If You Want to Succeed, the Rules Apply to You

In publishing, as in life, there’s a tendency for people to think “the rules” exist for other people. “Rules are made to be broken,” right?


If you want to succeed, the rules apply to you.


“Rules,” in the publishing context, refers to everything from “following the submission guidelines” to “figuring out what genre your book belongs to,” and most of them exist for a reason. With agents, the rules exist so the agent has a way to evaluate the thousands (often, tens of thousands) of queries the agent receives in a year. With contests and contracts, the rules exist to ensure the activities comply with law.

Genre designations help readers find the books they want to read. Calling yourself a fantasy-romantic-suspenseful-mystery-YA-nonfiction just confuses everyone. Except, maybe, you, but that won’t help you sell many books.

If you want to succeed, the rules apply to you.

BUT…people say…what about that person who self-published a unicorn-YA-nonfiction-thriller and made a BAJILLION DOLLARS on Amazon? Her book has a 14-movie deal and seventeen sequels. Twelve agents queried HER. What about her? She didn’t follow the rules, you know.

Doesn’t matter. If you want to succeed, the rules apply to you.

You have the right to break them — and people do — and once in a while that rebellious spirit results in a smashing success, nine sequels, and eighty billion dollars at auction. Once in a while, people get struck by lightning and win the lottery too.

That’s a miracle, not a business plan.

If you want to succeed in any business (and publishing is a business, yo), you need a better business plan than “once, it worked for a guy I saw on the Internet.”

Here’s an example to prove the point. Would you open a mayonnaise restaurant? They exist, you know – there’s one in Tokyo, Japan. If you don’t believe me, check out this clip from Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods (the link is safe for work and kids, but those with weak stomachs for mayo fondue might want to click with caution).

So…would you invest your time, skills, and money in a “mayonnaise restaurant” for your town? Why not? IT WORKED FOR THIS GUY ON THE INTERNET.

The answer is simple: the fact that people in Tokyo consider mayonnaise interesting enough to support one restaurant doesn’t make it workablefor the industry as a whole. If you want to open a restaurant, you need a business plan that appeals to the general public in your area.

If you want to succeed in publishing … the rules apply to you.

Self-publishing gives more freedom than the traditional path, but even there, some rules apply. You need a professional cover, high-quality editing, and a font that doesn’t scream “Papyrus” or “Dingbats” (And don’t talk to me about Avatar…that subtitle choice is the mayonnaise restaurant of film.)

To follow the rules, you must know the rules, so learn them. Study widely. Read carefully. Consider the source and content of what you read. Ask questions, and find the answers. Work hard, study hard, play hard … and love the process. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and there’s lots of awesome scenery on the way.

Writing is art, but publishing is business…a wonderful, magical business, but a business all the same.

You want to succeed? You can, and you will. But while you’re at it, learn the rules.

Because if you want to succeed…the rules apply to you.

*Thanks to Tez Miller for creating the Maximus Angryfish meme.

2 thoughts on “If You Want to Succeed, the Rules Apply to You

  • October 16, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Fab post, Susan, and absolutely true. I didn’t know there was even such a thing as a mayonnaise restaurant. I even have trouble spelling the word. *wink* Thanks for providing a fun approach to making your point!

    • October 16, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      Thanks Kathy! And yes…it was an eye-opener for me too. I rarely watch Bizarre Foods because it’s usually a little too much even for me (gore I can handle…people eating disturbing things, not so much) but that episode on Japan was fantastic, if a bit too covered in mayo for my taste.

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