24 Things No One Tells You About Book Publishing

Ten years ago, my first novel Prep came out. Three novels later, here’s what I’ve learned about the publishing industry and writing since then.

1. When it comes to fellow writers, don’t buy into the narcissism of small differences. In all their neurotic, competitive, smart, funny glory, other writers are your friends.

2. Unless you’re Stephen King, or you’re standing inside your own publishing house, assume that nobody you meet has ever heard of you or your books. If they have, you can be pleasantly surprised.

3. At a reading, 25 audience members and 20 chairs is better than 200 audience members and 600 chairs.

4. There are very different ways people can ask a published writer for the same favor. Polite, succinct, and preemptively letting you off the hook is most effective.

5. Blurbs achieve almost nothing, everyone in publishing knows it, and everyone in publishing hates them.

6. But a really good blurb from the right person can, occasionally, make a book take off.

7. When your book is on best-seller lists, people find you more amusing and respond to your emails faster.

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8. When your book isn’t on best-seller lists, your life is calmer and you have more time to write.

9. The older you are when your first book is published, the less gratuitous resentment will be directed at you.

10. The goal is not to be a media darling; the goal is to have a career.

11. The farther you live from New York, the less preoccupied you’ll be with literary gossip. Like cayenne pepper, literary gossip is tastiest in small doses.

12. Contrary to stereotype, most book publicists aren’t fast-talking, vapid manipulators; they’re usually warm, organized youngish women (yes, they are almost all women) who love to read.

13. Female writers are asked more frequently about all of the following topics than male writers: whether their work is autobiographical; whether their characters are likable; whether their unlikable characters are unlikable on purpose or the writer didn’t realize what she was doing; how they manage to write after having children.

14. If you tell readers a book is autobiographical, they will try to find ways it isn’t. If you tell them it’s not autobiographical, they will try to find ways it is.

15. It’s not your responsibility to convince people who don’t like your books that they should. Taste is subjective, and you’re not running for elected office.

16. By not being active on social media, you’re probably shooting yourself in the foot. That said, faking fluency with or interest in forms of social media that don’t do it for you is much harder than making up dialogue for imaginary characters.

17. If someone asks what you do and you don’t feel like getting into it, insert the word freelance before the word writer, and they will inquire about nothing more.

18. If you read a truly great new book and feel more excited than jealous, congratulations, you’re a writer.

19. Fiercely, fiercely, fiercely protect your writing time.

20. It’s OK to let your book be published if you can see its flaws but don’t know how to fix them. Don’t let your book be published if it still contains flaws that are fixable, even if fixing them is a lot of work.

21. Talking about how brutally difficult it is to write books is unseemly. Unless you’re the kind of writer who’s been imprisoned by the dictatorship where you live and is being advocated for by PEN American Center, give it a rest.

22. Books bring information, provocation, entertainment, and comfort to many people. You’re lucky to be part of that.

 

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23. Sometimes good books sell well; sometimes good books sell poorly; sometimes bad books sell well; sometimes bad books sell poorly. A lot about publishing is unfair and inscrutable. But…

24. …you don’t need anyone else’s approval or permission to enjoy the magic of writing — of sitting by yourself, figuring out which words should go together to express whatever it is you’re trying to say.

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Curtis Sittenfeld’s fifth novel, Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice was published in April.

To learn more about Eligible, click here.

Random House

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