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Publishing Myths

Are you a writer looking to get published? Literary agent Juliet Pickering has some publishing world myths to address…

There are a lot of fictions (ironically!) shared about the publishing world and how we work. It genuinely frustrates and saddens me to learn of some of the strange untruths that writers are told or read online, and I hope these points convince you that publishing is full of compassionate human beings, genuinely wanting to find the next brilliant author to work with…

Myth 1: It’s Who You Know

I STRONGLY disagree with this idea. If you know a published author who has a name for themselves and can offer you an endorsement or a recommendation, then good for you. However, most agents have an entirely open submissions policy and we do not expect any writer who comes to us to have any connections at all. You’ll hear me saying this a lot here, but it’s all about writing a great book.

Myth 2: It’s Where You Live

Nope. I understand that publishing is viewed as a London-centric profession, because all the big publishing houses are in London and most of the agencies are here too. But of my 50 authors, approx. 35 live outside London, and 5 live outside the UK altogether. Given that submissions are made by email and most don’t include an address (there’s no need), I have no idea where the author of the submission lives unless they make that explicit/it’s relevant to their book. 

There are many fantastic publishers outside London, whispers of some of the big corporates setting up satellite offices elsewhere in the UK soon, and agents and editors try to venture all over the country whenever there is the opportunity. Where you live should pose no limitations on your chances of being published.

Myth 3: It’s How Many Qualifications and Prizes You Have

In all honesty, it’s maybe more exciting to find a fantastic book from a writer who has no qualifications or prizes, and is completely undiscovered! While a shortlisting for a known short story prize is a glorious string to your bow and validates your writing skills, we are considering the novel or proposal in front of us for publication, and whether that is any good, garlanded or not.

Myth 4: It’s How Much Money You Spend

You need not spend one penny on pursuing publication for your work. Please believe me when I say that there are innumerable resources online for writers – and in your local libraries, where you can find loads of advice and information in books like the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook! – and you shouldn’t feel you have to invest any money that you may not have, in either the writing and editing process, or when submitting to agents and publishers. Track down local writing charities like New Writing North, or Spread the Word; join writing groups or forums.

Often, writing/publishing events and workshops offer free or bursaried places to low-income writers, like the wonderful folk at Writers & Artists are doing here (see below). You will need to do a bit of research, but there are free resources if you look for them. And, I hope, awareness of writers from low-income backgrounds is growing (driven by a desire to publish under-represented voices), meaning that more help than ever before will be available over the coming months and years.

Myth 5: It’s All About the Pitch

I’m here to tell you that yes, it is, and no, it isn’t. Confusing! The publishing world operates at a furious pace and we must all be armed with quick, snazzy pitches for our books, that get handed through the whole publishing process: author to agent, agent to editor, editor to their sales team, sales team to booksellers, booksellers to customers. When you’re sat opposite a Spanish editor at Frankfurt Book Fair and have 30 mins to discuss many books, that quick pitch is invaluable, so we really appreciate it when a writer approaches us with a clear idea of their pitch/USP. 

However, we also understand that most authors aren’t born sales people, so although I’d recommend you worked hard on your quick pitch once your novel is polished and you’re ready to submit to agents, we will help you hone it once we begin working with you. A great cover letter is a beautiful thing – but it’s rare, and it’s OK if you do the best you can because I’m here, as an agent, to sharpen the pitch with my publishing perspective, on your behalf.

Myth 6: Agents Don’t Even Read Their Submissions Anyway

Total nonsense. Most agents will read their submissions. Some will have assistants do it, and we all have hectic periods where we don’t get to read submissions as quickly as we want, but we’ll catch up when we can. ALL agents are hunting for gems: there is nothing more thrilling than finding an amazing book in our submissions pile, so we keep looking (reading submissions in our own time, outside of the 9-5), praying, and every now and then the magic happens!

Myth 7: Write for the Market

NOOOOOOOO! While it’s smart to be aware of the books that are being published and doing well, and to think about how your own work fits in, you shouldn’t write for a ‘trend’. If you started writing a currently-very-on-trend nature book now, in 2017, you’d likely struggle to get that published in 2019 (assuming you could write that fast!), because we’ll have exhausted every take on nature writing by 2019, publishers usually need 9 months for marketing and publicity pre-publication (once the book has been fully edited), and fickle readers will have moved on to God-knows-what by then. We can’t predict most trends and wouldn’t encourage you write for the market in this way.

Myth 8: Great Writing is Enough (thanks @Nikki_Vallance for this)

I want to always say yes to this, but that would be disingenuous. Great writing should be enough to make a career as a published author likely, but you will also need great stories. (You can be an exceptional writer, but if you’re writing something impenetrable and messy then it won’t find a home!) However, we’re here to help shape great writing with our authors, so we’ll do our best to get that great writing published one way or another.

Myth 9: It’s About Your Social Media Platform

Unless you’re writing non-fiction that might benefit from you discussing the topic of your book on a public platform, social media can be useful but is not essential. But why not try it, if you’re not using it already? Eavesdrop on authors, agents and editors, and pick up tips and reading recommendations!