Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Stereotype, Paranoia, or Fact?

By Karen Albright Lin

Certain age-old assumptions about publishing persist and some are being born as publishing evolves at a breakneck speed. Three come to mind right off.

Agents look for reasons to turn down my book. This isn’t entirely paranoia; time forces them to analyze quickly. The mean, judgmental, nose-in-the-air agent stereotype is unfair, though.  Sure, an agent will set aside anything that doesn’t capture her right off, grunt over a book that starts out with craft issues, or determine within five pages that he’s seen too much of your topic and knows the market doesn’t want anymore. But agents are in the business of finding the cream that rises to the top. They only judge quickly whether to read beyond the first few pages because they have little time and lots of skill in picking up on weaknesses. If your book is what the market wants, an agent will have no reason to turn your sample pages away. 

If I tell someone about my book, someone will steal my idea. In theory your step-by-step plot could be “stolen” and used. But ideas are a dime a dozen. Stories only rehash those told since caveman days. You probably have a new slant (Underworld and West Side Story are Romeo and Juliet), but it is the execution, the fresh angle and, most importantly, your voice that makes it your book. There are very rare cases, mostly in Hollywood, in which wholesale theft has been proven in court. Luckily you can prepare for the longshot possibility by protecting yourself:  copyright your work; WGA register your script. Also, be sure you have a finished product to offer up before you pitch. It’s easier for a producer/director to buy your script and have it rewritten by someone more seasoned than to face a lawsuit later after swiping your plot. If you don’t show someone your work, you can be sure it will not be traditionally bought.

There’s no reason to go with a traditional publisher now that self-publishing is so easy. It’s easier than ever to put your work out there, for sure. You skip the frustrating filter process; you have more control over things like your cover; you get significantly higher percentages of the sale price. But there are benefits, still, of publishing traditionally. First, the difficult-to-entice agents are gatekeepers who let you through the door if there is a likelihood your product will have an eager audience. They often help develop and improve your book before taking it out there. They advocate and negotiate terms favoring you, audit publishing houses to be sure you are getting what you have coming, and act as middle men between you and your editor when there is a disagreement. Your acquiring editor is a champion for your book and another layer of editing, and possibly the one who gets you a decent advance. Publicity finds ways to get your book exposure. Legal is careful about what you might say that could get you in trouble.  Distributors get your book into the brick and mortar bookstores that are still out there. The most prestigious reviewers don’t typically review self-published books. Whether it is fair or not, there is still an assumption that a traditionally published book is less likely to be thrown up there prematurely.  
Now, as always, it’s a good idea to check our expectations, those stubborn self-imposed rulebooks. Trust in our work, trust in ourselves, and trust that the industry isn’t out to get us. Agents really do look for great authors to represent. Rarely does anybody ask about our stories with the intention of running away with our ideas. And great self-published books have gotten picked up by traditional publishers, and traditionally published authors with a fan base have successfully turned to self-publishing or hybrid publishing. In the end, it’s all about the writing. It’s all about the writing.  

About the Writer: Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at

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