What Does the Publishing World Expect?

I first met author J.A. Marx this summer when I interviewed her about her debut book, Destiny Defied. During that interview she spoke about publishing industry standards, so I asked her come back and share more.

J.A. has made a special offer for my readers with her post today. See the details at the bottom of this post.

What Does the Publishing World Expect?
by J.A. Marx

J.A. Marx, author of Destiny Defied

J.A. Marx, author of Destiny Defied

Fiction writing is a form of art. It’s fluid. Like music and fine arts, it changes to express and reflect the shifting thought processes and beliefs of our culture.

This can madden or bless the writer, and I’ll sum up why in one word: Subjectivity

I entered Destiny Defied in a contest a few years back. Two judges’ responses:

  • “I have not seen this good of writing in years.” Score: 10
  • “There are too many characters, and I don’t know where this is taking place.” Score: 4

Madden the writer: Agents and editors are equally biased for their own reasons, so research them before submitting anything.

Bless the writer: Write from your passion. Learn ALL the rules for writing before you start breaking those rules.

The essential standards (mentioned below) required me to rewrite most of my 6-book series. Other standards have shifted over the past decade, so I pay them less attention. (i.e. what genre is selling today; find an agent in NY only; how to build your platform).

The essential standards that involve craft skills (listed below) evolve more slowly, so I hone those nonstop. i.e. the omniscient point of view that was popular centuries ago (Tolstoy, Dickens) has evolved and attracts very few of today’s readers. First and third person are the preferred POVs of today.

What are those essential publishing standards?

This information has been around for years, but somehow only those writers who hungrily analyze and absorb them discover their value. They point to the unspoken industry standards. These are non-negotiable, meaning you are not the exception to the rule.

1) Become a CRUSADER for CRAFT – You Reap What You Sow

Start studying how to write and don’t ever stop. Although I’ve taken what some might consider the most “elite” writer’s course (Christian Writer’s Guild Craftsman Course), I still attend workshops at conferences. I subscribe to Writer’s Digest and I follow Chip McGregor’s blog. There are more great sources out there, so pick one that most benefit you.

Many manuscripts/books have crossed my desk, and the following are what I see as the most consistent problem areas:

Telling instead of showing. The hardest part about this one is that the writer usually cannot see it in their own writing. Show your work to an author who unquestionably knows the difference and ask them for an honest opinion.

POV (point of view)

  • The tighter, the better
  • This is where we catch and keep our readers—or we lose them. Readers want to get inside a character’s head to smell, taste, and feel what he/she is going through. They can’t do that when we rip them out of Mary’s mind and drop them inside Paul’s thoughts and feelings in the next paragraph. (excellent example of tight POV: The Hunger Games)

Dialogue tags and beats

Story setting

  • Consider it a character
  • Give it personality

2) Find CONSTRUCTIVE CRITIQUE – Iron Sharpens Iron (non-negotiable)

Everything I learned in the Journeyman Course (precedes the Craftsman) was brought to life through members of my critique group who didn’t water down their critique of my work. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

What Mom and Aunt Suzie say about your work doesn’t count. Find fellow writers/authors that meet on a regular basis. Or try a crit group online with ACFW: http://www.acfw.com/blog/?p=458

3) Make CRUCIAL CONNECTIONS – One Body, Many Members

It’s time to come out of your cave and attend conferences. Meet editors, agents, and other authors. You’ll be happy to find there are people just as odd as you are. ☺

You’ll not only make life-long friends, you’ll improve your writing skills and possibly meet the agent who LOVES your book.

Remember, best sellers aren’t decided by the author, they’re chosen by the readers.

J.A.’s OFFER: 1 free critique of a fiction work-in-progress. First 5 pages (editors usually know by page one if they’re interested.) One winner’s name will be drawn randomly from among those who leave a comment on this post sometime between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25. Winner will be drawn on Saturday, Oct. 26. The winner will be announced on Monday, Oct. 28.

BIO: J.A. Marx, author/editor, resides in Texas. She has written various articles for ACFW, CBN, Texas Health Mom’s Blog, and edits for a national healthcare e-zine. When she’s not writing, she’s working out at the gym, cooking up healthy meals, or hanging with her husband, the love of her life. Find J.A.: www.jamarx.net; Facebook https://www.facebook.com/embattledspirit?fref=ts. Email her at Embattledspirit@jamarx.net

Destiny Defied

Destiny Defied

To learn more about her book Destiny Defied, visit my Book Table


Want to get published but don’t know where to start?

Maybe you have a finished manuscript or just an idea stuck in your head. Email me today at Deb [at] DebraLButterfield [dot] com, and let's discuss how I can help you reach your dream of publication.


  1. Kathryn Hughes says:

    This is good, tight advice for a beginner like myself. I’m already doing a lot of rewrite and revision, trying to clean up dialogue, POV, maintain pace. So many folks think good writing is an easy thing that just spews from talented folks. They have no idea how much science it takes to create the art! Would love to win a free editor opinion, so put me in the hat, please.

    • Kathryn, delighted you found this so helpful. I hope you’ll come back to look through other posts. Did you read the interview I did earlier this year with J.A.? All those who leave a comment on this post will be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

    • J.A. Marx says:

      So true, Kathryn. And I think this is where we have a break down in the quality of stories hitting the market via self-pub. Sadly, many of the self-pub authors don’t recognize the help their skills need, which makes a bad mark on those self-pub authors who have taken time to better their writing skills. Good luck in the drawing!

  2. Great food to feed upon J.A. I appreciate the time you two ladies took to write this informative blog. I’m chewing and digesting slowly. Consider me entered! Me Me Me, Oh was I too strong…in that I want to win? 🙂 No matter, may the best author win at such a great offer. Thanks. 🙂

    • Paulette, so glad you enjoyed the post! It was all J.A. but I wholeheartedly agree with her advice.

    • J. A. Marx says:

      LOL Paulette from C-Springs? I already have your book in my hand, if you want my feedback, I’ll be happy to give it. That way other readers here can have a chance. Please make that clarification to Debra.

  3. I agree with every word. The opinions of different readers of the same words can be miles apart leaving the author somewhere in the middle frustrated.

    • Deanna, Sounds like you have had personal experience with this. One of the many benefits of a critique group is that you can usually get opinions at all points of the pendulum. But yes, as J.A. mentions, the opinions between editors can be quite disparate and frustrating for the author. That’s why it is so important to target submissions and find an agent that is the right fit.

    • J. A. Marx says:

      Hi Deanna. Funny how we keep running into each other. 😉
      Yeah, that stuck-in-the-middle feeling is more than frustrating.

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