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.