6 Popular Myths about Book Publication

Written by Emily Harstone | January 13, 2016

As a writer who receives multiple emails each week about publishing, there are a number of myths about publishing that I encounter repeatedly.  Different writers tell them to me as if they are fact. Some myths are ones I believed starting out. Some contain truth. Many are entirely false.

Believing in one or more of these myths could seriously hurt your chances of having a book published by the right publisher.

You need a literary agent. Literary agents are great. Many authors rely on them. However, they are hard to find and they can’t always find a publisher for your book. I know several authors who got their book published with a good publisher after their agent failed to get that same book published.

In fact a lot of smaller publishers, including most established and respected ones, accept unsolicited manuscripts directly from authors. Not only that but most larger traditional publishers have at least one imprint or digital first branch that is open to unsolicited submissions. Avon Impulse (Harper Collins), WITNESS Impulse (Harper Collins), Bloomsbury Spark (Bloomsbury), and DAW (Penguin) are all good examples of imprints open to unagented work.

When I wrote fiction I used to think it was about finding the right agent, now I know that I would submit my work to a few of my favorite publishers directly before trying to find an agent, even though my work would end up in the slush pile.

The second myth, big six or bust, is actually related to the first myth. Many believe that one of the big six publishers (which is now actually only five) need to accept their book in order for the book to sell well, so that the book can find its rightful place in brick and mortar bookstores and libraries.

This is not true. This is why knowing who your publisher’s distributor is, is so important. In fact many smaller publishers have the same distributors as the big five publishers.

Most publishing companies that have a good distributor are very upfront about it. If you go into a book store or a library regularly you will probably have a good idea of which publishers have good distribution, because you see them on the shelves.

Chronicle, Baen, Algonquin Books, Harlequin, and Hard Case Crimes are all examples of independent publishers that are open to unsolicited submissions that have excellent distribution.

An incomplete manuscript can be accepted is only a myth when it comes to fiction. Many non-fiction research based books are accepted before completion. When it comes to fiction, all successful legitimate publishers that I know of require that the manuscript is complete on submission. So even if they request just the first three chapters, the rest of your book should already be finished.

Having a legitimate publisher means that you don’t have to self promote. This might have been true at one point, but it has not been true for a long time. Ten years ago I took a class with a New York Times bestselling author. He told me the best thing he did for his first book was independently hire a publicist, even though his book was published by a major (big five) publisher.

Most publishers that you can submit to directly want to know your marketing plan (or your author platform) before accepting your book for publication. They want to know that you are committed to promoting your work.  That you know who your potential audience is and you are willing to connect with them. This does not mean the publisher is less legitimate or that they won’t help with marketing. They just need to know that you are serious about supporting your own book.

You have to pay a traditional publisher. If you have a traditional publisher, you do not pay them anything. They pay you. However, over the past few years many traditional and established publishing houses such Harlequin, Thomas Nelson, and Hay House have partnered with companies such as Authors Solutions Inc. to create self-publishing branches associated with these presses. Sometimes if the traditional branches of these presses have contests, the contests are even redirected to the self publishing branch. This can confuse a lot of people.

For example in India, Penguin/Random House, one of the big five and one of the best known publishers in the world, runs a company called Partridge. However, Partridge is purely a vanity publisher. They charge all their writers.

It is no wonder that myth is becoming more substantial, not less.

Self-publishing is easy. There is truth to this myth. Anyone with a little time and minimal effort any person can publish their book with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). However, that does not mean that anyone will buy or read that book. The majority of self published books sell under 10 copies. Like traditional publishing, self publishing requires a lot of work if you want to be successful, it is just a different kind of work.

Bio: Emily Harstone is the pen name of an author whose work has been published internationally by a number of respected journals. She is a professional submissions adviser. You can follow her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/emilyharstone/