Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Publishing "Deal"

Last year, I was approached by someone claiming to be a representative from a publishing company.  A quick look at his facebook page made me immediately skeptical (his only "Likes" just so happened to be the same as mine, and the publishing company he claimed to represent didn't publish sci-fi/fantasy material) but I played along with it just to see what would happen.  He claimed his company was interested in publishing my Fourth Dimension series and asked if I'd like to know more.  Know more?  Of course.  Reach a deal?  That I wasn't so sure about.

It turned out to be a hoax as expected, but the situation raised some interesting questions.  If I was given the chance to publish my books through a traditional publishing house, would I take that opportunity?  Years ago, the answer would've been a resounding "YES!"  But what about now?

In December of 2007, the first draft of Eye of the Tornado was completed.  I was very happy with the story I'd created and was excited to share it with the world.  I spent the first couple of months of 2008 editing and revising each of the three Fourth Dimension books before sending submissions to various publishers and agents.

I spent the rest of 2008 like so many other writers:  Coming home from work to find various letters and postcards telling me that my work wasn't what they were looking for at that time.

I had been trying to get published for years.  My earliest attempt was back in 2004.  I read through all kinds of different websites and books for advice on the subject.  I looked at other people's sample query letters and read interviews with published authors on how they got into the business.  Everything I found lead me to believe that talented authors with quality products will get published while mediocre authors with less-than-polished work will be rejected.  Seems obvious enough, right?  So, with my books being constantly rejected, I assumed that I needed to hone my craft a bit more.  If the quality of my work improved, then my chances of being published would increase as a result.

But a nagging voice of logic in the back of my head was telling me something different.

Whenever I received a rejection letter, I automatically told myself that it was because my work wasn't good enough.  I didn't pay too much attention to any other possible factors until I decided to go ahead and self-publish in 2010.   When I received my first review - a 5-star review on Key to the Stars - I stopped for a minute and said, "Wait a minute.  Someone likes my writing?"  Over time, more positive feedback started coming in.  I actually had people emailing me asking when I'd be releasing more books.  I was completely blown away.  The self-depreciating mindset instilled in me by the publishing industry's responses had led me to assume that there was no way I'd be able to attract an audience.

They were wrong.

And so was I.

This forced me to look at the other factors relating to publishing rejections, and I realized for the first time that the traditional publishing houses base their publishing selections on many more factors than just quality of work.  And these factors keep many hard-working authors from reaching readers not because their books aren't good enough, but because the publisher doesn't consider them marketable for a variety of reasons. 

For the sake of argument, let's just say that you're a talented author with the potential to be an award-winning best-seller one day.  And you're trying to publish your first novel.

First and foremost, it is important to note that the majority of publishers only release a handful of books each year.  With thousands of manuscript submissions coming in every month, the odds of yours being selected for publication are slim-to-none.  Obviously, a well-written book will have better chances, but there's no way I'm going to believe that out of thousands of manuscript submissions received, the three-to-five books released by a publisher in a given year are the only bookstore-worthy titles.  Even if only twenty of those books were fantastic pieces of work, fifteen talented writers would be sent the same rejection letters that the less-than-polished authors received. 

Then there's subject matter.  In my case, it's no secret that sci-fi and fantasy are crowded genres.  There are a lot of us out here writing tales of swords and sorcery and adventures amongst the stars.  With so many trying to make it, the odds of being chosen for publication automatically drop.  Of those five books the publisher releases, how many will be fantasy books?  One?  Two, perhaps?  Cut another three authors from the list for no other reason than their chosen genre.

Now we're down to two open spots.  And guess what!  One of those spots automatically goes to the publisher's big name author who is releasing a new novel that year.  So now there's only one spot open for you.  Out of all of your genre's submissions that the publishing house received throughout the course of the year, you're all vying for the single open slot.  Of those top twenty hard-working authors, nineteen are about to be sent home because there's only one opening.  Not because their books aren't well-written.  Not because they couldn't attract an audience.  Not because they aren't talented.  There's simply one spot left.

"Wait, what's that?  Snooki wants to put out a book!?  GET EVERY EDITOR WE HAVE ON THAT AND MAKE SURE WE GET THAT OUT TO BOOKSTORES IMMEDIATELY!"

Yep. You just lost your spot to Snooki.

And just like that, you've lost your opportunity to be published based on factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of your book.  The odds are heavily stacked against you - even if you're a previously published author.  You can try to get an agent as many authors do, but when it comes down to it, the obstacles in securing a literary agent are quite similar to those in securing a publishing deal.  Each agent has their own genres they handle, and like publishers, they can only accept so many clients before their workload is full.  And, just like publishers, they'd rather take a Snooki than a Joe Schmoe because - let's face it - Snooki's book provides a better guarantee of a financial return.

Now, with a more complete understanding of how the publishing industry works and how a well-written book isn't all it takes to be selected for publication, I don't feel quite so bad about all of those rejection letters.

On the flip side, self-publishing through ebooks has given millions of authors the opportunity to find their own audiences.  Where publishing houses were once the gatekeepers of the literary world, ebooks have blown those gates wide open, knocking down the barriers between authors and readers.  Now, authors are free to write what they want, how they want, and when they want without having to listen to a publisher tell them which subjects are marketable or which characters are likable.  No longer do authors need to worry about hot topics and market trends.  With ebooks, the creative control is 100% where it belongs: In the hands of the author.

Likewise, self-published ebooks have benefited readers in a variety of ways.  No longer do they have to let publishing houses tell them which books are good, which books are bad, which genres are hot, which trends are old, or anything else about what they should be reading.  Not only that, lower prices and free content are abundant within the indie author scene, a stark contrast to the works released by traditional houses.

With five books published on all major ebook platforms and readers from a number of countries around the world, I find myself in a position I never could've reached through traditional publishing.  I am able to share my art with people around the world.  And the response has been both humbling and heart-warming.

I haven't submitted my work to any traditional publishers since 2008, and as of now, I have no plans to.  Perhaps, one day, if the situation is right and the return is worth the investment, I might consider it.  But right now, I'm going to continue to enjoy the opportunities I've been given with the doors that have been opened to me.

So thanks, Antonio Cohen, but no thanks. Till next we meet...

God bless,
Kevin

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for this eye-opening post. I found it very informative and, although I had hoped to go the traditional route, I too have been gearing up to take the Indie self-publishing route. As a published songwriter, I well know the rejection letters, and I proudly kept them all! I think the hardest thing for an author to realize is that the publishing/reading world is different now, thanks to e-readers. Gives us all hope! L.Leander, Author

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  2. Smashing post, thanks. It reinforces my own reasons for going into self-publishing, and will no doubt give heart on the bad days when I think 'what am I doing'?
    I strongly believe that the audience should decide what they want to read, and the broader choice they have, across multiple platforms, the better. In addition, why should we fetter our creativity to what the gatekeepers consider is right?
    Jackie

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  3. Great post. Another note on this topic - Lately I have been hearing horror stories of authors who have signed with one of these small publishing houses that are cropping up. Makes me certain, self-publishing is the way to go. You can hire editors, beta readers, formatters, cover artists, even publicists. And you're in control, you're in charge.

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