The Seven Deadly (Publishing) Sins


These seven no-nos will put your career on ice faster than you can say “remainder.”


For someone else’s career. This one will mostly hurt you, although it’s also a gateway to the other publishing sins. If you have an author that you Googlestalk like s/he’s your high school exboyfriend, or you read the deal listings at Publisher’s Marketplace like they’re Playboy, quit it! No two careers are exactly alike, and obsessing over someone else’s is unproductive. Learn from others’ successes but remember your career is the only one you can do a thing about.


You’re a glutton for punishment if you ever for a minute forget that publishing is a business. It’s a business where people hang out and are friendly, yes, but bottom line does rule the day somewhere on that ladder. Everyone’s trying to make money. Don’t take things personally and remember no one’s goal is to hurt your feelings. Have a thick skin, and move on–don’t wallow in disappointments or setbacks, just keep writing.


Don’t quit your day job until you absolutely must, or think that you’ll really have “made it” when you do. Working a day job doesn’t make you any less a writer (particularly if your day job informs your writing–then it’s a huge asset!). It makes you a smart, responsible member of society who cares about paying little things like the mortgage.


Don’t sit back and expect your publisher to do everything for you. Know where your efforts are most effective and get cracking. Say you’ve got a historical novel set in the Civil War. Your publisher will focus on the primary market: promoting the book as a historical novel in the channels with the largest reach. But you can–and should–be active and involved and reaching out to smaller Civil War special interest groups, special interest and regional publications, etc. Your publisher is the chainsaw; you’re the scalpel.


Do not yell at anyone’s assistant. It won’t accomplish anything, it’s probably not the assistant’s fault, and it won’t really make you feel better. And listen to those around you. If your agent, editor, publicist, all agree that the card you’re looking at is in fact a spade, quit calling it a heart. Don’t waste what could be productive energy on negativity and tilting at windmills.


You’re guilty of this if you find yourself daydreaming that if only you had a different agent/publisher/deal all your problems would be fixed. There is no magic bullet. There are times when change is good but if you only look at externals before thinking about yourself, you’re in the danger zone.


This one should go without saying. No matter how successful you get, you’re never too huge to show a little basic kindness, especially those who got you where you are. Don’t be a diva. Help other writers where you can (be it blurbing, joining a critique group, offering a referral, or just being gracious in your interactions). Those who violate this risk having the kind of reputation that leads to people eagerly awaiting the day your sell-through tanks so they can justify dropping you. Don’t be That Guy.


20 Responses to “The Seven Deadly (Publishing) Sins”

  1. Great list! I think Lust looks the best between the covers (of your book). 😀

    I especially like #7 (Pride). I have been helped by others (that’s how I made it to Nationals this year where I met you at the Chick Lit cocktail party) and, if I am ever so lucky as to be in their position someday, I plan on paying it forward.

  2. Excellent post(especially No 2)! Thanks.

  3. These are just the regular old sins with explanations linking them to publishing. What about a set of new sins?

    Sex Mahoney for President

  4. That chainsaw/scalpel metaphor really clicked with me. Thanks!

  5. Love this – thanks for the translation into the writing world!

  6. My day job has provided more literary fodder than I will ever admit. I always say I’ll never quit–the comedic material far outweighs the paycheck.

  7. 7 Emily

    Thanks for the advice!

  8. This is a great post, Holly.

    One thing I’ve learned is that we all have our own path to success in this career — it’s never quite the same from one writer to the next. And Path A isn’t better than Path B…it’s just different. It all boils down to hard work and being the best person and writer you can be, no matter where you are in your career, I think. 🙂

  9. I’m guilty of pretty much all of these you can be guilty of before you’re actually published – although I am ALWAYS kind to assistants – especially the day job one. I’m not sure it counts as an asset to your writing if you work from home and never actually have human contact on the job. Plus, I have to write on the job which sucks the creative life out of me. I’m convinced you’re right about all of these though. I’ve gone to confession (not really, I’m not Catholic), and I’ll try and stick to the straight and narrow from here on out.

  10. Requesting permission to cross-post this on my other blogs.

  11. Very creative and humbling post. I’m guilty of quite a few as well, though the day job usually leaves me exhausted and burned out and I’d give anything to quit. But at least there’s writing (during the evenings and weekends) to take me away from that.

  12. Well put! It is so easy to forget that publishing is a business and we all need that reminder every now and then. Happy Thanksgiving!

  13. 13 Anonymouse


    The economy stinks. Today – black wednesday I think I saw it referred to – several publishers have anounced they are cutting back hard on staffers. In all of the mess, do you see any trends on the horizon? What are the editors who are left behind telling you they want?

    What are you or the other agents in your office currently pining for?

    Thanks for starting this blog. Keep it up!


  14. What, so it’s WRONG to covet Stephenie Meyer’s career? Oops. : )

  15. 15 Tenzi

    Bravo, loved the deadly sins! I’m an unpublished author and one of the things you said bothered me a little. I have repeatedly tried to get advise or feed back from other published authors and trust me they don’t want to help you in the least. I realize they are bombarded by want-a-bes like myself and it must get annoying and they don’t want to create more competition for themselves. So, from personal experience don’t bother with other pro. authors they really don’t want to talk to you.

  16. Aren’t we entitled to at least one teensy weensy vice if we’re halo worthy elsewhere? Like how I don’t drink or do drugs or smoke so I can evil-eye anyone who gives me crap for my caffeine habit? I’d go for greed’s quit-your-day-job. I’ve survived on ramen before. I could do it again.

  17. Great website, Hope to definitely come back again soon=)

  18. Amazing! I especially like your explanation on greed. Its true. Some writers think that once they start to write a book, they could sell millions in an instant and quit their job. Well, that is definitely a wrong move since you still need more funds for publishing, for facing the ups and downs of being a writer. It is rare to find a writer who becomes successful in an instant.

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