Words of Advice from editors, publishers and agents.
In 2021, I reached out to my friends across the industry and asked them. What is one thing you wish all authors knew about the publishing industry? These are their answers.
One thing I wish all authors knew: Writing should be an occupation of passion. Authors intrinsically know that this is a tough market and therefore should be writing because they love to. It should be something they feel incomplete without. Writing and reading are beautiful practices that can be done at any age and enrich the soul. I think writers know this but forget it while in the murky query trenches or at book release. Their writing should not be based on how many books they sell, what publisher they sign with, or how many awards they receive.
I want authors to know that this is a business first. Always treat it as such by putting your best foot forward.
I want writers to understand that their success ultimately depends upon their work appealing to the market. Too many scribblers subscribe to the theory that “If you write it, they will come,” meaning they can write whatever they want, and because it’s so brilliant, it will automatically become a bestseller and make them rich. And if it doesn’t? Well, it’s not their fault. It’s their publisher’s, or Amazon’s algorithms, or reviewers, or social media stupidity—anything but the fact that they didn’t put time and effort into doing market research to appeal to their target audience. This is not to say that everyone who wants to write YA has to write about sparkling vampires or the apocalypse, or everyone who writes romance has to follow the “Sex by 77” formula. Rather, every successful YA novel has certain themes, plot points, and character beats that need to be included, and a certain style of writing that appeals to that market. Just because you have a 16 year-old protagonist does not mean you have a YA novel. Likewise, if you’re writing romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers, literary… you name it. Just like any other new business, you have to have product—or products—that meet a demand in the market. If an aspiring novelist has any hope of success in their genre, they HAVE to read extensively IN that and every adjacent genre—good as well as bad. Everything having to do with that book, from the title and the cover to the names and identities of the characters to the timeframe and themes explored to the pacing and vocabulary level HAS to appeal to the target market.
Authors should take the time to know their work before sending it to agents or publishers. When faced with rejection, it is often not due to bad writing but sending work out to the wrong audience. Researching where a novel or book falls in the current market should help authors find the right agent or editors that represent the type of work they have created.
Take your agents' advice! They are professionals who know the market, and if they suggest revision, it is because they see potential. When you send a manuscript out and accept representation, you are requesting not only that they send your work out to publishers but that they make your book the best it can be. They work in your best interests, and it will only benefit you to consider their advice and learn from their criticisms.
I think the fact that the publishing industry is always changing is the number one thing that writers need to keep in mind. They shouldn't write toward trends and write the story that they want to write. Also, that may mean the best publisher could be a mid-size or smaller publisher and not necessarily a major house.
I think the biggest thing is that writing a good book is not enough. You have to be willing to market and sell yourself. You have to be willing to create a background that will get you noticed in the sea of books out there. Also, that even if you sell your book, you are the one required to do the lion's share of the marketing to ensure its success.
- It's not a one-size fits all industry.
- It's ever-changing.
- Consistency is key.
- If you're not loud and proud about your book, how can you expect others to be? (Regarding marketing, investing in the promotions of your own work, etc)
I wish authors understood that no one wants their book to do well/make money more than your publisher. The publisher has a lot of financial skin in the game and won't break even until long after you've cashed your checks. Be nice and understand that if they decline your Big Marketing Idea (tm), they have researched it and see that the ROI is not there.