4 Publishing Industry “Rules” You Can Break (and 6 You MUST follow!)

In publishing rules are just guidelines. We give you these guidelines to help you (believe it or not). We’re not trying to make your life harder; we are trying to show you how to succeed. These guidelines are what you should generally follow, but there are times you can break the rules.

A great skill for a writer to have is to know which you can bend and adapt, and which needs must be met. Read on…


  • Anything that is contradicted by multiple people at top levels – Have your go-to sources (Writer’s Digest, ME!, KidLit411, Debutante Ball, Writers in the Storm, Pub Crawl Blog, Query Shark, Jane Friedman, Girl Friday Productions, Susan Spann etc) and trust those who have years of industry experience at the top levels–we all agree on the important things. However, there will be things we don’t agree on. Therefore, trust your own gut sometimes or go with 1 trusted source (aka if you are querying a certain agent go with their guidelines, not some XYZ site that’s right 60% of the time). The most important thing is that you’re clear and concise–so if you bend the rules make sure you’re making yourself more clear, not adding complications.
  • “One Size Fits All” social media advice – If anyone is telling you there is one single way to build an author platform or brand they’re wrong. Recognizing and growing your brand will always be authentic to you. Just be yourself online, and be consistent about it. Emulate the frequency or interaction of others that you admire online, but develop your own voice. (More on platform/branding below.)
  • MFAs are the only route to getting published – You don’t need one. If you have one that’s great! But no one needs one to get published. Some people like the structure and built-in critique system. But you can recreate that outside of a school program by reading a lot and with writing groups and critique partners.
  • Marketing and publicity that began in the ice age of publishing – We are working in a very different world. The good thing about where we are right now is that writers can take chances on things! Cover reveals, price point drops, merchandise that is unique to your book. Be agile! Be forward thinking! You have full permission to question all marketing and publicity advice–but, here’s the kicker, you have to try everything and you have to throw yourself into it. You don’t get to complain that publishing is a different world and do nothing. You get to say “hey, things are different and discoverability has changed–so what am I doing as a writer to find my readership?” Finding your audience is up to YOU, not your publisher but they will help. Relying on what a publisher has done in the past shouldn’t be good enough for you, you can’t assume anything. You need a fresh plan for your book and a team that understands what your unique goals are. Everyone wants to sell books, your team will be on board for that, but it’s the ways we’re doing it that have changed.

If you understand why the rules are there, sometimes it’s okay to bend them to make a point. But you must know why the rule is there in the first place. It’s like satire. If you’re going to satirize something you have to know 1) what it is you’re playing with 2) what satire is.


  • Spelling and grammar – This should be easy enough in the manuscript, but sometimes writers like to get cute with puns in titles. (Please avoid! Puns in titles makes everyone question themselves and sales/booksellers think there is a typo.)
  • General length guidelines – Your adult manuscript should be between 70-90k words; if you can’t follow these rules then there’s something wrong with the structure of your book. Reasons it might be longer than 90: SF/F. However, even debut SF/F should try to be 90k because it gets really expensive to print (therefore the cost of the book goes up) and translate long works (you won’t get foreign rights deals) which makes it an uphill battle for debut authors starting a career.
  • Yes, you must get on social media – There are no excuses for a contemporary writer not to be on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr. Join the conversation! Learn more about the industry and your market. Unsure about social media? Read my post about building an online community and this one about recognizing your brand.
  • Communicate with your team – Rebelling against the establishment isn’t going to get your book published well. A great book might get published, but an author that’s willing to go above and beyond to promote themselves and work with their team will be a shining star. Rebelling against what your agent, editor or publicist needs from you will stop them from wanting to help you. Be a willing partner. Tell us what you’re up to and let’s work as a team.
  • If you’re writing non-fiction platform is a MUST MUST MUST – There is absolutely no way to get non-fiction published in a big way without a platform. Agents don’t look at non fiction unless it comes with a sizeable audience and a demonstrable expert. (Hint: Here’s what we want in a platform. And here are my important platform secrets that you should know from reading my blog.) Fiction authors: platform isn’t a requirement, but understanding that you’ll need to grow one eventually is helpful at early stages.
  • Submission guidelines – there is no way you’re going to get an agent’s attention by ignoring or modifying their guidelines to suit you better or try to stand out. The ones that stand out are the ones that follow the guidelines and do it well!

Yes, these rules are there for a reason…to help you get published!

Q: What other “rules” are you still confused about?

Did you know you’re already an author brand?

Are you an author brand?

The minute you publish to Twitter, write your first blog post, or call yourself a writer on Facebook–you’ve started to establish your author brand. As soon as you layer your online identity with posts, pictures and anecdotes they craft a persona in the minds of readers and visitors that you can never fully shake. Your brand should be fluid across your social media sites, website and author bio showing your writing style, genre choice, and personal flair. However, the most difficult thing in marketing is not building a brand (though it’s a close second) but changing people’s opinions about a brand identity that they already know. And repositioning a brand can only come from a place of authenticity.

So how is brand positioning important to writers?

Once you’ve finished your manuscript and decided what your brand is–i.e. what makes you unique–you start to think about how your author brand would position itself with a partner: an agent. This agent already has a brand–the type of authors they represent, their representation style, their reputation with the deals they’ve done–and your best chance at success is pairing yourself with an agent whose brand umbrella you fit under.

Just like a publisher has a brand and their imprints fit snuggly, but uniquely, within it, agents manage their authors based on the brand of their agency and what fits within the areas of what they represent. An agent only takes authors on that they a) want to work with for a career and b) think they can sell, two things that are defined by their existing brand and for which information is available. Continue reading Did you know you’re already an author brand?

How Writers Build Successful Online Communities

A recurring conversation I have with editors and clients is about the importance of building online communities that engage with fellow writers and readers. I bring this up again and again because writers in the earliest stages of their querying and publication process need to know how to navigate this unchartered territory.

Here are 12 reasons why you need to be captain of your digital ship in a big way:
Manage your own brand

First impressions make the difference between someone clicking the ‘buy’ button and someone navigating away from your site. Websites and blogs need to be: cleanly designed; clearly communicate your name, book, the hook, and sales links; have an up to date author photo; link to social media platforms; and be updated frequently. Do not make the mistake of putting something up just to save your domain name. Make it count. Get a fantastic graphic or website designer and never let them go. Be objective: is this an author site you would buy a book from and/or be inclined to find out more?

Increase discoverability of your work (and thus sales)

With smooth linking between Facebook, Twitter and your website/blog you can seamlessly guide readers from one experience to the other and lead them to buy your book. Clunky navigation and unclear purpose leave visitors confused. Some visitors may overlap between your platforms, but some visitors might be unique to each platform. What information do they each need to know? How will each type of visitor be able to find your book? These are the answers:

  1. Good hook
  2. Great cover photo (when it’s available)
  3. Links to e-commerce sites
  4. Links between your platforms to increase engagement
Meaningful relationships

Unique visitors is one way of measuring online success, however editors and marketers are increasingly interested in the community you’ve build in recurring and engaging visitors. How do you keep your readers coming back? Consistent and frequent posting? Are you known for your writing tips? Find out what is making your visitors come back and grow in that space. In time they’ll feel like they’ve grown with you and this leads to communities that promote via word of mouth and feel like they are championing one of their own.

Fan loyalty

Once you’ve secured your visitors and build that community how to you keep them loyal?

  1. Exclusive content
  2. Cover reveals
  3. Pushing information out yourself rather than have your publisher feed the information to you

Again, this makes readers feel like they are on the inside instead of the outside. Everyone wants to be the first to discover a cool new band, right? Think of how new readers are going to discover and promote you in an indie way.

Virtuous circles of engagement

When you learn to engage your fans, deliver what they want, make them feel included and cross promote in the community this brings in new fans. Reward them with exclusivity, bonus content, and contests.

Understand opportunities

Social media is not for broadcasting, it’s about individuals interacting around content that is meaningful to them.  Never forget that. That should be the biggest take away from this post. Take the opportunities to do guest posts and be open to new platforms because you’ll never know which will take off and which will lead to new opportunities and connections.

Continue reading How Writers Build Successful Online Communities