At last week's conference, I got manymany questions referring to publishing myths as if they were truths. Many of these were mentioned multiple times. Always they were brought up by smart-seeming people speaking in earnest tones. Here, once and for all, let us destroy these lies with scorching truth-beams!
LIES: and then the truth
You can't get an agent unless you are published: Fully half of my clients are (or were) debut authors when I signed them up.
You can't get published unless you have an agent: Plenty of people get first book deals without agents. Some people even have whole writing careers without agents and do just fine. (Though to be fair, this is generally not recommended - these folks usually have serious Type-A personalities, are highly organized and business minded, love to do research, and are control-freaks and extremely confident extroverts... a rare combo for writers, in my experience)
You can't get published, or get an agent, unless you know somebody: As far as I know, all of my debut author clients came to me with absolutely zero connections in the publishing world.
You can't get published, or get an agent, unless you live in New York City: None of my clients live in NYC.
You need an agent who lives in NYC: There are great agents all over the country... even in California. You need an agent with a track record, or a newbie with a well-respected agency behind them, who has connections with publishers. Where they live doesn't matter.
You shouldn't send your work to anyone, cause they will steal your ideas: Trust me, we don't want your ideas. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Making something great out of them is the hard part!
Don't query during the summer, nobody works in publishing during summer; don't query in the winter, nobody works in publishing in the winter: The fact is, most agents and editors have to work year round, just like everybody else. We also often take a vacation for a couple weeks sometime during the summer and around the Christmas/New Year holidays... just like everybody else. And yes, this means sales slow down a bit. But that doesn't mean that you can't query! In fact, many agents use this time to play catch up. I have both signed clients and sold books during the supposed summer/winter doldrums.
Once you get an agent, you are 100% set. Get ready for easy street!: Sorry, having an agent does not mean that your book will sell. Nor does it mean that your work is done.
A huge publisher is better than a small one: Depends on the kind of book you've written. Some books and authors would get lost at a big publisher but thrive at smaller one. Large publishers might have more money, but small publishers might take risks that big publishers are too bureaucracy-ridden to take. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and neither one is inherently "better" than the other.
Editors don't edit anymore: They really do, poor things. Though there are fewer people to do more work than ever, and they have to go to plenty of meetings during the day, all the editors I know really do still edit. Often not during office hours.
Agents don't even read the slush, they just send form rejects: Oh but you are wrong. Yes, we reject quickly. Think about it this way: I don't need to listen to a whole concert to know that the orchestra is out of tune.
If you get a big advance, and your book does badly, you have to pay the publisher back: Nope. The advance is yours to keep, unless you are in breach of contract somehow. But your publisher may well be leery of taking another risk on you if they lose a lot of money the first time around.
Picture books are easy to write. OR, YA writing is fine, but eventually you should "graduate" to writing grown-up books. Errr... screw you.
Once you get that contract, your life will change for the better. (aka: Publishing means fame and fortune!): Selling your book is probably not going to change your fortunes very dramatically. The VAST majority of authors do not make enough money on a single contract, or even several, to give up their day job. A contract is neither medicine, nor magic. It can't transform a generally unhappy person into a cockeyed optimist, it can't solve all your problems, it won't make you more popular or prettier. Sorry.
WHEW. That was fun. Any other myths for me to bust?