An Insider’s Guide to Publishing

by David Comfort

An Insider’s Guide to Publishing is a well-researched dose of reality for aspiring novelists looking to get their work published. Although not mentioned on the cover, the content is specifically for writers of fiction. It is organized into 58 short chapters grouped in 13 parts, making it convenient to read in small increments of spare time. David Comfort demonstrates a sense of humor in his own writing and his selection of quotes from others.

The proliferation of writers and the decline in readers are recurring themes. Programs like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) exemplify this trend.

Getting published has never been easy. The author reports that Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected by thirty publishers. But now the top-tier publishers have been acquired by six multi-billion dollar corporations interested only in blockbusters. There are twenty-one thousand small publishers, of which a small percentage publish fiction.

“The critical link in the chain is of course the first: the author selling to the agent. Today it is nearly impossible to be published without one. The agent is the liver of the publishing digestive system. No shit gets past her.” Five chapters focus on agents.

“Many novelists were born in short fiction.” The New Yorker pays respectably, but accepts approximately zero percent of unsolicited manuscripts. “The overwhelming majority of literary magazines, however, offer contributor copies in lieu of payment.”

Many authors turn to self-publishing. “John Grisham self-published his first novel… Wayne Dyer [self-published] Your Erroneous Zones, which later sold 35 million copies… In 2008, for the first time in history, more books were self-published than traditionally published. By the following year, 76 percent were self-published. By 2010, of the 3,082,740 titles produced, 316,480 were from established publishers and 2,766,260 were digital or print-on-demand (POD)… Nevertheless, literature titles (47,392) in all forms were down 29 percent. Poets & Writers reported that of the 150 titles on the 2011 USA Today bestseller list, fifteen were self-published.”

“Digital publication now dwarfs POD in popularity. An e-book is less expensive to produce, and it can reach many more markets overnight.” Smashwords is “one of the largest international e-book producers. Smashwords authors control their own rights, are distributed free to multiple platforms (Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Sony, Apple) and collect up to 85 percent of sales receipts.” The author speculates: “the future of e may be IF—Interactive Fiction… the reader can manipulate the characters and the plot.”

Overall I found this a highly informative book. Chapter 7 debunks seven myths about the publishing industry. Chapter 10 includes seven writing tips. Chapter 40 gives advice on how to write a query letter. Some readers may wish to skip Part VII (The Mad, Mad, Mad Writer) and Part VIII (Bards Behaving Badly), which stray off topic with a 42-page digression of trivia about the dysfunctional lives of famous authors. I don’t see this as relevant to topic implied by the title. The book regains momentum after this detour.

Comfort, David. An Insider’s Guide to Publishing: Historical Perspectives on the Publishing Business, Insights from Agents & Editors, Tips for Breaking In, New Publishing Alternatives. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest, 2013. Buy from

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I received a review copy of this book.