Counting chickens before they hatch

Because everyone is lining up to give an unknown writer money for 60 pages of quality vampire fanfic.

Remember the story of the maid who counted her chickens before they hatched? Quick summary: a milkmaid milks a cow, puts the pail on her head to take to market, thinks on the way that she’ll buy some eggs to hatch, thinks how many might be chickens and how many roosters, gets caught up in her future good fortune when she can sell eggs AND milk once the chickens start to lay, imagines the hat she’ll buy and how she’ll toss her head to impress a rival. Oops. She tossed her head in real life and spilled the pail of milk.

Writing is at least as complicated as the milkmaid’s plot. We have to write, revise, revise, revise, query, contract, revise, revise, etc. But let’s say you’re a new writer who has only the pail of milk. Or back up. You’re still milking the cow, writing your first book. Should you consider rumors while you write? Short answer: probably not.

But Rumor Mongers make their news sound so exciting. Shouldn’t you maybe kinda sorta listen to them? (No.) Won’t you make more money that way? (No.)

Let’s take a look at the Rumor Mongers. Why might they do it?

  1. They are insecure, and they hope to build a network of fellows by scaring other people.
  2. They don’t understand the industry or know where to find more reliable information.
  3. They like the idea of writing but not actually writing. Spreading rumors about publishing opportunities feels close enough to writing to count for their emotional tally.
  4. They like hanging out with writers and think they have to offer something, even if that something is unsubstantiated.
  5. They want to hear legit information, so they enter the exchange with counterfeit currency. (I think these people are rare.)
  6. They’re just SO! EXCITED! ABOUT! WRITING a book that they can’t even stop chasing around. These are the Mrs. Bennets of the Rumor Monger world. They are the adolescence labradors of the Rumor Monger world. They sniff a hint of opportunity and can’t help tell everyone about their imagined hopes, stated of course as settled facts. I think most Rumor Mongers fit this category best.

There are two main types of rumors spread by rumor mongers: financial and topical. The financial rumors will send eager new writers and sometimes eager emerging or established authors flocking to query a contest, magazine, or publisher rumored to be paying out above the usual market rate.

Topical rumors go like this:

Rumor Monger: Did you hear? Blarglequin wants sea creature shifter sweet romances.

Noob Author: No way. Like, mermaids?

Rumor Monger: {whispers} Squid.

Let’s everybody just calm down now. Take a deep breath. Any legitimate agent or editor will tell you that you have to write what you’re best at writing. Do Not Chase Trends. The exception is that if you are an established, and I mean very established, author like we all dream of being someday, your publisher may guide the direction of your book series based on their marketing data. But note: this is not chasing rumors. It’s evidence based. (Mostly.)

So how can you find out what’s really going on in publishing payouts?

Read the trade websites. Join professional organizations in your field and read the Industry News emails they send you. Follow real literary agents and publishers on Twitter. Talk to real authors. No matter what, don’t abandon the writing of your heart to chase a fantastical “opportunity” that doesn’t suit you.

Some starters:

Search for “literary agent” on Twitter and follow the ones who interest you. Same with publishers.

  • Don’t whine about having to use Twitter. It’s chock full of agents and editors and writers.
  • Think of it as practice in concise prose.
  • Post cat or dog or garden photos if you are at a loss. (You’re welcome.)

If you’re self-published or hybrid, read the articles on BookLife by Publishers Weekly.

Sign up for the Shelf Awareness newsletters.

Track actual cash money trends at Author Earnings.

If you start fantasizing about how much money you are going to make with your debut book, google “author earnings per book” and read the many fascinating articles on how rare it is to make a living at writing.

Remember, the most important thing about writing is to write. There’s no quick fix or easy answer to the money issue for fiction writers, whatever the Rumor Mongers might say.

*This post was geared towards writers. Of course, sometimes the Rumor Mongers talk to non-writers, leading to the problem of Armchair Novelists. See that post {Here}.*

Have you met a Rumor Monger? Been lured away from your work trying to track down non-existent submission forms? Wasted time chasing easy money or plotting a book you don’t have the heart to write {Squid Shifters and the Highlander Duke}? Do tell.