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A Traditional Publishing Reality Check – and Challenge

There’s a lot of writing-circle myths and legends out there on what it’s like to be traditionally published. I addressed and corrected a number of these this week between Tuesday’s Definition and Thursday’s Challenge.

But today, for our Writing Rule #31, we’re going to tackle one more.

Getting traditionally published isn’t easy.

Oh, we creative writers – and non-fiction writers and autobiography writers – all intellectually know it isn’t easy. But somewhere in the back of our heads, unless we’ve actually tried it out ourselves, we tend to have this idea that if we just write an amazing enough story or analysis or account, we’ll be a shoe-in.

Bring on the fortune and fame!

That misconception helps grow the myth that traditionally published authors become traditionally published authors because they’re worthwhile: that it’s all about weeding out bad writers from the good writers, and lame manuscripts from the worthwhile ones.

But it’s not nearly so easy as that.

I’m not saying this because I’m a bitter self-published author. I am a self-published author. However, I’m not bitter about it one bit. In fact, I rather prefer it this way for a number of reasons that I’ll explain when we get to tackling self-publishing as a topic in a few weeks.

I’m simply saying that becoming traditionally published isn’t so easy – because it’s true.

The Big 5 publishing companies rarely accept unsolicited manuscript submissions from writers they don’t know. They almost always work through literary agents (next week’s topic to tackle) – who are also hard to get.

And while the “little guys” are a bit more approachable, they’re pretty picky too.

Both literary agents and smaller publishing companies alike get utterly bombarded with emails from writers claiming to be the next big thing with the next big manuscript. I can’t imagine how exhausting it is to sort through all of them.

Plus, I’m sure that seeing “Read my amazing book-to-be!” and “My groundbreaking manuscript is set to change the world!” pop up in your inbox so many times per day is a great way to get jaded about story-telling in general.

As such, these literary agents and publishing companies normally just send those unsolicited emails to the trash bin.

Click. Delete.

Click. Delete.

There are some exceptions to that rule, so try to be one of them if you’d like! Speaking from personal experience, it can actually be a fun process trying to get that kind of contract; and even the occasional rejection letter (when they bother to write you back) can be an uplifting rite of passage.

Just understand that, when it comes to the Big 5 in particular, they often go off of personal references and big-name recognition. So really, whether you get picked up or not could come down to who you know more than anything else.

For example, there’s a particularly appalling historical fiction book I read by a New York Times best-selling author, which prompted me to leave this review on Amazon:

I genuinely don’t understand why this book has such a high rating. It could be a good story, but I feel as if Ms. ******’s editor was kept on an unprofessionally short leash. The dialogue was oftentimes insipid, with the characters using each other’s names every time they addressed each other. Historical figures were misrepresented, and story details were crossed and confused. For example, on one page, a major character’s hair is described as being one color; and on the very next page, it’s detailed as a different color. By the time I got to the last third of this book, I was reading just to finish it, not out of any enjoyment.

So why did she get a publishing contract in the first place? Well, that’s because this author has a high-profile daddy with the right connections to get her through to a high-profile literary agent or straight on to a Big 5 publisher, which had the marketing money to make everyone think she was a worthwhile read.

Sorry to be so harsh there, but that novel was an absolute waste of money and a disgrace to historical fiction everywhere.

Okay. Rant over. Back to getting you traditionally published…

If you have a high-profile daddy with the right connections, please use that angle for all it’s worth! Just make sure that your story is still strong from start to finish instead of diving off the creative deep end into sheer inanity.

If you don’t have a high-profile daddy with the right connections, well, some unknown writers do get picked up by traditional publishing companies. Not exceptionally often, admittedly, but it can happen.

And when the worst you can hear back is no, then try out your hand and see where it leads you!

In all seriousness, best of luck becoming a traditionally published author! Here’s hoping the best for you.

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