Is it Still Worth Chasing a Publishing Deal?

Rob Parnell
4 min readMar 22, 2024

In the spirit of recycling, I decided to use an old newsletter from 2007. How different is life now? You’d think it would be very. But really, not much has changed!

Getting published is every writer’s dream. It’s apparently what we want, it’s what provides the motivation and gives us the spark to keep going, and keep writing and submitting until we finally crack the big one: a publishing deal, a proper one, with a real trade publisher who will promote our books for free — and pay us royalties every six months for the rest of our lives!

That’s the dream, right?

But how close is this to the reality of being a modern working writer?

Certainly having an offline bestseller can change your life. Desk bound introverts can become movie moguls (Dan Brown). Single-parent mothers can become very rich media celebrities (J.K. Rowling). And advertising executives can become household names (James Patterson).

But I would argue that having an offline bestseller is not the only definition of success. Just because the average person in the street hasn’t heard of a writer doesn’t mean that they aren’t rich and successful.

I get this all the time. I’m judged by the fame of my work. If you say you’re a writer and the stranger you’re talking to doesn’t recognize any of the titles you throw at them, they seem to think you’re not really an author!

It’s a trap that we, as writers, must not let ourselves fall into.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of professional writers out there who make a living, many are even very rich and successful, but whose names wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. Not everyone can be in the media spotlight. All those TV and movie writers out there who get paid by the script or cable TV creation get very wealthy doing it — but you don’t see their names plastered all over the tabloids. Ever.

Look at the average author list of ANY publishing house — and you’ll see at least 100 names you don’t recognize to every one that rings a bell. Do you think these ‘unknown’ writers are unsuccessful?

Why do we associate success with fame? And fame with success — when clearly some people are famous just for being famous — and not particularly talented? I think we need to get over this idea. Because it’s the only way to see our own success in perspective.

If someone could wave a magic wand, what would you ask for?

Financial independence brought about by writing? Most writers I know would give their mother, grandmother, and firstborn for JUST this, never mind fame or a spot on a chat show!

Which brings us back to getting a publishing deal. Sometimes writers are very disappointed by the reality of having a deal with a trade publisher. Rather than being the endpoint at which a writer can relax, kick back and enjoy a steady flow of money inwards, most new author’s experience is very different. Getting published is not an endpoint — or even a starting point most times — it’s a signpost on the journey of a writer’s life. It’s just one of the many signposts that indicate your ongoing success.

Other signposts might include winning a writing prize or self-publishing e-books — or giving a talk about yourself or meeting with a movie producer. There’s no particular order of things that you MUST follow in order to achieve writing success. It doesn’t work like that.

You are the best judge of your success. YOU decide whether you’re getting somewhere or you’re not.

Many writers I know start writing and releasing e-books AFTER their publishing deals — for two main reasons.

1. Fame and riches do not necessarily follow from having a publishing deal.

2. They look at internet writers of Kindle books and notice that, far from being ‘lower’ on the pecking order, they’re better off and more respected nowadays.

No longer is there a stigma attached to writing for the net — nor with self-publishing. In fact, technology has revealed the secret that publishing companies have been holding on to for centuries — that THERE IS NO SECRET.

An independent author has just as much chance of creating a bestseller than does a publishing company, most of whom grub around in the dark wondering what will sell — rejecting authors out of hand for no good reason — simply because they don’t really know what they’re doing!

Most publishing companies loath their writers because we think we know what we’re doing — and we don’t listen to them. They give us the brush off because they have hundreds of other projects that don’t make money — and don’t have time for another that might. (Ours!)

The writing industry is entirely geared to say ‘no’ first, last and everywhere in between. Sometimes I feel that the hacks who are supposedly there to help writers lack the passion and commitment that are the prerequisites of a working artist. They just don’t get it.

I guess the point is to encourage you not to think of agents and trade publishers as the be and end all of your life. There are a hundred, maybe even a thousand, other fine ways of becoming a successful writer.

And, you should perhaps be targeting those too!

Keep Writing

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Rob Parnell

Bestselling Author and Owner of Rob Parnell’s Writing Academy