Week 16 Report: Vanity Publishing and the Torn-Page Prestige

by Liz Winks

And just like that, my fellow classmates and all those participating in this novel writing adventure, the semester end is upon us. It’s finals week and luckily, at least for me, it will probably be the least busy week of the entire semester. And we all know what that means:  I’ll be able to sit down and have loads of time to continue working on my novel.

Just because the class is over doesn’t mean that our novels reach the end of their existence, too.

Oh no, just the opposite.

This week in class we discussed the Publishing Process:  one of the goals all writers strive to achieve. And a broad, whole new side of the publishing world was revealed to all of us. In order to achieve any sort of publishing, be it with a big company or self-published, you have to follow one simple rule:

Keep writing.


In class, we submitted our query letters and ten page partials to three faux agents we believed would hopefully want to request the full manuscript and then take us on as clients. After turning them in and commencing the waiting game, we discussed the world of publishing and the different facets to it (which, don’t worry, I’ll reveal to you all as well). During our last class of the week and semester, we did a “slush pile” activity before getting our results from the faux agents.


This week, we participated in two learning activities:  submitting and receiving feedback from faux agents and a “slush pile” activity.


The faux agents were graduate students in Cathy’s fiction workshop. They created a real-seeming profile (including a photo, bio, list of clients, list of desired genres, etc.) that they based on real literary agent profiles commonly seen on websites or in a guide to literary agents. Agent Profiles 612 F13.

Submitting to the faux agents was very honestly nerve wracking. I don’t know how many times I read over my partial to make sure it was as perfect as I could make it—and then I still felt that it was not ready, absolutely not ready for anyone to read.

I was scared.

And I don’t know how many times I fiddled around with each query letter to make sure I didn’t sound like an absolute newbie trying to enter into a field (fake though it may have been) that I didn’t have any knowledge about.

Without any other choice, I had to turn in my three envelopes and force myself to forget about it for the remaining two days. I couldn’t let the suspense kill me.

When it was time to get our responses back, the room was filled with tension and I looked over to a fellow student and debated whether we wanted to open the envelopes or not.

I finally did and was pleasantly surprised:  two rejections and one “I’m intrigued, send me 50 more pages and a clearer plot summary.”

Huh, alright. That’s better than I could have hoped for.

I was prepared for three rejections because, out in the wide and fiercely competitive world of submitting to agents and publishers, getting rejected is just a reality. In the big scheme of things, actually getting an acceptance letter is possible, but only after many long years of work and persistence.

It was really encouraging, though, knowing that someone had indeed liked my baby enough to want to know more. It was the extra little nudge I needed after a long week of school to remind myself that I needed to get back into writing.


The other activity we did was reading ten different first pages from published books. Cathy found them all on Amazon. Some of them were traditionally published, others not. We pretended we were an agent’s assistant charged with reading through the slush pile to find the best work to pass on to the agent. We gave each submission an “A,” “B,” or “C” in which “A” means that the agent we were pretending to work for absolutely had to read this selection and “C” being the exact opposite.

After coming to an agreement on which letter grade each selection should get with our table mates, we went around the room and put our decisions on the board so we could see which selections ranked what.

Surprisingly, a lot of the selections received “C’s” or both “A’s” and “C’s.”

How is that possible for something to be ranked both amazing and horrible at the same time?

The same way some agents will absolutely love your work and some will hate it:  it’s all subjective.

This was a true eye opener because it shows that if one agent rejects your work it doesn’t mean that every agent will. What one agent hates you for, another might love you for it. It’s a crazy, often contradictory business.

The most important thing to do is to just write a good book.


  • Publishing is not hard. Anyone can basically self-publish this day or submit a book to a press that doesn’t do much vetting and will publish your book. This is called, suitably, “vanity publishing.”
  • You have to figure out what’s most important to you:  being published just to hold your own book or get published to make an income and gain a reputation as an author.
  • DO YOUR RESEARCH.  There are publishing companies out there that know just how desperate everyone is to hold a book they’ve written and they WILL take advantage of you. Have enough respect for yourself, and more importantly, your book, and don’t give into that temptation. Publish properly.
  • Don’t get something published that isn’t ready. You’ll regret it down the road.
  • If you don’t get published with one of the main publishers in New York, don’t give up! That’s not the end of the road by any means! There are a lot of university presses or small “indie” presses that you can submit work to. But again, do your research before doing so.
  • Start looking at spines of books to see where they were published. You can learn a lot from this.
  • Look at books in general. It is easy to see which ones got published with more “prestige” based on how they look. Hardcover versus paperback; the texture of the pages inside; the covers of the books; the fonts on the covers; and so on and so forth. Think about how you’d want your book to look.


  • Fun fact that we learned in class: books with torn-looking edges (called deckle edges)  are more expensive to publish because they mimic the process of having to cut open fresh books way back in the printing press days. So, when you see a book with disheveled edges, it actually took more money to print. The Torn Page Prestige (which sounds like a band name, no?).
  • Read different blogs on publishing such as this one by Jane Friedman.
  • Publishing is a long and arduous process with many ups, downs, setbacks, and leaps forward. Keep your chin up and a pen in your hand always.


  1. The most important lesson I learned was that, in the end, I didn’t really mind that two faux agents rejected my work. I still haven’t decided if publishing is for me or not, or if I prefer to just write for myself. But this exercise has me thinking about what option means more to me.
  2. I also learned to just not give up. Persistence really is key for anything in life, whether it be getting that new car, trying to lose weight, or attempting to get a book published. As long as you never give up, then there’s always a chance for success.
  3. I love writing and I will keep on doing so. Both the faux agent submission and the “slush pile” activity showed me that there will always be people who don’t understand what you’re doing, but that there’s a lot of…interesting…stuff out there that’s been published. I love my story and characters and these reminded me that, at the end of the day, if I’m happy with what I’ve done, then that’s most important.
  4. Opinions are very subjective. You’ll never be able to please everyone with your writing. Someone will inevitably hate it. Both the activities taught me that I just have to look past those instances and keep on loving my characters. At the end of the day, I’m the one who has to deal with them. Agents will read it and quickly forget about it if they don’t like my tale, so therefore I just have to be sure I’m happy with it.
  5. The most important thing is to just keep writing. From this process and all semester in general, that’s what I’ve learned and will keep close:  make time each day to write.

We’re all writers.  Keep typing, keep putting pen to paper. Never stop. That applies to us within and outside the fishbowl. We are all swimming in the same sea of opportunity.

We all must keep writing. Good luck to us all.