Thursday, July 30, 2015

Guest Post: Apex Editor Jason Sizemore on "Publishing Myths: You Need an *In* to Get In

Publishing Myths: You Need an *In* to Get In

I’ve been thinking about the publishing business even more than usual lately due to the release of my second book, For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher. In the book, I lay bare the ups and downs of running a small press and pull back the curtain on some of the more lascivious details of my ten years as editor. After somebody reads the book, inevitably I’m asked questions related to the book industry in general.

There is an incredible the amount of misguided opinions and mythical beliefs about publishing that writers and non-writer civilians hold as gospel. Perhaps the worst of these is that writers and editors, as a whole, are making money hand over fist. My own father, who I’ve spent many hours explaining how Apex functions as a business, still believes that I am a dragon hoarding away my publishing gold coins and making a conscious decision to eschew living high on the hog for a life of vanilla middle class.

Dad, you should know me better than that. I’m a high maintenance country boy!

Alas, I think this belief is a lost cause. No matter what I say, no matter what the facts are, people are still going to believe that writers and editors all make the big bucks. Instead I’ll focus on a myth I hope to push a stake through and actually have it stick. The myth that goes like this: in order to be published, you need to know somebody in the business.

I’m sure this belief started early in publishing history. I can picture it now: a lowly writer-type approaches Johannes Gutenberg after he invents the printing press.

“Sir, would you kindly look at my manuscript? It’s a historical romance that is a cross of the Ming Dynasty and the adventures of Joan of Arc!”

And this one lowly writer, having her work published by Gutenberg, then gives Gutenberg a good word about her friend. So begins a long line of ‘begats’ similar to the Bible’s unrolling of bloodlines in the first chapter of Matthew.

Having your book (or short story) published isn’t akin to cracking the Voynich Manuscript. The key is a simple one: have a great idea and then write a good book.

Notice I didn’t say you have to write a ‘great’ book. Don’t worry about building a masterpiece out of your first publication. Very few in the world will write a cultural touchstone like To Kill a Mockingbird or Doctor Zhivago on the first try. If you know how to plot a book and write sentences that make sense and then wrap those skills around a knockout idea for a plot then you’ll be in business.

Perhaps saying this will get me trolled…but I’m a cold-hearted editor, so I’m going for it—two of our generation’s most popular novelists broke in with first novels that succeeded based more on plot and less on writing mechanics. Stephen King’s Carrie is an amazing first novel. So is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Both rely on standard tropes, but the fascinating and engrossing tales that spin out of these books kick-started literary movements on their own.

Having said all that, I won’t lie and tell a writer that having an “in” won’t help. Sometimes, it does. Perhaps a writer pal of yours has a great relationship with his agent. The agent isn’t taking on any new clients, but agrees to look at your manuscript based on the recommendation of your pal. Or you make friends with a popular author leading a writing seminar who puts in a word for you at a short fiction zine.

In most cases, having an “in” will get you a look, but that doesn’t guarantee you a sale. You still have to succeed on the strength of your work. If you feel you have a great idea, I want to encourage you to use any “in” you might have. Grease the wheels of success all you can, because the road is bumpy and there is a lot of traffic out there.

In For Exposure, I recount my encounters with a real person I pseudonymously name Hickory Adams. Hickory is an unpleasant individual who has found me at half a dozen conventions over the years, each time pitching me an awful sounding novel. Each of which I’ve passed on. Over the years, the chip on his shoulder grew. He’s accused me of favoritism. He’s accused me of only publishing my friends. The last time I met him, he bragged to me that he had sold his books to a real publisher. One that he found based on a recommendation by a friend who happens to work with the publisher. He said gatekeepers like me were censoring the hard work of writers like him, even though he’d just told me that his friend worked for his publisher. I could only roll my eyes and find a way out of the conversation post-haste.

Don’t be like Hickory Adams and allow the hucksters of the internet to fill your head with nonsense about gatekeepers and needing to know somebody to be somebody. The profession of writing often rewards hard work. Sure, luck can be involved, but don’t underestimate the value of persistence and patience.


For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher
Apex Publications
182 pages
ISBN: 9781937009304


Born the son of an unemployed coal miner in a tiny Kentucky Appalachian villa named Big Creek (population 400), Jason fought his way out of the hills to the big city of Lexington. He attended Transylvania University (a real school with its own vampire legend) and received a degree in computer science. Since 2005, he has owned and operated Apex Publications. He is the editor of five anthologies, author of Irredeemable, a three-time Hugo Award loser, an occasional writer, who can usually be found wandering the halls of hotel conventions.

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