I have a friend who, after two decades of writing several novels, is ready to throw in the towel.

This person has published a non-fiction book in the distant past. You would think she would have some inkling of the changes in the publishing industry since then.

The reason she's failing is that she has bought into the mantra: "I need an agent. I need a major publishing house." Because the blinders are on, she has failed to notice that the publishing world is in the same economic crisis as the rest of us. She reads reads articles such as those touted in this month's issue of Writer's Digest: PUBLISHING 101, Your Publishing Survival Guide. She proudly tells me she's on over 30 agent and publishing Internet sites.

I asked her, "And what have they done for you in 20 years?"

I've told her the ugly stats my Googling has uncovered of the publishing industry. Here's how they read:
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.
In a good year, a publisher can put out 10 books. In a bad year, maybe 5.

New York used to be the center for publishing. Now the publishing industry is governed by The Big Six. All but Simon & Schuster remain American. Publishers know that 70% of the books they publish will never earn back their advances. The system is as archaic as the Guttenburg printing press.

My friend is convinced she will be the exception to the stats. She knows the formula: Query letter, synopsis, the dreaded outline, the first three chapters. There is a reason this is called “submission.” The author goes through all the steps, kowtowing to the powers that be, which may be a 22-year-old with a red pen who just got out of college.

I published two novels and a short story anthology without going through any of those steps. How? I went with small publishers.

Small publishing outfits have filled the void. Computer technology means there doesn't have to be huge print runs. With Kindle on the scene, an writer can be author, publisher, editor, promoter and banker. We can finally sell our imagination without selling our souls.

I have to do the major part of my marketing, but even Big Publishing is requiring authors to do the same. What I love about the publishers I've worked with is that I have a big say in my cover art. I'm in personal communication by email and phone. My current publisher has even made me one of the the Marketing Mavens of her house. I'm allowed input on strategies to make the publishing outfit more profitable. I'm under no pressure to produce a book every year and can take my time getting my words right.

I'm glad my friend has hopes, dreams and goals. I just wish she wasn't unrealistic and inflexible. Her four novels could be on the shelves today. As I tell her, "You can't market what doesn't exist." While she waits for that agent to come calling, I'm selling books at speaking venues, mystery conferences and conventions. While she feels rejected at this stage, I'd say she's rejecting opportunities within her reach.

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Comment by Dorinda Ohnstad on September 3, 2009 at 4:46pm
I'm not yet ready to seek an agent or a publisher, but hope to be in the not too distant future. I for one am glad that there are more options available than every before, particularly given the impact of the economy on the ever-challenged publishing industry. Like it or not, unless you are a big name, you can't avoid marketing, whether you end up with a large or small publisher.
Comment by Jack Getze on September 3, 2009 at 12:32pm
Hey, I'm with Holli. I'd still be collecting rejection slips if it wasn't for my small press. But -- I still consider it the minor leagues, and I'd like to move up, that's all.
Comment by Dana King on September 3, 2009 at 12:16pm
Sunny,
It may well have been the use of the word "fault" that got my attention. The problem is, once I saw what you did with it, I may not come back for another.

As for the stilts, a person five-five on stilts is still just five-five. People are going to notice sooner or later.
Comment by M. M. Gornell on September 3, 2009 at 11:42am
As simplistic and trite as it may sound, I believe in doing what "fits" and is right for you. And the only way to figure that out is to filter through your brain as much information as you can, keep a open mind, try as many different things you can (and are legal!), then go with what feels right at the time. Sometimes the decisions are hard, but if you don't try things, you never have that happy dilemma. My first manuscript was sent to small, medium, large--whoever said they'd take mysteries. Had two nibbles, followed the one that was stronger and would get my book out the fastest (a small house). Right decision, or wrong, I don't know. But I do believe it "ain't over until it's over..." or something like that...and in the meantime, don't hesitate unless it's for a really good reason. Life's too short.
Comment by Kate Thornton on September 3, 2009 at 10:00am
I went through three agents before I realized I wasn't a novelist. They didn't realize it - 2 of them passed away unexpectedly, fodder for countless dinner conversations about the impact of my writing - and one just gave up and opened (I think) a bakery. But after revisions and interest from Big Publishers and a lot of waiting for the mail to arrive, I found out I was a short story writer. I'm glad I discovered that - it has made life better for me, doing something I like.

I remember when ezines were a novelty instead of the norm - It was great to watch the magazine world morph into something completely out of this world, like being in a science fiction movie, only it was happening around me every day. I mourned the shrinkage of the print world, and was confused by the changing processes, technology, terminology and customs. But there was an expanding electronic universe to celebrate and explore.

Last night, at a short story workshop, someone asked me that old chestnut, "Is print media dead?" And I laughed - I remember when television was going to destroy the movies, right after the movies destroyed legitimate theatre. The idea of co-existence just doesn't compute sometimes, but it's how our world evolves. Nothing dies - it changes and splits like Microsoft in a boom economy, enriching the whole idea along the way.

I think everyone should look at all forms of publishing and decide for themselves which is best. Traditional Big Publishers are the ticket for true talent and/or really marketable books. Small Press is ideal for many of us who are niche writers, electronic format still better for others, or maybe a combo of all available formats and traditions at once, if you have a lot of energy, stamina and perseverance.

And for those writers who produce limited-interest family histories and fund-raising cookbooks, there's nothing wrong with vanity publishing. Everything has its place and its usefulness.

I think the real trick is to know who you are as a writer, not only your potential, but you real output, your actual product - see it in an honest light, see your future plans and yourself in an honest light - and take it full force from there. Success comes in all kinds of packages - you can make yours happen just as surely as you can doom yourself to disappoinment.
Comment by Sunny Frazier on September 3, 2009 at 9:50am
Dana,
You find fault with my use of the word "fault?" What made you read my post to begin with? I'll bet it was the word and the phrase "Whose Fault Is It Anyway?" I know I would have stopped and read a title like that. And that is a good example of PROMOTION.

If successful authors were six feet tall and I was only five-five, I'd get stilts.
Comment by Marilyn Meredith on September 3, 2009 at 9:41am
I gave up on agents 5 agents ago and managed to find small presses for over 20 of my books. getting to old to wait any longer. http://fictionforyou.com
Comment by Karyne on September 3, 2009 at 8:37am
I have to agree that if we continue to think that the publishing world has pre-established boundaries that cannot be broached, then we've already set limits on success. I spend alot of time learning the how, what, where and why of the publishing world as it is, not how it was. Certainly there are some writers, such as myself, who's ability get up and go with marketing are limited by circumstance(I have a young child) but I work around it. I find what I can do, and I do with it with everything I have.
The adage, where theres a will there's a way is extremely appropriate. Not every marketing idea will work but find one that does. It is a personal choice to sit at home and wait for a big publisher to decide to spent thousands of dollars on selling your book for you but then, that ranks up there with pigs flyiing, unicorns and the Loch Ness Monster.

I remember someone once saying something that stuck with me. When it comes to success, make sure you get out of your own way.
Comment by Clark Isaacs on September 3, 2009 at 7:11am
As Bob Dylan said (how many years ago?) Times are a changin. They certainly are. I talked the other day with a publicist who said that self publishing was up 250% last year. Who would have thought that would be? Kindle and the like are some of the reasons.

Publicity is the biggest problem for a new author and it seems that there are a lot of people out there who can do a good job of that. Also, there are a lot out there who will take your money and go through the motions.\

There has to be a better way. As a reviewer I have been searching the last few weeks for some answers. As a writer, well I know that I have to do better in keeping up with the times.

Many of you are reviewers. Do you get paid? Mostly not! Sometimes you stumble into something which will cast off a few dollars, but usually, you get a free book. However, even if you offer you stuff for free, the papers won't print, no space, no money, no advertising. Unless you have a good relationship, forget it.

Somewhere along the way we need a guru who can say what to do. When the answer comes we all can benefit.
Comment by Dana King on September 3, 2009 at 6:48am
The isue I have here is with the use of the word "fault." "Fault" is a pejorative term that has been used here to include things that may not be completely under the writer's control. Granted, success today depends on large part on how well a person can help to market their books; that doesn't mean everyone is set up for it. If you were 99% more likely to be successful as an author if you were over six feet tall, would it be your fault if you were only five-five?

It may be my responsibility if I don't become successful because I don't have the personality to go up to strangers to hand sell a book, or because I'm not going to quit my day job to become a Joe Konrath wannabe. (No offense to Joe there. I have great respect for his energy. We're just completely different personality types.)

We also have our own definitions of success. I have a mortgage and a daughter in college. I am not successful if I get a book contract, then proceed to lose money on the deal because of my own marketing expenses; just getting them into print isn't a good deal for me. That's not a fault; that's how things are. I can live with that. Chiding others because they're not going to adhere to prescribed ways of accomplishing--or not accomplishing--their goals is no way to go.

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