I was recently invited to Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA, to speak to aspiring writers about the world of publishing. Mt. SAC, as it is commonly called, is the largest community college in the United States. I wasn't there just to lecture at the weekend writers' conference, but also to represent Oak Tree Press in my role as acquisitions editor and scout for talent.
To be 60 and sitting in a classroom with people barely in their 20's listening to teachers half my age was really refreshing. I looked at eager faces, the excitement of putting their thoughts into words still apparent in their eyes. I'm not jaded but I know the light will dim in most of them by the time life intrudes and hands them responsibilities, marriage, mortgage and little mouths to feed. Some are already being told by concerned parents that writing is only a dream, to study something practical like business.
What was I going to tell them—that their parents are wrong to dash their dreams so early? Should I encourage them to follow their art and their heart at all costs? The times of living in a garret and pounding out a bestseller on a Royal typewriter are over. What's a garret? What's a typewriter? Did the dream ever really exist, or is it all part of the myth?
What I wound up telling them was the truth, gently but adamantly. First, I gave them the hard stats:
132 million manuscripts are submitted yearly. 1% will be published.
3,000 manuscripts are published daily
Of those published, only 2 % sold more than 5,000 copies.
16% sold fewer than 1,000 copies.
82% sold less than 100 copies.
IF a manuscript manages to get through the slush pile, 90% will be rejected after the first page is read.
98% will be rejected after the first chapter is read.
30-50 will get through to serious consideration.
It's not what these young adults wanted to hear.
I wasn't there to discourage them because I firmly believe publishing has never been so much in an author's favor as the times we live in. This generation is not at the mercy of Big Publishing, the agent third-circle-of-hell, enough rejection slips to wallpaper their dorm rooms. Electronic publishing and the devices they love have made them power players in the world of words. Their peers are coming out with novels written for a generation which grew up on Harry Potter and Buffy. Hollywood hasn't missed the trend, taking self-published bestsellers and turning them into movie gold.
There's no more “paying one's dues” to achieve success. It now comes down to creativity, not just in writing but in marketing and media savvy. Success is for the student who fearlessly confronts this brave new world of publishing and dictates the terms.
Did I find the talent I was looking for? Oh, yeah. There were two manuscripts I was ready to snatch up had they been finished. I also found Wonder Boys Jeffrey and Daniel, Augie and AJ, Marta and Michaelsun and met John Brantingham, a teacher they love and I one I would love to someday publish. I hope I left behind a little hope and a lot of encouragement.