10 Myths Most People Believe About Writing and Publishing

Updated on May 23, 2020
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I am a published author who writes fantasy, sci-fi, and romance novels.

I've had many people tell me they are aspiring authors. They have this daydream in their heads of what they want to write about in a book, but they never have time to actually write it down. Some of them are convinced if they did, they would instantly become New York Times bestselling authors.

A lot of them don't realize how hard it is to write for a living or how much time it takes out of authors' lives. They romanticize writing in their head, thinking it is no work at all, even though they never have the self-discipline to actually do it. If it were easy, no self-discipline would be needed.

I am a published author and I am here to tell you about some myths many people who have never written a novel before believe about writing and publishing books.

There's a lot of misinformation out there, so this guide is designed to set the record straight about what it's really like to be a published author.
There's a lot of misinformation out there, so this guide is designed to set the record straight about what it's really like to be a published author.

Myth 1: The Business of Writing and Publishing Is All About Words and Not About Numbers

That's what books are, right? A large collection of words, so it would make sense to say that writing is all about words all the time. A large part of it is, yes, especially before you publish your first novel. Although there are still things like word and page count to take into consideration.

Then a large part of it becomes about numbers because marketing is all about math. In order for you to sell a lot of books, you must be good at this math and observant of these numbers.

There are your ranking numbers, how many hits you are getting on your websites. There are social media posts numbers. How many likes do you get? How many clicks? You have to think about how many books you might sell and how many you need to sell to get high rankings in certain places. You need to figure out how much money you should spend on advertising to sell that many books and how much that will take out of your income. You need to know if you'll wind up in the red or black. If you do wind up in the black, will it be now or far in the future?

There are taxes to consider. Percentages. What percentage do I get of the profits if I sign this contract? What percentage is the sell-through of my books? What percentage should I put back into my books?

Don't even get started on the concept of diminishing returns.

The numbers go on and on. This is barely a sample of the numbers I have to deal with every day.

I signed up to be an author and in return, I've received a lot of math. This is not what anyone expects.

Writing Isn't Always as Profitable as It Might Seem

Even authors that sell thousands of books may not be able to fully support themselves solely off the selling of their writings. And that's not even accounting for all the expenses related to the cost of editors, cover artists, and advertisements that detract from whatever profits you might've accumulated.

Myth 2: New York Times Bestselling Authors Are All Millionaires

Songs sell in the millions. Books often sell in the thousands. People can be New York Times bestsellers and barely be making a living at all. Even when you publish on your own, it can be hard to make a living, but some people who sign contracts with publishing companies barely get paid for each sale.

Most authors, even New York Times bestselling ones agree that you have to publish multiple books a year to have any chance of making a living. There are exceptions, but most of the authors are struggling.

Not only do we get paid very little, but the cost of editors, cover artists, advertisements, and more can add up to thousands of dollars a month, so even if we do make a lot of money, it disappears quickly.

This is not to say making a living as an author is impossible. I know a lot of authors who survive off of their books, but it's hard to do this, unfortunately, than it is to become a New York Times bestselling author. Although in the past year, the New York Times has made it more difficult to qualify for their list. So this might not be as true as it was in the past.

Myth 3: The Hard Part Of Writing Is Coming Up With an Idea

People think this because they believe everything they see in movies. They think books are a journey where an author must find themselves and then once they do, an idea for a book will come to them. After that point, the book basically writes itself.

The truth is the exact opposite of this.

All authors have a million story ideas. Our imaginations run wild, so we generally come up with ideas faster than we can write them. On HubPages alone, I currently have three times as many drafts of articles saved as I have articles published. I can't keep up with writing all the ideas that come to me.

The hard part is the execution of an idea. It's fun to daydream, to imagine all the things you could write. The difficult part is making that idea come to life. It's also the most important part. The idea for a book is less important than the execution of the idea. You can have the best idea in the world and it falls flat if you don't know how to execute the story right. You can also take a terrible idea, sometimes, and write something amazing if you are inspired and talented enough.

Executing an idea means spending hours upon hours writing, rewriting, receiving critiques and edits for a story. If all authors took year-long sabbaticals, trying to find inspirations for their next book idea, we would never get anything done.

Myth 4: All You Have to Do Is Finish That One Great Book

This trips up people who are writing just as much as it trips up people who have never written before. They think all you have to do is write that one perfect book and then, as long as it's good enough, you'll be a millionaire and everyone will love it.

This belief hurts authors more than it hurts anyone else because they'll spend long periods of time, writing and rewriting the same story because they are perfectionists and never getting anything done. While other authors churn out books and make more money than them.

Very few authors make a living off of writing one book. Even classical authors usually have several works under their belt. So while it's best to write as good as you can, you need to know when to move on from a story.

Because you can only improve a book so much before you have to change the whole thing and rewrite it from scratch. Early edits will be big changes, but later edits get smaller and smaller and smaller. Each time you edit it has a diminishing return. After a while, all you're doing is just reading the same story to yourself over and over again while you contemplate a comma every once in a while. Authors sometimes treat those commas as if they are the difference between life and death.

This doesn't mean your first book will be perfect, but you need to move on from your first book. Authors must grow. Sometimes you can't learn anymore until you start something new.

I used to do this a lot in my quest to make the perfect book and I wasted a lot of time that I could have used to write new things. But I'm learning, one book at a time.

Myth 5: Authors Don't Work as Many Hours as Other People Do

For some silly reason, some people who aspire to be authors or some people who have written only a couple of paragraphs one time for a novel, think authors don't actually work. Because they daydream or tried for an hour to write a novel one time for fun, they think everything an author does is fun all the time.

Anyone who's ever made a serious attempt to complete a novel knows none of that is true. It's no different than the reality of daydreaming about becoming a lawyer versus actually making it through law school. Or fantasizing about being a doctor versus performing your first surgery.

It's a lot more work than you ever imagined it would be to actually do the job. Daydreaming may be fun, but the reality of it is hard. Most people who actually finish a novel say it's one of the hardest things they've ever had to do. Many people take over a decade to complete their very first novel because the task is that overwhelming for them.

There's a lot to learn, a lot of skills to grow, a lot of discipline to have, and the reality is most authors are workaholics. Between writing, marketing, and the demand to always create more, we struggle to have any time left for ourselves or our family. For many people, writing is so stressful that they finding dieting and meeting a deadline two things that are impossible to achieve at the same time. Because many of us do things like stress eat or drink just to get through the long hours and pressure to complete another book.

Today, for instance, I've worked almost twelve hours so far with very few breaks for things like eating. I have a lot to get done and almost no time to complete it.

Just Like Anything Else Worth Doing, Writing Is a Lot of Work

Just because you're not doing manual labor outside, doesn't mean that writing isn't a seemingly endless amount of work. There's a lot to learn, a lot of skills to grow, a lot of discipline to have, and the reality is most authors are workaholics.

Myth 6: Self-Publishing Is Unprofitable

It depends on the author and if they know how to sell books well or have an already established audience. I've talked to a lot of authors who are actually leaving traditional publishing, which relies much more heavily these days on authors to find their own audience and advertise their own books, but takes a large chunk of their earnings then self-publishing does. Some of them are able to leave their publishing houses and make more money than if they stayed.

How much money someone makes in self-publishing varies from person to person.

Myth 7: It's Okay to Pirate Books Because Writers Have a Secure Job and Won't Miss the Money

Trying to make a living as an author is an incredibly volatile job. Books aren't valued in the modern world the way they used to be, so we make less money and sell fewer books than other people in other entertainment fields like movies and music make. And if we don't make enough money, investors and publishing companies can drop us quickly, sometimes preventing new books in a series you love from ever being published because sales weren't high enough.

Don't believe me? Ask award-winning author, Maggie Stiefvater, who writes popular YA books.

Her publishing company kept telling her that print book sales were down and that they might have to drop her and her series, but she suspected that in reality, they were only down due to pirating. She wound up uploading incomplete copies of her newest book to all the pirating sites, telling them to buy the real copy if they wanted to read the whole thing. She flooded the sites with so many fake copies that people struggled to find legitimate copies of her fool book anywhere. She writes...

"The effects were instant. The forums and sites exploded with bewildered activity. Fans asked if anyone had managed to find a link to a legit pdf. Dozens of posts appeared saying that since they hadn’t been able to find a pdf, they’d been forced to hit up Amazon and buy the book.

And we sold out of the first printing in two days.

Two days."

Her publishing company was overwhelmed and unprepared for her success, when previously they'd been ready to cancel her series.

Pirating does affect us. It has the power to make us lose our paychecks and destroy our entire careers. So support an author if you want them to continue to write.

Though pirating books might seem harmless, doing so can be directly limiting an author's ability to support themselves through their writing.
Though pirating books might seem harmless, doing so can be directly limiting an author's ability to support themselves through their writing.

Myth 8: All You Have to Do Is Write a Book, as a Good Book Sells Itself

In reality, writing the book is just the beginning. If you decide to publish your book traditionally, then it means convincing agents, editors, and publishing companies that your book is worth their time. Once it's published, you then have to convince advertisers to take your money (you'd be surprised, but many of them have strict rules for who they will and won't accept) and customers to buy your books.

If you don't, you disappear and probably never write a second book. Authors are forgotten all the time.

Some people get lucky and a book becomes popular for a while with no effort on their part, but once something happens, like another book takes its place in popularity or their publishing company goes out of business (these things happen all the time), then they can't repeat their luck and they disappear as an author.

Good books don't sell themselves. They take a lot of work and knowledge to sell, even when they're fantastic.

Myth 9: If I'm Super Talented and Write an Amazing Book, Publishing Companies Will Fight Over Me

Publishing companies actually care very little about how well-written a book is. If you don't agree, then please explain to me why Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and Snookie all have major book deals with large publishing companies and editorial reviews to go with these books.

Is it because they spent their lives fine-tuning the craft of writing and studying the dictionary? Is it because they are wordsmiths, well-known for their gifted speeches? Is it because of their vast intelligence or their talent at piecing a narrative together?

No. It's because all three of them had huge fan bases and slapping their names on sometimes guaranteed, at the time, that they would sell a lot of books.

Honestly, you can write the greatest book ever written and it won't be published unless publishing companies feel like it would sell well. All they care about is trends. Many authors receive rejection letters that say, "Great book, but it's not marketable."

It's actually more important to publishing companies that you know how to sell a book than it is knowing how to write one.

This doesn't mean writers can get away with writing poorly written books most of the time. If we aren't celebrities, then we have to work extra hard to convince publishing companies that we are worth gambling on. That means writing a good book, but also convincing them that our good book will sell well.

Sometimes Writing a Good Book Just Isn't Enough

Good books don't sell themselves. They take a lot of work and knowledge to sell, even when they're fantastic. And when it comes to publishers, they're more interested in whether or not you know how to sell a book than if you can write a great one.

Myth 10: The Only True Writers Are the Ones Who Publish Books for Passion Instead of Money

People who pirate books love to spread this myth. If authors get upset at readers stealing from them, they say we are unjustified because books are a type of art. Art isn't truly beautiful supposedly, unless you do it with no expectation of compensation.

Not only do pirates spread this myth, but certain news outlets and websites will claim the same. They don't want to pay authors, claiming that their work will be more pure if they do it just for the passion and nothing else.

Even authors are too intimidated to admit that sometimes they write certain things for money, thinking it will taint readers' views of them and influence the reviews. It also makes us feel bad inside, like the passion we feel for our writing is less legitimate if we accept money.

Authors want to be taken seriously and even if we write a book to make money, it's still our baby. We love it, we nurture it. we make it grow. It's actually quite illogical for people to claim that if we want compensation for our writing that means we have no true passion for our work.

Because we can write without sharing our work. We don't have to publish it. In fact, many of us kept our stories secret for years before we felt comfortable even allowing critique partners or friends to look it over.

We can still write without sharing. And if it was only about passion that's all we'd do. The people who share, who publish things, are always only doing it for the money. Sharing, on its own, has no other benefits. Most of us don't receive much praise and even if we do, publishing opens us up to lots of criticisms, over social media and in one star reviews. Sometimes publishing leads to us receiving death threats, being stalked, harassed, and bullied online.

The only reason we have to share is money. I know a lot of writers who were previously published, but weren't compensated and decided all the hate they received made publishing not worth it. They still write, but they don't share their writing with anyone anymore.

Writing is hard work. It takes a lot of time out of our lives (especially if we publish multiple things a year.) A lot of money and mental capacity goes into publishing our books. If we received no compensation for it, none of us would ever think it's worth it.

So no, nobody publishes books for the passion. And even though we publish for money, that doesn't mean we don't have a lot of passion for our writing.

People use this excuse because they don't want to feel bad for ripping authors off.

Have you ever written a book?

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


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      2 years ago

      Great realistic article.

      Not that I know, since I only started writing poetry and articles when I joined hubpages in 2016. However most of the myths you mentioned here I have come to realize in either a long or short manner. There is no money in it and no real pleasure if no one else enjoys reading what you wrote. There is no real point unless you just enjoy the creating process. Taking an idea and putting it into a tangible form.

      Thankyou for the wake up call!


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