Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Four Myths Non-Writers Believe, by Iola Goulton

I’ve always been a reader. A bookworm, if you like. And like many readers, I also wanted to be a writer. Specifically, a novelist. I won two school writing competitions in high school and even went on a creative writing camp, but the endless essays of high school and university didn’t leave much time for personal reading or writing.

I started reading for pleasure again when I got a job, but not writing: I already spent enough hours a day in front of a computer, writing client reports and our company newsletter. I had one colleague whose wife was writing a novel. I asked how it was progressing: he said she was still in the research phase, which was going to take her a year. I asked a few more times but stopped asking when I got a look that said she wasn’t making much progress (or not making as much as her husband thought she ought to be making).

I had another colleague who announced one day that he’d finished his novel. I asked when it was going to be published. Yes, I really thought it was that easy.

When I started researching the craft of writing and the business of publishing, I soon realised that many of my assumptions were incorrect. In particular, there were four myths I believed about writing:

  • Anyone can write a novel.

  • Writing is a good way to earn some extra cash.

  • Getting a novel published is easy.

  • Writers write. The publisher does the rest.

Are you laughing yet? Or do some of my na├»ve ideas sound eerily familiar? I’ve since discovered my ideas were misguided. But I’ve also discovered there is an element of truth in some of them.

Anyone can write a novel.

This is both wrong and right. Anyone can type 80,000 words and call it a novel. Slapping a cover on it and uploading to Amazon isn’t hard (it can’t be, given the quality of some of the novels on Amazon).

But writing a good novel is hard, and not just ‘anyone’ can do it. It takes patience, perseverance, and practice. And most people don’t make it.

Writing is an easy way to earn some extra cash.

If you’re prepared to make money writing scam recipe books (using recipes copied from dodgy websites) or scam self-help books (using advice copied from wacko websites) or other scam books (using information copied from Wikipedia), then yes, writing can be an easy way to earn extra cash. Even better, hire someone on Fiverr to ghostwrite (or ghostcopy) the book for you.

But is that writing? It’s certainly not the writing dream so many people have. In reality, pursuing a career as a writer, especially a novelist, is going to cost you a lot of money before you earn anything from it. And most writers also have a day job to pay the bills.

Getting a novel published is easy. 

Check out your local bookstore. Check out the publishers of those novels. Getting your novel published by one of those publishers isn’t easy. It’s a long way from easy.

But the advent of vanity publishers and self-publishing make it easy to publish a novel. Any vanity press will take your money, tell you you’ve written the next great American (or Australian or British or Canadian or New Zealand) novel, and for another $10,000 they’ll be able to put your novel in front of influential Hollywood producers (and take a first-class holiday in some swanky resort).

But self-publishing platforms such as Amazon, DrafttoDigital, iBooks, Kobo and Smashwords do provide newbie authors with a way of getting their novels published and printed and on sale. And it’s not difficult. But authors soon find that writing and publishing was the easy part . . .

Writers write. The publisher does the rest.

This is the final myth, and is one that continues to drive new authors to traditional publishers. They don’t want to be involved in the publishing or the marketing. They want to write. Period. The problem with this myth is that all authors, no matter how they are published, all authors have to do more than write.

Even traditional publishers expect authors to contribute to their marketing efforts. At the very least, these will include a website (which the author pays for), social media profiles and regular updates (which the author undertakes herself, or pays someone else to manage), and attendance at certain industry events and conferences (which the author pays for). These efforts may or may not sell books.

Self-published authors have sole responsibility for marketing — there is no one else. They can just write, but then it’s likely no one will buy their books.

Myth or Truth?

Yes, there is an element of truth in each of these four myths. But more myth than truth. Oh, well. Back to the writing . .  .

Writers, what myths have you heard that you now know aren’t true?

Readers, what do you believe about writers that might not be true?

IOLA GOULTON lives with her husband, two teenagers and cat in the sunny Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, between Hobbiton and the Kiwifruit Capital of the World. She holds a degree in marketing, has a background in human resource consulting and freelance editing, is active in her local church and plays in a brass band.

Iola is a reader, reviewer and freelance editor who is currently writing her first novel, contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist, and her first non-fiction book, which aims to help first-time authors navigate the changing world of Christian publishing.

Connect with Iola at www.iolagoulton.com (a work in progress she’s trying not to be overwhelmed by!) and www.christianreads.blogspot.com.


  1. These myths can be very frustrating, as a writer. Thanks for keeping your sense of humor! Sometimes we need to laugh at our challenges. :)

    1. We have to laugh - it certainly beats the alternative!

      I'm sure people have wrong assumptions about other careers as well (like teachers, who only work from 9 to 3 each day and have all summer off. Yeah, right).

  2. Another myth is that 'all' writers fit a certain personality type or have certain behaviours typical of said personality. Also, that editing will only require reading through the ms once or twice!

    1. Yes, editing is nothing more than running the manuscript through spell check and fixing a comma or two. :)

  3. Great post, Iola. Another myth (well maybe not a myth simply misunderstood) is the time it takes for a traditional publisher to get the novel to market from the date they 'contract' it with the author. I think this period is shortening but it's always fascinating to see the reaction on people's faces when you tell them well it might 12-15 months before it lands depending on the size of the publisher.

    1. Well, how long does it take to run spell check and put a cover on it? ;)

      I guess that's something else it takes a while to learn - it's not just how long it takes, but that publishers are working to a schedule that's planned one to two years in advance (or more).

  4. Oh, and another one: if you're fortunate enough to get paid an advance, said advance will be enough to finance...oh, say, a small car? a deposit on a house? :)

    1. That's right! And you get it all at once, and don't have to pay any to the tax department (or your agent, if you have one).

  5. Here's one I hadn't expected - that authors have an as-of-right-now insight into how your book (or books) are doing sales wise.

    Now this can be true if you are an independent author whose main platform is Amazon. I've heard one of the great things about this is being able to track your sales to the hour. But, as an author with a traditional publishing house, the truth is I have absolutely no idea how my book sales are going! My first real insight will be in August when I get my Jan-June royalty statement but, due to the complexities of how book retailers operate, even that will just be an insight at best.

    All I know, as of today, is that it hasn't hit any bestseller lists and no one from my publishing house has broken the news that it's a total sales disaster ;-)

  6. Great post, Iola! And great comments. I'm learning new things here. This goes to show you've got to love the process more than the results/praise, or you'll never be happy ;)