Follow the Rules or Don’t Follow the Rules

In my quest for publication, I read books about writing, books about how to get published, books about staying out of the slush pile. I also read articles by agents and editors explaining what they are looking for. Although I have not yet reached my goal of getting published, my advice is good. It is based on a distillation of these books and articles combined with my experiences with agents and editors and writing.

One thing I have learned is that there are four groups of writers: the successful ones who make big money for their publishers. These authors can write however they wish. Their books sell millions of copies, but that does not mean they write well (though once they did write well enough to get published). Novice writers would be wise not to base their conception of good writing on these works.

The second group of writers is also published, whether by traditional publishers, POD publishers, and e-publishers — anyone who requires a submissions process. (There is a bit of gray area here that I don’t want to get into, but the point is still the same.) Some of these writers may achieve a modicum of success, some may never be able to quit their day jobs. Each succeeding book they write is open to review by publishers, and there is no guarantee they will continue to be published. These authors have a little bit of leeway when it comes to writing. They can break the rules, but only if they write well enough to make it work.

The third group of writers is the self-published. They can write however they wish, break whatever rules they wish. As long as they can sell a few books, most are content, but very few self-published writers ever make much money.

Then there are all the rest of us. We are the ones who need to follow the rules. Sure we can write however we wish, but if we wish to get published, we would do well to use those rules as a guideline for editing our work. As long as we are trying to get published, we need to attract a single reader: an agent or editor. That is who our target is, not our ideal reader. Our ideal reader may love the story, but until we hit the target, they will never see the published book.

I lied: there is a fifth group — those who are so talented or so lucky that they will attract an agent or an editor no matter what rules they break. Since I am not in this group, I have to try to follow the rules.

Unfortunately, I am not a very good rule follower — I want to do it my way — but if I heeded my own advice, I would greatly enhance my chances of getting published.

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