Things I Wish I Knew Before I Published: Part III

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From Writers in the Storm

The advice you can find about the “rules” of writing and publishing goes from one extreme to another. Some say there are no rules. Others give you a list of rules. 

Traditional Publishing

When you consider traditional publishing, remember that these big publishers are corporations and they have both public and more private rules. They call their public rules “submission guidelines.” Often those guidelines are about how to format your manuscript. 

The harder to find or see rules are those common to corporations. Certain departments handle certain things. One publisher may tolerate stories that include guns or sex scenes. The next one won’t. Often these corporations do not share internal policies such as risk tolerance or political leanings or their alignment with causes you care about. 

Even the editors you submit to have rules. They don’t call them rules, yet they have certain expectations. They expect stories to be entertaining, to progress from beginning to middle to the end. Each editor has genre expectations and life events that influence their interpretation of your story. Some editors are flexible and open to having their expectations exploded by a skillful author. Others will not be.

What can you do? Know what’s important to you. Research the publishers and editor you’d like to publish your work. Ask questions of authors, agents, editors, and librarians. Can’t do it in person? Try social media.

Don’t be so eager to be published that you sign your first contract without knowing what it means to your book and to your values. Decide which issues are a no-deal for you in advance.

Rules in Independent Publishing

You may get the impression that there are no rules in independent publishing. You’d be wrong. There are tons of rules. Amazon has a set of rules. So do Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Draft to Digital, and Ingram Spark. There are cover sizes and images they will and will not tolerate on covers. Genres they will and will not allow on their sites. Advertisers have rules, too. Those are a tiny part of the rules associated with independent publishing.

While independently published authors don’t have to contend with corporate editors, we have to please the readers of our genre. Readers have expectations and those are their “rules.” 

There are also the expectations or rules we impose upon ourselves. Sometimes, independent author-publishers impose harsh, unrealistic, unsustainable rules on themselves. 

What I Wish I Knew About the Rules Before I Published

The anonymous “they” say that you need to know the rules before you break them. I wish I’d understood the unsaid part of that advice. If you break the rules, there are consequences. Sometimes, the consequences are that the editors and readers love what you did. But if you break too many rules and expectations, you may alienate some editors and readers. Your book may not sell.

As an independent publisher, it’s up to you to understand the rules and what consequences may result if you decide to break a few.

Things I Wish I Knew About the Writer’s Life

No matter the publishing path you follow, you are a writer. A writer’s life is not as advertised. Hollywood films set up expectations that writers solve crimes or have exciting adventures. Magazines and other media hold up the rags to riches stories of fabulously successful and wealthy authors as something all writers can become. 

Hollywood vs. Real Life

While it depends on what you call adventures, few writers get much in the way of real-life adventure. Many of us do some traveling associated with our writing, but it’s rare that a writer is a successful detective or devious murderer or a terrified kidnap victim.

Most of the time, we sit at our writing device of choice and write. If we aren’t careful, we develop physical limitations because of too much sitting. Most of us self-isolate. It’s nearly impossible to get into the creative zone and socialize at the same time. 

It used to be very unlikely for a writer to earn a living. Thanks to independent publishing it is less rare today, but for every Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, there are thousands who do not earn enough to break even.  

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm