The world of literature is full of scare-mongering myths and it’s no surprise. When you’ve put such a huge amount of effort and time into writing your manuscript, it becomes as precious as your first-born child and you want to do everything you can to protect it and help it flourish. There’s no doubt that there are countless pit-falls and challenges to be aware of – I spend most of my blog posts warning you about them, after all – but this week, I want to dispel some of the crazier myths I’ve heard floating around. Some of these have popped up on internet forums over the course of my research and others have fallen from the mouths of my classmates, but they are all 95% rubbish.
“The Editor/Agent Will Steal my Manuscript if I Submit it to them!”
It’s only natural for you to want to protect your intellectual property and, in the UK at least, you have legal protection the moment you put pen to paper. Simply having a record of your work makes it copyrighted to you, with no paperwork or lawyers needed. But I still hear people fret and worry that a prospective agent will whisk away their manuscript from the slush pile and give it to one of their favourite clients. Or even publish it under their own name and make millions.
It’s not completely impossible that this could happen if you give your work to a bottom-of-the-barrel agent or editor with a bad or no reputation. But for what it’s worth, I must have met hundreds of budding authors over the years and a fair few established ones too. I’ve never met someone who has had this happen to them. I’ve never even met someone who’s met someone who had this happen to them. A search on the internet brings up countless forums filled with people worrying over this, but not a single, verified case of this happening. The closest I could find was someone who claims that a publishing company they submitted to released a book with a very similar idea.
If you are worried about this sort of thing, I have three key tips for you:
- Post a copy of your manuscript to yourself and don’t open it. The post mark will prove that you had the earliest copy, giving you extra legal protection.
- Only share your manuscript with people whose reputation you trust.
- Don’t cover your manuscript in copyright symbols – agents and editors know it is yours, whether they intend to steal it or not. This just makes you look paranoid.
“Agents and Publishers Never Read Submissions!”
The process of finding a home for your book is fraught with rejection and, after you have a neat little folder of form letters, it can begin to feel like you are throwing your queries into a black hole. This is when you may start to ask “are these agents even reading my submission? Are they just hitting the big, red “REJECT” button without even opening my email?”. The answer is, probably not.
As I have discussed before, there are many reasons why a manuscript may get rejected that have nothing to do with the actual quality of your work. The agent’s list may be full, they may not take your genre etc. in these cases, yes, they may be pushing the big, red button. But assuming you are carefully selecting the agents you submit to, the chances are that most of them are at least going to read the premise in your cover letter before they make any drastic decisions. If they don’t want to read unsolicited manuscripts, they won’t provide the means or instructions for you to send them in the first place and, contrary to popular belief, they don’t get paid by the rejection.
“I Should Quit My Job to Focus on my Writing!”
Please don’t. For a start, publishing is a very time-consuming process so unless you have a publishing contract signed and sealed in front of you right now, it’s going to be a while before you make any money. And even if you do, most authors don’t earn enough to live by from their writing alone. Now, if you’ve just won the lottery and find yourself financially independent, knock yourself out. But if you are relying on your job to put food on the table, maybe keep hold of it for now. In later years, you may find your writing career stable enough that you can quit or at least go part time, but don’t make any rash decisions, please!
If it helps to persuade you, many agents actually prefer clients who have full-time jobs as it reassures them that the quality of their writing won’t be hampered by a lack of food and heating.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this article, please click like and follow, and join me again next week when I will be talking about “self-insertion”, in other words, writing yourself into your story.