24 Things No One Tells You About Book Publishing that are oversimplified for clickbait

So there's this, and it's cute: On Buzzfeed

Here is the list, with my responses, with my view from both sides of the coalface.

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.

Some folks are friends, some folks are not friends. And some folks are colleagues. Think of other writers as colleagues. If you become friends with another writer, congratulations: you made a friend. Not a writer-friend.

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.

Be true to yourself when you react to being unrecognized or being recognized. 'Pleasantly surprised' is hard to fake, and I've seen it faked a whole lot. Badly.

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

This is complicated. Reading to 25 dedicated fans is hugely rewarding, and you'll get a really strong feel for how they feel about your book. But you won't get from them what you get from 200. If you have 200 people and 400 empty chairs, ask everyone to move down to the front so they're as close to you as possible. If necessary, tell them you prefer not to have to speak too loud. What you'll get from the 200 is a sense of what, in your book, is working. Because you'll feel a generalized reaction from the room, the way an actor or a standup does from an audience. You will learn so much more.

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.

Okay, I have no idea what this means. So it may be good advice.

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

If this were true...
The reality is that too many people, both in publishing and on it's fringes, think a blurb is supposed to be some form of the statement "please buy this book, whoever you are." The best blurb, and I'm sure I'll never tire of saying it, is the blurb that does not try to get everyone to buy the book. The best blurb is the one that tries to ensure that people who will not like it do not buy it. It's carefully worded to say: this is the sort of thing this book is, if you like this sort of thing, open the book. If you don't like it, put it down.

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

See? See above.

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

In demand. The funny thing about this is that it isn't that they are pretending to find you more amusing. They genuinely do. It's like the price tag on a bottle of wine.

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

See #19 below. When you are in demand, be blunt in your refusals: 'no, not now, I have to write,' is th best one.

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

Haters gotta hate.

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

There's nothing wrong with being a Dilly if that's your thing. I know a couple of really smart people who could have become full time writers but who prefer to flit from one all consuming passion to another. So don't think that just because you had a success that you have to get all serious. Be true to your joy.

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.

No. Comment.

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.

Yes. Absolutely.

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.

You want the biggest generality about gender? I'm going to give it to you: 
Female writers are generally better writers than male writers at the same level of sales, even though their cover prices are (still) generally lower.
There is a good reason for this, and it's called the 'approval gap.' Because, throughout their education, women have to work harder for the same level of approval, they work harder. And the continue to look out for anything that will give them an edge. Which means they are also more likely to try out other people's suggestions. On a positive note, in younger writers (those under 35 in the USA, under 50 in Europe) I'm seeing more and more men who work as hard as the women. So as the approval gap closes, the attainment gap closes too.

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.

All books are autobiographical. Once I've read just one of your books, I KNOW YOU. And this is exactly as it should be. Underneath, all books are about being what we are.

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.

I'd go even further. See #5 above. It is your responsibility to give the reader the best possible experience. But some people just aren't your reader. And you have a responsibility to discourage them from reading your books at all.

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.

Meh. Social media is good for getting reader reaction. But not as good as live reading. Its effect on sales is limited. So have no regrets if you can't be doing with it.

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.

Awesome advice.

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

See the gender divide on #13 above. There's this progress to maturity that begins with 'bastard, why didn't I think of that!' and progresses through 'damn, I wish I'd thought of that!' and finally matures to 'awesome, I'm totally using that in my next book!'

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

Not kidding: your spouse should know that your marriage is at risk if he/she trespasses on 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.

Dangerous advice. Prioritize flaws. You have a duty to learn to be a better writer through each book. So eventually you have to weigh the seriousness of the flaw against the difference between what you will learn  by fixing it and what you will learn by moving on to the next book.

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.

In fact, if it is brutally difficult to write, you're doing something wrong. Perhaps we should talk?

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


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…

But good authors endure longer than bad authors, and authors who get better and better endure longest of all. Even in this new world of digital publishing, this is as true as it ever was.

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.

This is a weird kind of advice. Everyone needs positive interaction with other people, and artists need to know that their work is appreciated and understood. So I'd qualify this by saying that until you have readers who depend on you (and that's how it feels, by the way), you don't need anyone's approval or permission to go in search of the magic of writing. But once your writing sees daylight—and realistically this means 'has been read by 200 or more strangers—approval matters and there's nothing wrong with admitting that you need it.

And in reality, a lot of people
do need permission. That's exactly what #24 is doing—it's giving you permission. It may be in your culture, or in the way you were raised. I have worked with many authors who needed someone to act as the authority figure and say to them "yes, you can do that, if you want to." People don't learn that they didn't need permission until after it has been given.


Old Website Formally Retired

In the interests of simplicity and efficiency, the old www.densewords.com website is now formally retired, and the address www.densewords.com now redirects here (www.harrydewulf.com).

This makes no difference to the services that I'm offering to authors, but it does streamline my online presence, and also limit's any confusion over which out of Narrative Path, densewords.com and harrydewulf.com people should come to.

The densewords website has been around a long time - since Autumn 2008. Here's a snapshot to remember it by:

"densewords" continues to be the name of my editing activities, and I continue to use the "Porte de la Craffe" logo.


More Antigrammar: the "sentence fragment"

If you use MSWord, or any other conventional commercial wordprocessor to do your writing, you may have used a "grammar checking" feature.

You might well expect me to put scare quotes around "grammar checking" but actually this feature in MSWord is pretty innocent, and for many people, extremely useful. I find the spell check dictionaries far more harmful, as they create false segregations. A whole generation of English speakers the world over is coming to believe that there clear divisions in spelling between the US and the UK, when until recently this has only been true for two spelling rules: meter/metre and color/colour.

You can learn a great deal from the grammar check - not least from realizing when it's wrong. If you're an author, run the grammar check on your latest manuscript. It will flag hundreds of "sentence fragments."

This is because in fiction it is extremely common to work in incomplete sentences. So common, in fact, that treating them as an error is definitely an error.

Grammarians often talk about parts of speech getting elided. Elision is when a word or phrase is left out, usually because it is implied by the context, so not really needed. When the main verb of a sentence gets elided, the sentence will be, to old school grammarians, ungrammatical*.

This is because we get our language via a tortuous, mixed and messy descent from a disorderly jumble of languages most of which at some point diverged from a common root (know as PIE, proto-indo-european), and then came back together at different times in different places, and at different speeds... whereas our grammar - our language for describing language - comes more or less directly from Latin.

There is a profound difference between Latin and modern English. A difference so profound that unless you're an author using the grammar check in MSWord, you might never notice it.

In Latin, the Verb is God. In English, Context is Everything.

In Latin, an entire sentence can be contained in a single verb. In Latin the verb is so important that for preference, it is placed at the very end of the sentence, as if to ensure that you have an opportunity to give a fair hearing to all the other words before the verb takes over.

English can function without verbs. Not always. Some verbs can't be left out. "can" is a good example. But notice that I just wrote "not always" as a complete sentence, which it was. A grammarian would say that I elided "it does" - not just the verb, but the subject too.

But calling it "ellipsis" suggests that I'm thinking those words, just not saying or writing them. Nonsense! I'm not thinking them. The ideas that become words somewhere between my thoughts and my fingertips are limited to the core meaning that I want to convey. When I exclaim "nonsense!" I'm thinking "nonsense!" not "that is nonsense!".

In modern English we can, and frequently, manage without verbs. Not to seek or distract attention, but just because we don't always need them. Meaning matters. In modern English, meaning trumps grammar.

In fairness, this is mostly because grammar as a tool for describing language is sometimes not quite up to the task. As a tool for constructing proper syntax, grammar is as much a disaster as trying to construct a heroic fantasy by slavishly building a hero's journey.

In the end, single sentences, and whole stories, come from the same place: a meaning, that you need to communicate to others. A simple message might take a few words. A complex lesson might take a whole story. The meaning of life probably takes a lifetime of reading and writing to communicate.

* In fact, the word 'ellipsis' is often used for when a word or words are left out *cough* by ignorance or accident. This is apologism. Grammarians want to be able to say that it isn't the description that is at fault, but the object being described. I'll leave you to judge for yourself.