News, commentary, and fiction by Barb Hendee, co-author of the Noble Dead saga (; author of the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and more.

The Writer's Corner: Myth Busters

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In the past year or so, there has been a small explosion of overly loud voices in the writer’s community blogosphere shouting to the rooftops about the “new world of publishing,” and how everything has changed and how new writers must now do everything differently from how it was done just a few years ago (while I would assert that we need to do some things differently).  These loud voices are constantly putting up “Myth Buster” posts. Most successful writers (meaning those who make a living at this) tend to ignore those loud voices and just quietly carry on at making a living with their writing.  I know I should ignore those loud voices too, but I feel compelled to write my own “Myth Busters” post on the other end of the spectrum.  So . . . here goes:

New myth #1:  You don’t need an agent to sell to a New York editor.

This one bothers me a lot.  Yes, I know that it’s tough to get agent (even grueling and disappointing in the process). New writers often get ignored by the agents to whom they’ve submitted, and it would be a lovely, lovely thought to believe, “Hey, I don’t need an agent to sell to a New York editor.  I can do this on my own.”  But it just makes me wince when new writers are fed this line.  Don’t get me wrong; it might be possible to get your novel proposal on the desk of a New York editor without an agent . . . but it’s very improbable.  All the big houses have gone to a “no unagented manuscript” policy (which I know is not fair), and most of the editors have assistants who weed out the unagented novel proposals and send them back with a form letter.  Please be aware of this.  It is VERY difficult to even get your proposal onto the desk of a New York editor without an agent.  It’s not impossible.  It’s just very difficult.

Side note: For established writers with solid connections, I do think it’s becoming possible to function without an agent (and to just use an intellectual property lawyer for the contract), but I hang out with a lot of writers, and the successful ones (meaning those making a living at this), all have agents.  JC and I have an agent.

Myth #2: New York publishers are evil and their only goal in life is to cheat writers out of every last possible penny.  So, all new writers must avoid them.

This just makes me groan.  Yes, publishing is a business.  Yes, publishers are out to make money. Yes, contracts are getting more draconian, and that’s why we need professional help in going over every word of the contract before signing it.  But . . . viewing our publishers as “the Enemy” is not productive to our writing careers.  For a brand new writer to abstain from New York publishing simply because he or she fears being “cheated” out of money is absurd.  JC and I make our house payments with the money we earn from our professionally published books.  That’s how we earn the brunt of our living.  We make a little grocery money from our indie projects.

Don’t forgo the chance at real money simply because you fear being “cheated” by a publisher.  Just take your time with any contract you sign, get professional assistance, and make sure you understand what you’re signing.

Myth #3:  A self-published writer has just as much chance of getting a book into B&N as a writer with a New York publisher.

This one is so absurd that it almost doesn’t deserve to be here . . . but I’ve seen this ridiculous myth in too many blog posts by the “overly loud voices.”  This is absolutely ridiculous.  Right now, the major publishers are jockeying for space in Barnes & Noble.  The major publishers send huge, glossy catalogues to the book reps, and the reps order from those. Our publisher pays for “up front” space for the books they publish—and for space in those center aisle racks.  Plus, our publisher gets our mass market paperbacks into Safeway and Fred Meyer’s.  You cannot do this on your own.  Now, this is no reason for you NOT to go indie.  But just be aware that the employees at B&N have started to run (and I mean run) for the break room if they even suspect the person coming at them might be an indie writer trying to get her/her book on the shelf.

Myth #4:  All successful, traditionally published writers despise indie writers, hurl insults upon them, and have a tendency to beat them up and take their lunch money.

Ugh.  This one bothers me more than I can say.  Again . . . I hang with a lot of traditionally published writers, and I can promise you that not a one of them has an ounce of scorn for indie writers . . . rather just the opposite.  Most of the traditionally published writers I know are extremely interested in dipping their toes in indie publishing.  They are excited at the prospect.  JC and I have already started.  We’re having a blast.  But again . . . what we earn here is not enough to live on.

Any scorn, derision, or insults that I’ve seen or heard have come purely from the staunch indie writers and have been flung at the traditionally published writers: words like “lazy” and “sell out” and “stupid” and “gullible”.  Trust me.  I am none of those things, and neither are any of the successful traditionally published writers I know.
Myth #5:  An indie writer without a fan base has just as much chance of success as a long time published writer (who goes indie) with a fan base and a backlist.

I’m not sure what to say about this one, as JC and I are really just now trying to figure out the whole “marketing” concept for indie publishing.  I’m not even sure this myth belongs here.  I only included it because we get about 8,000 hits a month on our Noble Dead website, and JC has done a bang-up job of having any posts on the Noble Dead site flood outward into other social media.  So . . . because we already have a solid fan base, we managed to find a market for the “Tales” project.  I’m honestly not sure how a writer with no fan base would manage this.  I’m not saying it can’t be done.  I’m just now sure how it would be done.

Myth #6:  Ninety-nine percent of indie published fiction is as well edited and proofread as traditionally published fiction.

Okay, I have seen badly proofread professionally published fiction, and I’ve seen some decently edited and proofread indie fiction.  But in all honesty, most of the indie fiction I’ve seen is a mess.  This is NOT an insult to indie writers.  This is simply what I personally have seen.

JC and I have struggled with this ourselves, and we’ve used outside proofreaders, but with our indie stuff, we certainly do not have anything like the support of our publisher.  The Noble Dead novels are edited, copy-edited, and professionally proofread, and we are involved at every stage.  Sometimes a typo or two will still slip past all of us, but I really do appreciate the support system of our publisher . . . and working on these indie projects has made me appreciate them more.

Okay . . . I may get flamed for saying some of the things above, but I felt the need to say them.

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