Jobs lost, imprints closing, with more publisher consolidation possibly on the horizon. A lot of people are being hurt, but am I the only person who thinks there could be something good come of this? Big publishing houses have been making life harder for new and mid-list writers for several years now. Might a lessening of their stranglehold on publicity and shelf space be an opportunity for smaller, more flexible publishers to fill a niche? And would this be good for authors? Not the seven-figure advance crew, but in general?

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Well, the cynic in me feels that big publishers will stop taking on first-time novelists altogether. They'll want writers to deliver not only fantastic manuscripts but also some number of readers - maybe only a few hundred, maybe more - that the writer has obtained either by putting stuff online or selling a self-published book.

Having a self-published book selling a certain number of copies or an online-delivered work downloaded by a certain number of readers may become as much a vetting method for big publishers as only reading agented work.

You know, it's not a matter of getting a publisher to say "yes" to your manuscript, it's about eliminating the reasons they have for saying "no." Sales, of any kind, will eliminate any other complaints about your book.
I don't think that's cynical at all; it may even be practical. How often have we read editors lamenting what a crap shoot this is, and how much time they have to spend arguing with their marketing people about a new author's sale-ability. Maybe establishing some kind of track record for sales will help to minimize the risks all around. The publisher won't worry so much about buying a pig in a poke, and a new author won't have to worry as much about a publisher getting unreasonable sales expectations, and ruining a fledgling career just bacause a book didn't do as well as they wanted it to.
I think that actually has worked for a number of people, who managed to get excellent contracts after e-publishing or self-publishing. By no means a sure thing, though. Think what you're up against.
There are approximately 800,000 books published each year and 98% of them sell less than 5,000 copies, with thousands selling less than 500 copies. Still, there are advantages to publishing a book that generates good reviews. Good reviews help an author get noticed, as does a good website and social networking. And sending a published book that has been well received and reviewed to an agent or to a mid-sized or large publisher, along with your second manuscript, is better than sending in an unpublished manuscript. As I.J. said, a number of authors have achieved success using this method.
For clarification purposes, the 800,000 figure I quoted previously includes the estimated 300,000 self-published books along with the 480,000 or so traditionally published books in 2008.

Also, I saw the following story in a New York Times article. I think it's a good illustration of what can sometimes happen to unknown authors:

When Lisa Genova, a former consultant to pharmaceutical companies, wrote her first novel, “Still Alice,” a story about a woman with Alzheimer’s disease, she was turned down or ignored by 100 literary agents.

Ms. Genova paid $450 to iUniverse to publish the book and sold copies to independent bookstores. A fellow author discovered the book and introduced Ms. Genova to an agent, and she eventually sold “Still Alice” for a mid-six-figure advance to Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which released a new edition this month. It had its debut on the New York Times trade paperback fiction best-seller list on Sunday, at No. 5.

Ms. Genova likened her experience to that of young bands or filmmakers using MySpace or YouTube to attract a following. “It’s really tough to break into the traditional model of doing things,” she said.

Louise Burke, publisher of Pocket Books, said publishers now trawl for new material by looking at reader comments about self-published books sold online. Self-publishing, she said, is “no longer a dirty word.”

Diamonds in the rough, though, remain the outliers.

Humorous and perhaps containing a grain of truth....?



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