There’s been a post theme going around Facebook lately wherein people share ten unpopular—but not political—opinions. I wasn’t loving the posts because they seem to celebrate and encourage the negative…until I saw Rob Hart’s.
Rob is (in no particular order): a novelist, a writer of short fiction and essays, a father to a daughter who is my hero, one of James Patterson’s BookShots co-authors, and the publisher/COO at MysteriousPress.com. He is also a haver of opinions, some of which he shares on Facebook.
One of the things I’ve always liked about Rob’s approach to said opinions is that he encourages discussion. So I’m grateful that he gave me the OK to borrow his post and add a bit of my own commentary.
The bold parts below are Rob’s; the parts that aren’t are my additions.
Ten unpopular opinions, publishing edition:
1. Big publishers DO publish good books, and the reason they won’t publish yours is because it’s not up to their standards, or doesn’t fit their editorial vision, or sounds like the same book that’s been published dozens of times already. Or maybe it’s just not good.
I know there are some folks who think big publishers only publish crap. This bugs me, in no small part because it assumes that all readers are identical.
In terms of marketing, the most important thing any author can do is understand their audience. If you assume that you know your readers without looking at actual qualitative and quantitative data, you’re missing out.
2. James Patterson and Stephenie Meyer clearly understand things about the world you don’t.
I would have phrased this one a bit differently… I don’t know anything about Stephenie Meyer, but I worked for JP, Inc. back in 2005. He was already resoundingly successful with his Alex Cross series (the project I worked on was for a different series), and everything he did was geared towards marketing to specific audiences, which is not surprising given his advertising agency background.
Rather than being pissed off, as many authors seem to be, at whatever Patterson does or doesn’t do, we could all learn a lot from his activities. For example, when I’m asked why I think his books sell so well, my answer often surprises: short chapters.
But think about it: many people think reading is a slog. Like it’s work. With short chapters, readers feel like they’re making progress. Accomplishing something. It won’t work for every story, but I think it’s worth considering.
3. You should not design your cover. Your friend should not design your cover. A graphic designer with a lot of experience designing covers should design your cover.
About all I can add here is YES. Covers are the most valuable marketing asset for any book. If you’re traditionally published and you don’t like your cover, for the love of Pete, say something. Or have your agent say something. Your publisher might not be able or willing to change it, but you owe it to your story to try.
4. Most small publishers are really cool and important and I read many small press books. But some of them are just self-publishing you by proxy.
Yup. That said, there are out-of-pocket costs involved in self-publishing (see above) that you might not be in a position to front.
When it comes to marketing, you’d be well advised to assume that the money a small publisher can spend is limited. If you’re looking at a contract from a small publisher, consider asking for some unusual terms, like getting sales reports on a monthly basis or having a commitment to timed promotions built in.
5. Some of publishing is luck. A lot more is hard work and talent. Luck is not the only deciding factor in success, and if you think it is, maybe you need to examine why you think that.
There are good books that are not published. For any number of reasons. But luck is indeed far from the only factor. I’m biased, but if you’re aiming to get published, maybe consider polishing your author brand.
6. You have to use Microsoft Word. It’s the industry standard and whatever workaround you’ve devised is going to screw something up as it moves back and forth between formats. Just get Word. Write it off on your taxes.
I’ve worked with manuscripts that aren’t in Word, and I promise you it’s a tremendous PITA. And it takes me a lot longer to do what I do, which is time I’m generally not getting paid for. So yes, please use Word.
Office 365 costs $99 per year. This allows for five users. So if you can find four friends willing to go in on a subscription with you, that’s $20/year each. That seems like a reasonable investment to me. There’s also a $10/month option.
7. There’s a reason the publishing process takes a long time: There’s a lot of work that goes into the process. It’s not because anyone wants to see you suffer.
Of course the length of the publishing process isn’t personal. That said, publishing is one of the most inefficient industries on the planet.
8. Nobody owes you anything.
I think this one is true of a lot more than publishing, but I certainly see it in marketing all the time. Lately I’ve had a rash of folks asking me to work for them for free…because they’ve written great books. Unfortunately, using my hard-won professional expertise for free won’t pay my bills.
9. If you got rejected by a short fiction magazine you didn’t bother to read to get a sense of their editorial voice, that’s on you.
I didn’t know this was a thing. All I’d add is that if you’re looking for a publisher or evaluating offers from publishers and not looking at their business, that’s a recipe for disaster.
10 Writers need to write less posts and blogs about the publishing process/industry because a lot of them are laughably misinformed about how it works. I say this after having worked in publishing for six years and published three novels and still I don’t understand any of this shit.
Aw, Rob…I think you understand it pretty well. At least, you clearly understand the importance of constantly learning.