Monday, April 01, 2013

NOW WHO’S THE FOOL? TIME FOR WRITERS TO GET REAL – Tough love for today’s writer

Literary agents once ruled the world and the publishers were their Gods. Now, it’s not the case. They’re all in a panic.
Make no mistake, they, as well as writers chasing after that brass ring, prefer to think of self-published books as vanity publishing. Too bad, so sad. Whether they like it or not, that is no longer the truth. I heard someone say recently that it’s a classic example of The Emperor Has No Clothes.
Wake up, Mahogany Row. Sit up and take notice, Bestselling Wannabes. The old dream is just about gone. Unless you’re one of the few debut writers who break out every year, gone are the days of six-figure advances and publishers who care about a new writer’s career. Writers pursuing a traditional publishing contract with one of the Big 6 are like office workers playing the lottery every week. Not good odds.
And I’ll say something here that everybody thinks and nobody says. At least not out loud. If you are one of the chosen few of the Big 6, it doesn’t mean you write better than the thousands who self-publish. Not anymore. Not by a long shot. Break-out writers are no longer just those with traditional publishing contracts! Can I hear an amen?
Every year, fewer writers are sending query letters to a long list of literary agents, only to wait up to a year or more for a response, of any kind. Yes, no, maybe, kiss my butt … something. Writers no longer kowtow to literary agents and editors who snub, ignore, and reject quality work because their ace in the hole has come out with a fifth or fifteenth book in a series.
I’ve been writing professionally, full time, since 2003. I’m not a newbie. Not to this business. I studied creative writing at Kent State, graduated from the Breakout Novel Intensive with Donald Maass in 2005, and attended and/or taught at over 25 writing conferences from New York to Florida. I’ve traveled on my own dime since 2006, speaking and selling my books at bookstores, book clubs, women’s groups, churches, civic groups, country clubs, and out of the trunk of my car. Over 200 venues. I've done the PR parade from TV to radio to sitting for hours at bookstores and book fairs.
Prior to signing a traditional contract with an independent small publisher in December 2011, I chased the dream of a contract with a major publisher. It was October 2010 and I decided to snail mail and email query letters to approximately 106 literary agents. I wasn’t stupid about it. I researched those who represented my genre, studied every one of their websites, and sent a beautifully written query letter I had spent months preparing.
Sixty-one agents never acknowledged my existence. 61! The remaining asked for partials, fulls, or rejected me entirely. I made notes of who rejected me with their horrible form letters and rude remarks, those who were cold or took more than two years to contact me at all! We writers have been told over and over about the stacks of manuscripts, the overwhelming amount of work a literary agent faces every day, but there's no excuse for bad manners. None. (Funny how writers must follow formatting and etiquette rules, but those same rules don’t apply to agents and publishers).

I made notes of the agents who were kind, rejecting me nicely, and those who were not kind, making me feel like poop. If you’re a writer, I’d be happy to send you the full list. It's quite interesting.
Eventually, I signed a year contract with a New York agent, a good one. Sadly, nothing happened. He couldn’t sell the novel. The publisher's rejections simply blew me and my agent away. Oh yes, I kept all 20 rejections from every New York publishing house who responded. My agent sent me their emails. They were over the top with wonderful compliments, but the reasons for rejection were so unsound, so ridiculous … well, at the risk of sounding like a “typically rejected author,” I’ll stop.

I suppose there comes a time when every writer draws a line. Reaches their limit. Sadly, in the past the only option a writer had was to collect those years of rejection letters, or simply give up. And a lot of them did.

Somehow, it all made me feel so subhuman. After a while, we decided there had to be a better way. And guess what? There is!
Thankfully, self-publishing and self promotion has become a viable option. A respected one. But like the sheep and the goats, writers will continue to be separated between those who will pay for quality editing, professional book covers, and publicity, and those who won’t. Writers, you can’t publish a lot of crap, stories full of errors, because you’re in a hurry to make a million bucks. Otherwise, we will look like those old vanity writers who never honed or polished their writing skills in the first place. And lately it appears as though some writers are turning out mistake-filled prose covered up by great marketing efforts, tons of social media promotion, and a local following making them radio stars, Toastmaster speakers, and highly promotable authors of bad books.
Book buyer beware!
Some in this business have gone so far as to say that publishers and literary agents are a dying breed, they just haven’t laid down yet. They say we are in a new world groping our way forward, but that life is too short to make a deal with a dinosaur industry where retailers can return unsold books to publishers. Many believe that antiquated process has got to stop. Everything has to evolve, or die out and the publishing industry is no exception.
Plenty of hurdles remain for the writer, and not every writer will clear them. But finally, we have more than one respected publishing option. A way to get paid every month instead of once or twice a year. Don’t plan on getting rich, but thank God, we’re no longer in Egypt. We crossed the Red Sea, and made it through 40 years in the desert. There’s more to be done, but the ball is now in our court.
In the end, it becomes simple. Readers just want to read great books. They don't care how it happens. I feel the industry will survive but will look very different to how it did before Nooks and Kindles took over the earth. Prepare for a wild ride, writers. This adventure has just begun. Some of us will stop wasting time, burn our bridges, and never look back. No matter how much we love our old-fasioned hardbacks, it's time to adjust to the current reality. Like Goodreads and Amazon. They don't care if you've written one book or fifty. They simply push, publish, or sell books in all shapes and sizes. What a novel concept!

1 comment:

B. J. Robinson said...

Love your honesty and your journey. I, too, kept manuscripts in a file cabinet for years and kept sending out query letters. I got rejections like every writer does, but I had one from a traditional big-name publisher by an editor who wanted my novel Southern Superstitions, submitted under a different title, but she couldn't get it past the board. Gave me the best rejection letter I ever received full of praise, but said it didn't fit in with their other titles. So, now it's found a home with Desert Breeze Publishers in CA and will release as a paperback in May. It's available as an ebook at this time. Wouldn't it be something if that lady happened to pick it up and read it and realize, this is the book I wanted to publish over a decade ago :) I'm published through a traditional publisher, Desert Breeze, but I'm also self-publishing. I've had classes through Long Ridge, Christian Writers Guild (two), etc. and been in critique groups, took creative writing in college, won first prize for my first short story in college. I thank God we have crossed the Red Sea and don't have to let our manuscripts stay hidden in a file cabinet any longer. Blessings for success. BJ Robinson