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…

4 RULES YOU CAN BREAK

  • 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.

6 RULES YOU MUST FOLLOW

  • 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?

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3 Biggest Relationship Writing Mistakes

LJIZlzHgQ7WPSh5KVTCB_TypewriterMost fiction has a romance of some sort. Historical, literary, suspense–most plots, even if they’re not a romance novel, have a romantic subplot at the minimum. And actually, most of this advice can be used for all sort of relationships between characters (mother/daughter, best friends, lovers).

The interaction between your characters is what brings a book to life. No novel is written without dialogue, secrets, plot and emotions that cross between the characters in your novels. So how does this all come to life and become real for the reader?

3 BIGGEST RELATIONSHIP WRITING MISTAKES:

1. Coincidence. It’s not that easy.

There is nothing more transparent than characters who come together serendipitously. It’s easy for a writer to have characters bump into each other on the street. What’s hard is to plot interaction naturally for each character’s own motivations and goals separate from their relationship to each other. Comb your writing for things that seem too easy; chances are, the reader can see right through it.

2. Can they just get in a room together?

The opposite of coincidence is a similar problem. If your relationship issue could be solved by two people simply being in the same room and talking it out–it’s not plotted deeply enough. The characters have to be up against something external and bigger than themselves. If they themselves are the limitation to their happiness or coupling then the reader will get frustrated very easily.

3. Technology. The curse of modern relationship writing. 

I know writers, this one isn’t easy. But, setting your novel in the 90s isn’t the answer either! (The reason for writing a historical novel has to be more than just avoiding the cell phone or internet.) Even having a characters’ cell phone drained of battery is hard because of the modern conveniences of car charges and backup chargers. No reader will believe this unless it’s a character quirk and even then we’re all frustrated by our own friends who don’t travel with a fully charged phone! Plus, there is wifi everywhere we go, so of course in a modern novel there will be the same amenities for your character. Therefore, you can’t make your plot too simple or else we’re back at Problem 2 (i.e. why can’t they just talk?). If you have to keep them away with a forgotten cell phone or dead battery then the see above (i.e. external conflict!).

Q: Which one of these is the hardest for you?

Things I Wish I Knew: 5 Things To Know When Writing Diverse Characters by Dahlia Adler

You might know Dahlia Adler as an author, a blogger, a Twitter enthusiast (follow her)–or all three! But I know her as an intelligent advocate of marginalized voices and talented writer of diverse stories. She’s our next expert in the “Things I Wish I Knew” series.

Writing diverse characters is a life skill for a writer. It starts with the complex question: how does any writer write about things that they haven’t lived? Writing a diverse cast of characters has always been important, but with the (much needed) push of the We Need Diverse Books campaign among other things I want it to be clear that diversity is not a trend. Diversity reflects the way we live our lives in the real world–we’re all different and everyone deserves to have themselves reflected in what they read.

For advice on writing a diverse cast, please hear from the one and only Dahlia Adler…

5 Things To Know When Writing Diverse Characters

1. Diversity is not a monolith. We hear that phrase a lot, but what does it mean, practically, when writing a character? It means throwing out your preconceived notions of “A character being Black/Latina/gay/blind/Muslim/Jewish etc. means This.” The one thing being marginalized means across the board is that the characters have likely faced microaggressions in their lives, and been made conscious of ways in which they are different from the most privileged. It does not mean they’re resentful, it does not mean they view the ways in which they are marginalized as a shortcoming or something they do not celebrate.

2. Listen and watch how people within a community talk to each other, without your participation. Consume media by that community for that community. That’s where your authenticity is gonna come from more than anywhere else. You can ask someone a million questions about their identity but those things that most strongly resonate are also probably so strongly ingrained, they’d never think to tell you. As an example of this, I always remember seeing an Asian woman on Twitter (I’m sorry, I wish I could remember who!) reacting to the way Jessica on Fresh Off the Boat cut fruit in the pilot episode. It was such a bone-deep familiar thing, but I don’t think it’s the kind of detail you’d ever think to express to someone who asked; you just see it and you know – this was written by someone who Knows who I am.

3. As important as “What must be in the depiction of a marginalized character in order to write it” is “What must not be.” When doing your research, see what those people are sick of seeing, are inaccuracies, are lazy stereotypes, are stories that have been done to death in one way or another. For instance, as a Jewish person, I am very, very tired of the Holocaust being the setting for all of our stories. Yes, it hugely impacted my life. But A) we are people beyond it, and B) it perpetuates a very monolithic idea of Jewish identity as being of Eastern-European origin, when in fact there are huge, important, thriving Jewish communities of North African, Middle-Eastern, Spanish, and other origins. Is it offensive to set a book during the Holocaust? No. But is it perpetuating things about our culture and its place in media many of us would like to stop seeing perpetuated? Yes, and that should be relevant to you if you are using our culture for your story.

4. Don’t throw one community under the bus for another. I see this a lot in queer literature, where there’s a bisexual secondary character who’s some “slutty” foil to lesbians, for example. Don’t do this. If your character creation is reliant on other people looking bad so your character looks good, you are unquestionably writing a weak character.

5. There will never be a unanimous agreement among the writing community about who is permitted to write what, so think long and hard about your values in that conversation, and also the people it most deeply affects. If you’re writing outside your lane, deeply consider what already exists by creators of that group and how you can support them as well. Deeply consider why you have chosen this perspective, and why yours is a necessary voice on it. And most of all, really deeply consider your readers and the importance to them of you doing your research and how you present them. The kids seeing themselves in your books. The kids who may be doing so for the very first time. And let them guide you most of all.

More About Dahlia:

I’m an Associate Editor of mathematics by day, a Copy Editor by night, and I do a whole lot of writing at every spare moment in between. I’ve also been a Production Intern and Editorial Assistant at Simon & Schuster, a Publicity Intern at HarperCollins, and a Fashion Intern at Maxim. (I’m kind of into that whole publishing thing.)

I’m the author of the YA novels Behind the Scenes, Under the Lights, and Just Visiting, and the NA novels Last Will and TestamentRight of First Refusal (March 15, 2016), and Out on Good Behavior (Spring 2016). For information on those books and where you can buy them, check out My Books!

I live in New York City with my husband and our overstuffed bookshelves, and you can find me on Twitter at @MissDahlELama and blogging at B&N Teens, The Daily Dahlia, and YA Misfits.

Things I Wish I Knew: About Writing a Cookbook with Allison Day

Whole Bowls 9781634508551Today’s “Things I Wish I Knew” post is from cookbook author and award winning blogger Allison Day.

Allison Day is the cookbook author of Whole Bowls (Skyhorse, April 2016) and Purely Pumpkin (Skyhorse, Fall 2016), the voice and lens behind Yummy Beet, as well as a food photographer and nutritionist. Allison won gold in the 2015 Taste Canada Food Writing Awards, the highest honour for culinary writing in the country, in their inaugural blog category. Her work has appeared in the New York TimesFood Network CanadaThe Irish TimesPreventionalive, The KitchnEpicurious, the James Beard Foundation, on CityLine and more. She cooks, writes and snaps photos for Hamilton Magazine’s Good Taste column, too.

Today, Allison tells us in her own words 5 Things She Wish She Knew…About Publishing A Cookbook:

  1. Accept outside input: Taking control of every aspect of cookbook writing, from recipe research and development to testing to writing to photographing, became too much. I began to experience a bit of cabin fever over the many months of working on Whole Bowls! Writing a book, regardless of genre, can often benefit from outside input. For my second cookbook Purely Pumpkin I’ve reached out to friends for their ideas on the recipe set, even getting some assistance on the food styling front. It’s made for a much more balanced, fun job (and has helped me retain both my sanity and a social life!).
  1. Keep it quick: Writing the book over a longer period of time caused big changes in my writing, recipe and photography style. I’ve found doing a project in a more condensed time period, when I’m given far less time to second guess myself, produces a more consistent outcome.
  1. If you have a problem, ask your literary agent for help immediately: Don’t suffer in silence! If I wasn’t happy with something regarding my publisher, there are several instances I should have reached out to my literary agent (Carly) for assistance earlier. Now if there’s an issue, I tell her right away. Working through a problem with the author, publisher/editor and agent is much more efficient.
  1. Set boundaries: Because I work from home, it’s hard to separate work life and regular life, as they generally overlap when “you” are your business. I used to set unnecessary standards for getting work done, working later into the evening than I should. Today, I’m much more efficient if I stop all work by 6 or 7 pm, make dinner and unwind with a friend, walk or good tv show. I’ve also discontinued working on Saturdays when I can help it, which helps refresh my ideas for the week ahead and keeps me happy.
  1. Embrace change: Writing is dynamic. Every piece of work you do is a little snapshot of who you were at that specific moment in time. Inevitably (and thankfully!), you’ll grow as a writer, changing your style with each new project. Looking back at Whole Bowls, I can see things I’d love to change (recipes, photos, words, etc.), but I’m so proud of the book in its entirety. I don’t sit and stew over minor details anymore – it’s the big picture that matters. When you get the book in your hands, regardless of what it contains, it’s an incredible accomplishment that neither you nor anyone else should diminish. Accepting that my work will change over my career is no longer nerve-wracking to me, but exciting. And the more comfortable I become in my food, photography and writing style, the more enthusiastic the response from my blog (Yummy Beet) and cookbook audience.

Check out her books! Whole Bowls is in store tomorrow and Purely Pumpkin is available this fall.