5 Myths and 4 Realities About Getting Your Book Published

There it is! The cleanly printed manuscript you have slaved over for years while squirreled away in your attic with the kids are screaming downstairs or bleary-eyed at the breakfast table at three a.m. with five cups of killer coffee already in you.

It’s done! But you aren’t.

In fact, although the contractions are coming faster, the child stubbornly refuses to be born. Here are some of the myths and realities of getting your book published.

Reality: Just because you think it’s finished doesn’t mean anyone else will.

I will use examples of my own tortured path to publishing, in the hope that it will spare you some missteps of your own. I began my first novel Saving Max in 2000. It was published in 2010. I certainly didn’t think it would take ten years to see my name on a book, although I was well aware—as you should be—of the increasingly unlikelihood that a debut author would be picked up by a reputable agent or publishing house.

My first draft was eight hundred pages long (I’m a former lawyer. You know lawyers can’t say anything in a simple sentence, much less a chapter!). But I learned, as I’m sure you have if you’re reading this, that when they tell you to kill your darlings, they mean yank all the superfluous junk out of that manuscript and leave it writhing on the floor. Four years after that, it was a mere shadow of its former self and, I knew, ready to publish!

Right?

Wrong.

Reality: You need a professional reader—not a friend or family member—to read your manuscript before you try to get an agent.

This is only my opinion. Many authors have gotten agents and had their work published without using a professional reader. While I’ve bounced my work (ad nauseum) off family and friends (who now shudder when they see me coming with a sheaf of papers in my hand), I hired a professional to increase my chances. And I think it helped. But it wasn’t cheap: expect to spend at least a few thousand dollars for someone who can take you from draft to completed manuscript. I was fortunate to find an author who had published umpteen novels and did an excellent job of teaching me what I needed to know to attract a number of agents.

Myth: Great, I’ve got an agent! Almost there!

Not.

I chose my first agent from a reputable agency that will remain nameless. So wet behind the ears that I believed everything she told me, I was talked into changing the protagonist of the story (the mother of an autistic son charged with murder) to the detective. Big mistake. Bad mistake. That took another year and a half of revisions. Then it sailed out to the publishing world. And was soundly rejected—across the board. “Love the writing, but what is this?” The entire New York publishing world sent rejection letters that papered my desk. What did my agent say? “Write a new book.”

I said, “No.” I fired her and went back to my reader. You’re not supposed to fire an agent until you have another one, but I was furious. My reader agreed the book should be rewritten with the original protagonist.

Another two years.

Myth: I have a really terrific agent who loves the book! Finally!

Not.

I do have the best agent in the world, Al Zuckerman of Writer’s House. He represents Ken Follett, Stephen Hawking—you name it. So now that I have Al, my world is golden, right?

The first thing Al said was, “Well, we can’t sell it like this. You need to rewrite it.”

Which I did. For another two years. Al edited every word and forced me to hone that book (and me, in the process) down to its bare bones.

Myth: Al says it’s done! Start the bidding war and sell that bad boy!

No.

Certainly not right away. I thought with King Al as my agent, the process would be a breeze. I vastly underestimated how difficult it is to get a publisher interested in an unknown, unpublished author. I had never published anything. Legal articles, big deal. (Do try to enter contests and get something published so your name and the title of the manuscript isn’t all you have to show an interested editor.)

Myth: I get the call. A publisher wants it! Champagne!

Don’t quit your day job. You won’t eat much if you do. Fortunately, my novel was a bestseller and sold over 250,000 copies, but that is not the norm. (See above. Don’t quit your day job.)

Reality: Most editors receive manuscripts in need of serious editing.

Because I had Al, my editor only asked for very minor revisions. This is also not the norm. Your editor will want to work closely with you to make sure the book is what they want to publish. You will most likely have to make significant changes you won’t want to make. This process can take a very long time, at least a year. With the publishing business as it is today, you will be lucky if you have only one editor during the publishing phase. (On my second novel, I had three.)

Myth: I’ve got the editor’s green light, where’s my book?

Your book is a year and a half away from nestling into your hot, little hand. I don’t pretend to understand the mystery of this process, but it is standard knowledge in the business. Cover art (especially if it is original) takes forever. Copyeditors take forever. Everything takes forever.

Reality: Here it is!

What was that book about again?

Tell me your opinion: What is the biggest myth you’ve uncovered about getting a book published?

5 Myths and 4 Realities About Getting Your Book Published

 

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About Antoinette van Heugten

Antoinette van Heugten, a former international trial lawyer, practiced worldwide for 15 years before writing her debut novel and USA Today bestseller . As the daughter of Dutch parents who fought in the resistance during World War II, van Heugten has long had a personal and academic interest in the history of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, which eventually inspired the plot of her newest thriller The Tulip Eaters (MIRA Books, November 2013).

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Antoinette!

  2. Steve Mathisen says

    What a long and tortured path to overnight success. From what I have read, this is pretty typical, though. I am glad that the creative process is still fun, otherwise the gauntlet to publication would be too much to bear. Thank you for telling your tale in such an amusing fashion, Antoinette. 🙂

  3. Thanks Antoinette (and K.M.) for the reality check of your journey. Typically the norm I am sure, there must be an easier or shorter route for a writer’s tortured soul (and book.) But nothing is free and most journeys are long, if a quality product is the desired final output.

    I am step one with a paid copy/content editor right now. Sure Mom read it and helped a lot (journalism major in college back in the day) but as I was repeatedly told by numerous author friends, get someone else to look at it objectively. (Yeah, Mom’s okay at tough love, but still…) I also have another author who has agreed to beta read for me…with the caveat that I am willing to accept honest critique. Ouch…she apparently knows something I don’t.

    And so it goes. Daylight at the end of the tunnel? Only if I’m brave enough to open my eyes and follow the tracks laid down by those who know which way the train travels.

  4. Okay, so I read this, in part losing the battle with this morning’s bout with procrastination. In reality, I’m supposed to be typing out two scenes I wrote last night for my NaNoWriMo ‘entry’. I’m not thrilled with them. At all.

    So, reading this article had kind of a dual effect on me. One, if this was the struggle to get a cleanly printed manuscript slaved over for years published, what shot have I, who has cobbled together a compilation of scenes waiting for a bolt of lightning to breath life into it (It’s alive! insert evil laugh here)

    The other thought was how the process sounded so similar to becoming a skilled craftsman in Japan. Whether baking bread or crafting a sword sharp enough to slice through a man… it usually takes 10 years. So, naturally, I want to rebel against such a notion. ‘Certainly,’ the thought goes, ‘there has to be a better way without having to turn to self-publishing or vanity press.’ Maybe, I’m still hoping for the same bolt of lightning, though in this case coming in the form of a cattle prod, to get the sluggish beast of industry to move a bit quicker!

    I mean, if America’s Test Kitchen can reduce the time it takes to make various recipes (some French ones taking days of prep work) down to mere hours… achieving the same flavor…

    It may be the only hope I have to keep me trudging through the process of strip mining tons of raw material, refining it through the multiple steps; hoping at the end the brick of gold will be pure enough.

    Thank you for your experience. Sobering. Challenging.

    I enjoy your writing style.

    Hi-ho-hi-ho…

    • Greg,
      Bravo!
      Pat yourself on the back – ten times!
      Writing a novel in a month is a fabulous thing to attempt and my hat’s off to you.
      It doesn’t matter if all of that strings together in 30 days – you’re doing it! And the lightning is in there somewhere. When you put it away for a few weeks and get back to real life, you’ll see it and off you’ll go again – promise!
      I have a dark sense of humor. Truly it has been a lot more fun than I make it sound. (It’s how the Dutch are:)
      Don’t give up, just have a great Friday night and get after it tomorrow!
      Best,
      Antoinette

      • Antoinette,

        Ooooh, Ilike you! 😉

        I’ll print out the encouragement and keep it handy!

        ‘Dark humor’, reminds me of the occasion, taking my nephew for an appointment in LA; eventually make my way to the carpool lane figuring to skirt by all the others caught in rush-hour traffic only to sit there behind every other person who had the same idea ahead of me… then, watch as a fully loaded cement truck, back wheels extended, makes better time in the slow lane!

        So, yeah, while it’s a bit discouraging, daunting, it’s a challenging road. K.M. mentioned that it’s a lot like jumping off a cliff and building wings on the way down. While the challenge of writing a novel in a month has given me a deep appreciation for what writers do on a daily basis, it’s also taught me how far back behind the curve I am, so not only am I reading the instructions for building the wings to fly in the first place, but titles like ”theories of flight’; ‘heavier than air travel’ and ‘Kite flying for Dummies’.

        So, it’s pretty comical viewing from that perspective. Assembling wing while in free-fall; figuring out how to fly it once assembled and then, hoping to have gathered enough momentum and airspeed to clear the looming mountain dead ahead! (And we’re talking Rockies, Alps, Himalayas by the sounds of things!)

        Meanwhile, I have this crazy thought, on the way down, maybe I should’ve tried combining base-jumping with Paragliding? Pull a string, deploy a chute, catch a thermal and catch some views of the peaks below! 😉 Promising, though, come to think of it, so was the carpool!

        Thanks again for the encouragement. Very much appreciated. It really has been an incredible learning experience, truly eye-opening.

        • You are so kind! And keep this in mind. Every time I start a new novel, I feel JUST like you do. It doesn’t get easier just because you’ve done it before! It is better, though, because you know you will come out on the other side with a completed novel. If you look at it that way, you’re only one step behind the curve! Happy writing…

          • Thank you! It’s so helpful to have you, someone who’s traveled the road, share your experience! It lets a first time traveler, like me, know what to expect. That the rough roads, construction, congestion and detours are the norm. And that, ‘yes, you really should have made that left turn at Albuquerque…’ 😉

  5. Thanks, Antoinette, for the terrific description of the publishing journey and your insightful and humorous observations! It took me six agents and 23 years to get my first publishing contract. Everything you said is so true. Fortunately, today writers have more choices, and self-publishing paves the way for a quicker path to publishing. Writers still need to write the best book they can, though, and be sure to have it professionally critiqued and edited. But a lot of this journey is hurry up and wait. But the wait is worth it. Thanks again!

    • You are my new hero! Six agents? I think I would have shot them all within a 2-year time frame, much less 23 years! I’m going to find your novel and read it.
      Persistence, perseverance – all those “p” words!
      Best,
      Antoinette

      • Thanks for the kind words. That was my eighth novel written, and I’ve since written fourteen (and two writing craft books). Still, all nine traditionally published novels were all contracted by moi, through pitching at conferences or entering contests. The others are all self-published, which is the only way I’ll publish now.

  6. K.M.–
    After going to a writer’s conference and getting help from a first-rate editor, who also got me a first-rate agent, I sold my first novel. That was in–no, I won’t tell you how long ago that was. Since then, it’s been downhill all the way. I lost the first agent, then got others who obviously thought my work had potential to make (them) money, but they failed to get me deals. So, now that I’m long in the tooth, I’ve come to think the indie route is the only road open to me. But it means I don’t have the advantage–if it is an advantage–of agent/editor feedback. I’m willing to pay someone to provide this, but how to choose someone is a problem. As you say, some say “great!” and some say “everything has to be changed.” Who’s right? It all seems a crap shoot.

  7. Well, I feel better. I knew it would not be easy and now those feelings have been validated. What fortifies me is my age. At 54, this writing career comes after 3 decades in health care. I’ve been rejected, criticized, humiliated, chastised and rebuked many a time. My skin is thick but my writing skills remain thin. The good news? All I have left is time so I might as well follow the advice of those who have travelled before me. Thank you Antoinette for sharing specific issues and solutions. Thank you K.M. for your total commitment in helping others write as best they can. How do you make the time ?!?!

    • Hi Donna,
      I think you and I have similar rhino hides. I got mine being a trial lawyer, getting yelled at by judges and clients. It certainly does serve one well during the manuscript submission/abject rejection process! Being older helps, too. Never thought I’d say that!

  8. On days when I feel so frustrated with this entire process, I’m always so grateful to read articles from other authors whose plans didn’t go their way, who had to retain their day job, who had to live life as well as be an author.

    Thanks so much for this. I really needed it!

  9. Question: Is 10 years the normal amount of time it takes to publish a book?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I don’t know that there is a normal time. It varies from author to author and book to book.

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