All fiction writers lie. It’s part of the job. Most of us have never swung a mighty broadsword, yet we wield the words describing the blade’s silver arc as though we have. Getting to live a life or be someone you're not is one of the most enjoyable parts of the craft.
Lying about publication, however, is a different story.
It’s a disturbing trend I’ve noticed recently, especially among writers just coming out of writing programs. These programs are notoriously competitive, so publishing is a way for students to separate themselves from the rest and secure mentors who want to work with them instead of the other way around. It’s a good way to network, and it also sets you up to take the flaming dog poopie of rejection, as well as the bags of candy of acceptance when you're away from the teat of your mentor.
However, lying about your credits won't get you anywhere.
For instance, a woman I knew told everyone that she’d just sold her romance novel to a “major publisher” and “was asked by her agent” not to disclose her advance (not that anyone was asking; that’s rude). A little research revealed that her “major publisher” was an e-book vanity press and her “agent” was, in all likelihood, a webpage she put her up herself. When word got out, it damaged her reputation among other writers in her field, but it didn’t stop her from lying again about another manuscript with another major press that, you guessed it, turned out to be less than she’d bragged about. She was a joke, and everyone knew it.
It’s worse when professional writers do this. Let’s call this one writer Dominick. Dominick had a moderately successful collection in the mid 2000’s. He hasn’t published much since. Yet he continues to tell people that he has a novel coming out “next fall.” It’s been “next fall” for four years, with no novel in sight.
And here's a fun tip--if you've never been to prison, don't base your entire platform on the story that you have. There's this thing called "the internet," maybe you've heard of it, and you don't have to be a P.I. to run a criminal background check. All you need is about five bucks and a few minutes. Things like child abuse and drug addictions are a little harder to prove wrong, but your lie will eventually unravel and then Oprah will yell at you. And no one wants that.
The absolute worst lie is the “forthcoming” novel when there’s no agent, no publisher and no release date. All of us have a “forthcoming” novel, on our laptops, in notebooks or in our heads—but most of us don’t utter a peep about it until we’ve got a contract in our hands and a galley copy to show our friends.
Here's how to use "forthcoming" properly: My story "Purgatory Blues" is forthcoming in The Citron Review. It should be up sometime next week. It's real. It's happening. It's forthcoming.
Save the fiction for your book. If you’ve accomplished something, whether it’s a 3-book deal or flash fiction in an e-zine, share it for what it is. Be proud of what you accomplish no matter how small it may seem. Writing isn’t easy, and publishing is even harder—but lying just makes you look like a jerk.