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Truths about Publishing You Can Only Learn in the Trenches

I’ve worked like a dog the last two weeks on EPIC copy edits so today, I’m running short on inspired creative thinking and tall on advice. It’s January, after all, and isn’t that when we’d all like a little advice, a little pep in our step to help us take on the new year? I know I do, so here we are with some of the most important things I’ve learned as a published writer (regardless of the publishing path you choose to take). WARNING: some of it isn’t pretty.

Professional Behavior is Paramount

Though professional behavior should go without saying in your field of work–in this case, publishing–you’d be surprised just how damned infrequent it is. It’s important to remember, people perceive who you are as a person as well as who you are as a writer by your behavior. Like it or not, them’s the breaks. Here are a few tips:

Writing what you want versus writing what will sell

Most writers have at least one idea—well, let’s be honest, we likely have many ideas—that aren’t all that viable for the marketplace for a variety of reasons. The reality is, a working writer who becomes a part of the “publishing machine” very often must limit their scope to the brand they are establishing. Narrowing our scope isn’t something we like to do as creatives, but it’s an essential part of reaching your developing fan base. This is what publishers are concerned with. If we reach our fan base with a reliable brand, we all make money. If you want to go outside of that brand and you’re anything less than bestselling, opt for a pen name.

The other thing worth mentioning is that publishers have loads of data at their disposal and usually can gauge how well a particular topic will sell, at least within a reasonable guesstimate. When they believe they have a product (I know, cringe, but yes, books are products) that can sell quite well, they put all of their marketing power behind it. This, however, is becoming rarer by the minute, these days. Which leads me to my next topic.

Stomaching the realities of Marketing & Publicity

Budgets are being slashed across the board. It’s a sad fact, but it is what it is and the sooner the writer understands this, the sooner they can adjust and find creative ways to make the most of their platforms and their budgets. A few words of wisdom:

You will change agents or editors, or both, at one point This is a sad inevitably of the business, but one we must embrace if we want to get our books out there. Publishers merge or close, or begin (!). Editors retire or change jobs to a new publishing house. The same goes for agents. Sometimes, you aren’t being treated particularly well by an agent or editor, and it’s time to take matters into your own hands and make a move. One or both of these things have happened to 98% of all authors I’ve ever met, me included. Embrace the inevitability. It allows you to keep your focus where it should be—on the writing.

The Post-Partum Blues

Launch day arrives to lots of fanfare, and you’re excited as hell! You check yours stats obsessively and bask in the great reviews and publicity, the sheer joy of having your story join the canon that is our great big world out there. It’s truly wonderful. But there’s an aspect few discuss in book publishing, and one worth mentioning both for debut novelists and for anyone, really, who is extremely invested in how those of us with several under our belts. It’s the post-partum blues.

The excitement of a new book launch wears off in a few days, or a few weeks and suddenly, there’s nothing but:


That’s when the blues set in. The ol’ crash after the high. All of the bustle and excitement felt overblown and silly, and you have to remember what all of the hopes and dreams, the stress and the anxiety were for. You wonder if you can put yourself through the rat race of writing and editing for years, the months of promotion and stress, just to have your book release to crickets.

We feel so utterly changed by our works that when the world continues on in the same way it always has, it’s a letdown. But days go by and you get drawn into your next story, relish your writing routine, and something miraculous happens. You realize something you knew before you signed with your agent, or sold a book, or went into a frenzy over which font to use on your promotional bookmarks.

YOU LOVE TO WRITE. And that is most important. Which brings me to my next point.

It must ALWAYS be about the writing. Really, it must. If it’s about anything else, walk away now.

Words are beautiful and gritty and life-changing. They paint pictures, build empires, and ignite love stories that destroy us and make us. For all of the songs and slogans that say actions speak louder than words, IT JUST ISN’T TRUE. Words eternalize those actions. And you—this one little drop of water in this great big ocean of novelists, have added story to the fabric of human history and they’re beautiful—to you—and THAT is what matters. And if they impart hours of entertainment, joy, inspiration to even one reader, you have done what you set out to do, and that is enough. And by God, you want to do it all over again.

And finally, a few thoughts to live by:


What’s one of the most important things you’ve learned during your time in publishing?

About Heather Webb [1]

Heather Webb is the international bestselling and award-winning author of 6 historical novels set in France, including her latest Meet Me in Monaco and Ribbons of Scarlet. In 2015, Rodin’s Lover was a Goodread’s Top Pick, and in 2018, Last Christmas in Paris won the Women's Fiction STAR Award. To date, Heather’s books have sold in over a dozen countries worldwide and received national starred reviews. As a freelance editor, Heather has helped over two dozen writers sign with agents, and go on to sell at market. When not writing, Heather feeds her cookbook addiction, geeks out on history and pop culture, and looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.