutting out some of your potential audience.

Artistic integrity trumps editing. Editing is incredibly important. You can either use a gifted friend or an independent editor but it’s important to have your manuscript checked for mechanical problems like typos and grammatical errors, as well as global problems (characters that act out of character, POV problems, plot problems, continuity errors, etc.) You’re not compromising your art by having it looked at critically—you’re opening it up to improvement.
Traditional publishing myths:

There are also writers who won’t even consider going the e-publishing route. It seems to be the learning curve for digital publishing that’s the biggest turn-off. Among these writers I’ve also noticed different misconceptions.

Myths that authors may cling to that may make them seek out traditional publishing:

Publishers take care of promotion. This is definitely not a reason to seek out a traditional publisher. Although traditional publishers will submit review copies to trade publications (and some may even have a list of book bloggers they send copies to), the promotion pretty much stops at that point. Publishers expect writers to set up their own book tours (if they go on one at all); buy their own bookmarks, business cards, and postcards; and set up their own interviews.

Publishers will fix all my manuscript’s editing errors for me for free. If your copy isn’t pretty clean to begin with, you won’t even make it that far. Editing costs a publisher time, which is money. Most houses won’t want to spend excessive amounts of time editing a manuscript that’s in terrible shape, even if the story is good.

Being published makes an author well-known. Readers, entering a bookstore, are faced with thousands of books. Barnes and Noble, in an average 25,000 square feet of retail space, shelves up to 200,000 titles in a store. Readers, clearly, won’t know who all those writers are—most remain fairly unknown.

Publishers’ myths:
Writers aren’t the only ones who believe industry-related myths. Publishers do, too. Unless publishers eschew these myths and adapt to 21st century challenges, they’re cutting themselves out of potential sales and readers.

Myths that publishers cling to that could cut them out of readers or income:

Readers will shell out as much money (or nearly as much money) for an ebook as they will the hardcover new release. I think most publishers have found that reader expectations for ebook prices are that they should be much lower than print releases. Publishers who ignore this pricing expectation will be cutting themselves out of some serious sales.

Traditional marketing works better than online methods. Although many publishers seem to feel that they’re doing enough to connect to potential readers via trade magazine reviews and bookstore placement, the reality is that more readers are looking at book blogger reviews, word of mouth on social media like Facebook and Twitter, and Amazon-esque algorithms (“if you like this, we recommend this”) when purchasing books.

The industry needs gatekeepers. In the e-reading world, readers will make the decisions about what’s readable and worthy of the purchase price. This does mean there will be a large pool of unedited or poorly-crafted stories available, but readers will likely cut through most of those and choose good stories for a good price (likely gravitating to books that have high download rates).

Libraries and ebooks don’t mix. Publishers seem concerned about losing out on ebook sales by allowing libraries to lend their titles. Recently, when Harper Collins put a 26 loan cap on library ebook circulations, they heard back from the reading public in droves. The fact is, the public library is one of the best places to foster new readers. Many readers, as they pointed out to the publisher, will take a chance on a new author or new series when they can try it for free at the library first. Once they find they like the book, then they become future buyers for that writer’s new releases.

What do you see as popular misconceptions in publishing today that might cause publishers and writers to make poor choices? What’s your opinion on how writers or publishers should adapt to modern challenges?

Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), and the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010 and 2011. Her next book, Finger Lickin’ Dead releases June 7, 2011. You can find her on Twitter as @elizabethscraig.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011. (Or sign up to be notified of its release on Amazon.com)


  1. This was really great, Elizabeth. It's nice to see everybody feeding into the various misconceptions--it's why there is so much contention over how things are, I think. Depending on which view you adopt, the baggage changes.

  2. Hart--I'm sure it does feed into some of the arguments I've noticed lately...particularly between indie authors and traditionally published ones.

  3. Brilliant post. You offer some real balance to the craziness that's whirling around the publishing world right now.

  4. Elizabeth - Thanks for sharing these myths. You are especially right, I think, about the myth that a traditional publisher will do all the promo and the edits. So not true.

    I really think that more and more, an author has to do some "homework" and figure out exactly where s/he wants to fit into this "brave new world" of publishing eclecticism. It's both liberating and intimidating that there are so many options.

  5. Great list of myths. There are some eye openers in it for me.


  6. That's a great checklist. Yeah, traditional publishing doesn't mean getting rich. Fortunately, I had no delusions about that one.

  7. As Anne R. says; a nice, balanced post. As you know, I have self-published some of my stories in electronic form, but I am still doing what I can to land an agent & a publisher for my novels. If I succeed in that, I think I can get the best of both worlds. But do I think I´ll ever get rich from writing crime fiction? No, not really :)

  8. Margot--I think, a long while ago, that was probably true about publishers. Definitely not in the modern day.

    I think you're right--the number of options can really make it overwhelming.

    Teresa--Thanks so much for coming by!

    Alex--Me either. Sigh!

    Dorte--But wouldn't it be nice? :)

  9. Bravo, Elizabeth!! Excellent advice. I get so frustrated when writers refuse to hire an editor. And you just stated it - publishers want a manuscript that requires little editing.

  10. Diane--And those are frequently the people who need the editing the most!

  11. Great points :)

    I've posted so many comments on this on so many sites and I also wrote posts on my blog, that I'm a little tired of all this debate over indie & traditional publishing. But I liked very much your points, so I'll post another comment.

    I agree with your points and I'll add some:

    1. Traditional pub. myth: Readers will buy the book because it is published by a large publishing house. Wrong. Readers do not care about the publishing house; they care about authors and genres (The publishing house's brand name might influence readers only in the case of non-fiction books). That is why bookstores place books on the shelves according to genres and authors, not publishing houses. It seems that they have better knowledge of promotion.

    2. Traditional pub. myth: Good editing is done only by traditional publishing houses. Wrong. There are excellent freelance editors out there. And publishing houses employ a lot of assistant editors in the editing department and most books don't reach the chief editor. Moreover, notice the mistakes in many books by large publishers, missed by their editors.

    3. Indie pub. myth: Bulk writing. Write fast, produce as many stories & books as you can, price them low and the more stories & books there are the greatest profit. Quantity over quality. Wrong. If one of the stories or books is not good, you lost the readers. They'll trash all your books and spread the word. Yes, the more books & stories you have, the more money you'll make and the lower your prices, the easier will be to attract readers.
    But if they are not good and/or not well targeted, then in the same fast pace it will be game over.

    Research the market, establish your target audience, plan and organize, write a good book or story, then publish it.

    Quote from above: "The industry needs gatekeepers." This is not a myth. It's a fact. The thing is that the only real gatekeepers are the readers.

    4. Authors' myth: Books are our babies and should be cradled, nurtured and given all the love and attention they deserve.

    Sorry, but you wouldn't sell your babies. If a book is a baby then it should be cradled on a shelf at home, because no one will cradle it on a bookstore's shelf.

    Books are products and writing, publishing & selling a book is business, comprising all the business aspects needed. And as such it should be treated, otherwise it won't make it.

    Therefore, it's the author's decision which way he/she should choose, traditional or indie or a combination of both. The only right way is the way that the book will be published, sold and profitable.

    Sorry for the long comment and thank you for a very interesting post :)

  12. @Jacqvern

    >>Quote from above: "The industry needs gatekeepers." This is not a myth. It's a fact. The thing is that the only real gatekeepers are the readers.

    ACK! This is where I have to jump in. There is not a dichotomy between myth and fact. It's apples and oranges. This is such an important issue that, by God, I've arranged this site and a book about it! ;)

    See: http://www.modernmythology.net/p/what-is-modern-myth.html

    As you were.

  13. In regard to gate-keepers. The issue I've encountered is that, honestly, the main benefit - aside from wider distribution, which is becoming less and less of a factor as bookstores shutter their doors - that "major" publishers can offer is with the press.

    You have no idea how many press outlets I've contacted where I've got an assistant editor interested in doing a story or arranging a review, only to have it shouted down by the editorial manager, head editor, or etc. when they discover there is a small or "unestabled" publisher behind the book. Does it matter that the book is good or bad? No. How do I know? None of those people ever read a single word from within the book. It's simply a matter of back-scratching. The same is true with PR firms. The value they have to offer is in their rolodex and the fact the people on the other end will take their calls. It's not an easy thing getting a shout-out placed in the NY Times for many reasons, but try doing it without a PR agent or publishing house behind you and, again, it really doesn't matter what level your work is on. Better have 50,000 fans already shouting your name at that gate their tending.

    And on that note, I'll keep working the trenches...

  14. @ "unestablished." Man, I can't type on this android phone to save my life.

  15. Jacqvern--Great additional points.

    I think the fact that publishing is a business is something that escapes many people. Even if it doesn't seem like a business to the *writer*, the writer should definitely be aware that it is for the *publisher* (editor, marketing department, art department). They shouldn't be surprised by any decisions that are good for marketing the product/book that might not fit their artistic vision.

    James--Good point about getting press coverage...especially print coverage for smaller releases.

  16. @James Curcio Quote:"ACK! This is where I have to jump in. There is not a dichotomy between myth and fact. It's apples and oranges."

    I didn't understand what you're saying here, sorry.

    Dichotomy > (Greek word)
    1. it means splitting a whole in two equal parts
    2. Thus, it has no place in the sentence, since dichotomy applies to a whole, not "between" two different things.

    I don't recall saying that myth and facts are a whole. And they're not.

    So no, I didn't understand what was that all about.

    Quote: "as you were" - I didn't get that either, at least I hope I didn't.

  17. Exactly - it is a whole which cannot split into opposite parts.

    Did you look at "what is a modern myth?" Which I linked to?

    What I'm getting at is that myths and facts are either not easily separated or have no relation. In either event myth definitely does not = untruth.

    "As you were" is a figure of speech, meaning like "as you were, soldier" in other words, return to your previous state or this is not so important.

  18. "As you were" is a military drill command. If an NCO gives an order and then wishes to change it, or if he is not satisfied with the way the men react, he may give the command "As you were." This tells the men to >>return to the earlier state.

  19. Also see:




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