Ten Writing and Publishing Myths Debunked

  • Writers are instinctively creative people. I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me they would write a book, if only they were creative. Fully formed plot ideas don’t regularly smack writers in the face. Bits and pieces of the puzzle might occasionally come on in a flash of brilliance, but most of the time, plotting a book is hard work. Like Jack London says, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Pay attention to the world around you. Ask yourself ‘What if?’ questions. Brainstorm with willing and unwilling family members, friends and random passerby. Anyone can be creative if they really try.


  • You need to write what you know–literally. Were writers to interpret this advice at face value, there would be a whole lot of books out there about boring office meetings, Web MD-ing vague medical symptoms for hours on end, and playing bedtime whack-a-mole with your kids (which, if you haven’t had the pleasure of playing, isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds). That’s not to say there isn’t any truth to the literal interpretation: Writing about Paris is obviously going to be easier and more authentic if you’ve been there, writing about an artist will be easier if you’ve studied art, writing a main character who struggles with depression is going to be easier if you’ve experienced depression in the past, etc., etc. But if we limited our writing to our personal experiences, whole genres wouldn’t exist. I, for one, don’t have firsthand knowledge of witches and sorcerers. Or even cheerleading, for that matter. As Kaye Dacus explains, fiction writers should “use everything you’ve experienced in your life to imagine other possibilities, other worlds, other outcomes.” Suzanne Collins famously came up with the idea for THE HUNGER GAMES while flipping between a news broadcast on the war and a reality TV show. Lissa Price came up with the idea for STARTERS after she tried and failed to get a flu shot during a shortage. Use your life experiences as a jumping off point for your imagination.


  • Your idea is completely original. This is going to hurt right in the heart-place, but if you’ve had a book idea, no matter how unique you think that idea is, chances are pretty good that someone, somewhere has had a similar one. And that’s okay. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to write a great book. You could tell five people to write a heartfelt romantic comedy about two kids who meet and fall in love in a cancer support group and you wouldn’t end up with five THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. It’s all about execution, and writing characters readers can connect with. And other complicated things. And science . . .


  • You need to start your book with action. The problem with this one is that we won’t care if your protagonist is being chased by a fire-breathing dragon while being shot at from snipers on the rooftops if we haven’t spent any time with her first. Plus, a high-intensity action scene is bound to be confusing if you haven’t established who your character is and done some basic scene-setting first. I’m not suggesting you start your book years or even months before the drama unfolds—just that you give the reader an opportunity to get their bearings before thrusting them into danger. Take a few steps back from the action and start there. Here’s an excellent article on this topic from Kristen Lamb that’s definitely worth the read.


  • Writing is fun. After all, it is your passion, right? Well yeah, it is fun. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I rend garments and consider drastic haircuts. Sometimes I eat too much queso and gain 6 pounds in one week and smell bad. Which leads me to:


  • It will get easier. I wish this were true, but it’s not. Writing books is hard. It was hard the day I started writing and it’s still hard today and I imagine it will probably be hard forever and ever. But (Lame cliché alert!), nothing worth having comes easy.


  • Once you’re in the Published Author Club, you’re in for life. Nope. Unless you’re some household-name-mega-bestseller-Oprah’s-Book-Club author (and probably not even then), each and every one of your books is going to be judged based on its own merit. Getting a major book deal with Random Penguin (As I will stubbornly continue to call them) doesn’t mean they’ll automatically want your next novel. This is true even if your books have sold well in the past. This is true if you’re a New York Times Bestseller. Don’t believe me? Check out this oldie-but-goodie blog post from Aprilynne Pike, wherein she discusses rejection after becoming a #1 NYT bestseller.


  • You will make enough money to quit your job. Not likely. Let’s say you get a book deal (WOOOO!) Even getting something as awesome as a six-figure deal may not be enough to quit your day job. The way most contracts work, your advance will be doled out to you in 3-5 separate checks at various points in the publication process (E.g., when you sign the contract, when you deliver the revised manuscript, when the book is actually published). And if you got a 2 or 3 book deal, that may mean you won’t see the last of that six figures until after the 2-4 years it takes to see your books on shelves. Write because you love it, not because you want to get rich fast.


  • The New York Times Bestseller List is a list of the bestselling books across America the previous week. Not so. Well, not exactly. It’s complicated, and you should probably just watch this informative video. Miss Jackson explains it so much better than me.


  • Once you learn how The New York Times Bestseller List really works, you will stop daydreaming of one-day hitting the list.  
Posted in writing advice

3 Responses to Ten Writing and Publishing Myths Debunked

  1. Brandy A says:

    Great post! I especially loved the point that nothing worth having comes asy. *repeats to self as mantra*

  2. Pingback: Links Galore | Annie Cardi

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