Writers Fighting the Fight

Created 11 days ago by Chris H. Stevenson with 8 comments
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Cave2 square Irina Ivanova · Reader · added 6 days ago
Gotta stay positive, ’cause in this business nobody will do it for us. =)

I think promotions still occur, but a lot of it is internet-based. How much of the (especially genre) readership gets their news from TV nowadays? Who listens to the radio unless they’re in their cars? And I’m not even talking about the youngest generation. =) With the nucleation of readership around internet-based communities, the style of promotion certainly changes (hence podcast appearances, guest blog posts, book trailers, online reviewers, influencer outreach, etc. etc.). My impression is that non-fiction and certain literary books can still shine through TV/magazine/newspaper exposure, but genre... unless the publisher sinks a ton of money to plaster everywhere their author as "the new JK Rowling" or their book as "the new Game of Thrones," which is a huge, probably stupid, risk for them, it just doesn’t make sense.

Now, that some publishers nowadays leave their lesser-earning and debut authors to do their own promotion, that I think is short-sighted. Far from every writer can do it. Totally different skill set!

I agree that having huge hits every few years keeps the industry nice and shiny, but I also think that as long as books are written, reach their readership, and provide enough financial support for the author to keep writing more books, the industry is fine. Now, there’s a ton of scaffolding in the process (publishers, self-publishing platforms, and the hybrids like Inkshares, but also, within or outside of the publishing houses, agents, editors, cover artists and book designers, printers, distributors, marketers, sellers, etc. etc.), and I’m in no way, shape, or form dissing scaffolding here. Without scaffolding, books don’t get to their readers. Great scaffolding for a great story leads to the huge hits we’ve been discussing. But the scaffolding can’t outweigh its book, and I think some of that happened with publishers in the past so they went risk-averse. That, combined with the emergence of new types of scaffolding (okay, I’ve beaten this metaphor to death, I’ll stop now) -- and you get the shifting landscape and the current state of affairs.

Fix? This is just my opinion and my plan for myself, but: write the best books you can, know your (current and potential) readers, and keep aware of industry and social trends so that you can find the best way(s) to reach these readers and convince them your book is up their alley (on your own and/or through publishers).

Raising readership is an excellent goal too, but should one of us be as lucky as to stumble onto filling that unknown and currently unmet demand...
F aenpqg Chris H. Stevenson · Author · edited 6 days ago · 1 like
Very well said, Irina. You have a new-age, progressive type of knowledge and forecast that lets me see the other side of the coin. I like your thinking and rationalization. I’m of the dinosaur era of publishing (typewriters and 4th class special book rate) so my outlook and opinions might be tainted. Yet I do adhere to the fact that after observations lasting 28 years, things have not changed too radically, but significantly enough to have an impact on the industry as a whole. When Barnes & Nobel finally takes a headlong dive, then I believe there will be a realization of what is truly wrong with the industry. Not being a crepe hanger here, either. You know what we’ve lost already.

When I was published in 1988 and 1990, I landed in every B. Dalton and Walden’s book store in country. I ended up in every library in the U.S. I hit three major TV networks, including the 6’oclock news, 40 radio station appearances and 50 magazine and newspaper interviews. My two advances were in the thousands and I earned out on both books. I had no agent. These were NOT Big 5 publishers--one was a small press and the other was a medium house.  These books were in no way were bestsellers. This was business as usual--pretty standard fare. Today? You can not get that total package from any of the Big 5, as a new author.

I do believe that established authors that typically have several, if not dozens of books or series with a publisher, stand a much better chance of continuous publication, rather than a new up-and-coming author. Sure, houses are looking for that next breakout from an unknown--they can launch a media parade like no other, even eclipsing the re-launch of a known quantity. But the gamble--the new talent can fold up with the next book, or even fail to follow up with a sequel. The pressures can be enormous. The known quantity can be a stable, sure bet that guarantees income, just like it had in the past. So in case, I think old school hangs tightly in there. (My source on this comes from Publisher’s Market Place."

I’ve heard year after year after year that editors and agents are being more selective. It just means its more difficult--not impossible. I understand that. Publishing has always been competitive. However, I hate to admit it, but I think the "blood pressure" of the publishers is topping out and they are a little on the frantic side.

Okay, Chris, if we’re in such a bleak slide in the publishing industry, and that view is taken with a grain of salt because it is your opinion, what do you recommend as a fix? Are you even concerned about a fix?

Tough question. I think the damage has been done, more to some extent today than ever. I would love to see a ginormous breakout or blockbuster series (in the likes of Harry Potter or equivalent) that takes the reading populace by storm. If we got this injection fix about ever five to seven years, I think this industry would stay afloat for a long time. I don’t think we can reverse the industry operating system. I do think we can raise the readership of the world and we should aim for that type of goal. I do mean, do it like never before.
Cave2 square Irina Ivanova · Reader · edited 7 days ago · 1 like
Agreed that publishers are swamped with manuscripts, and the bit about agents is spot on. I’m not sure acquisition editors are as eager to reject as they’re rumored to be, but, hell, I as a reader reject a majority of even published books based on the first few pages, so why wouldn’t they? Time is about the most valuable possession in today’s world, and acquisition editors are far more skilled than I am to judge a book (and its writer) by its first few/middle/end pages, or synopsis, or even query letter.

Steven Brust brought up a great way to look at it in a speech recently. Writers and readers have a relationship much like that between people and their banks. Writers "deposit" value with their readers, be it through immersive / evocative style, competence with content and craft, appealing treatment of important to the reader topics, relatable characters, etc. etc. They "withdraw" every time they challenge the reader’s suspension of disbelief, make a craft or content mistake, clash with the reader’s preconceptions of the story or the world in general, etc. etc. If the writer withdraws more than what they’ve deposited, especially in the beginning, they go bankrupt (and you get books thrown against walls).

Acquisition editors are readers, first, and they are far quicker to process withdrawals.

I haven’t seen statistics on how many authors have debuted through traditional publishing (especially with the big houses) in YA in the past few years vs. ten years ago or something, so I can’t speak to that.

Don’t get me started on sensitivity editors, though (says the Eastern European =).

What I know for sure is that agents and editors out there are looking for fresh authors. The old stablemate is fine and great, but no business model survives only by doing the same old thing over and over again. Readership changes, demand changes, trends and dominant sensibilities change. Some of the brilliant authors out there whip up amazing stories that stand the test of time or even drive these changes. On the other hand, from everything I’ve read, it’s harder to re-brand an established author than it is to launch a new one.

Have the odds in the debut lottery changed? If they have, I’d personally (without any data) put it on the quantity and quality of supply and a demand in greater flux than in the past, and not on the methods of fulfilling the demand.
F aenpqg Chris H. Stevenson · Author · edited 7 days ago · 1 like
This is from my Guerrilla Warfare for Writers (special weapons and tactics). I think it adds to the subject matter here. I want to thank all of those comments, which made sense and covered a different ground of thought and process.

Here’s a question I ran across in my writing forum that I thought I could answer. It seemed relevant. There was also a mention about rejection comments from agents and publishers being all over the place and contradictory. So I guess this might be a double-barreled answer of sorts.

I wonder if the closing of YA to debut (somewhat) is part of the diversity problems people were discussing on Twitter. Eg the publishers hiring sensitivity writings on staff to fix the books by their established authors, rather that buying new/debut and actually diverse authors.

This could very well be since a brand name is a pretty difficult position to establish for a new writer. There is an extended time factor too, in getting that author shiny enough to be seen in the crowded marketplace. You know, it’s like keeping the status quo rather than taking a risk, contemplating the financial math between the two--comparing their work ethics and the speed by which they can act on revisions and editing. A ’one in the hand is better than two in the bush’ theory. An old stable mate would be less risky for an agent to introduce to a publisher. The publisher might quietly agree with this.

 

I’m sure we all know how it goes...the editors are very polite and attentive to agents above other submissions. By default, I’m sure that 95% of editors okay the full sub. I can’t remember ever having my agent tell me that she sent a partial out to any of the big houses, unless it was very specific--but that would be a terrible time killer. Now, the short query and synopsis also goes, whether your agent is using yours or they have touched them up, cut them down and made improvements, what have you. 

Here’s the clincher, the editor or agent can cut the book off at the knees by reading the opening query and full synopses. It’s true they asked for the full--that is DEFAULT. It’s really none of your or your agent’s business how a publishing house processes their material. The misunderstanding here is that nearly everyone might believe that they have had their full rejected. Hmmm...?
 

When you get your rejection comments back from your agent (and you should always ask for them), look for phrases like "I don’t think this will sell at this time." "It’s too long." It’s too short. "The plot seems weak." "I couldn’t get a clear picture of the MC." "I don’t think this is commercial enough." "We have something similar." "Sorry, but this is not a good fit." "I wouldn’t know how to sell this." And myriads of other general/stock phrases. We all know we’ve been read (at least partially) when the comments come in about characters, motivation, POV shifts, plot analysis, style and other such specifics. So NEVER blame you or your story because you have stacked up lots of rejections. It’s very likely that under half of your submission fulls have not been read through from page one to the end. In fact, it’s damn near a certainty. 
 

The deluge of manuscripts that a publisher has to weed through is astronomical. I’ve been in several large publishing houses and witnessed the operations dozens of times. If you’ve worked for a publisher as an editor, intern or first reader, you know what kind of pressure you were under to "clean house" because you’ve gotten loaded up. "Reject faster!" cries the publisher. They don’t look for what’s right. They are on the lookout for what’s wrong.
 

There is another kind of rejection, but it’s kind of rare. It’s a skip-through, where the editor flips into three or four different parts of the book and reads a page or two from each section. (matter of fact, they start off this way). They’re generally looking for flat material--nothing is happening--it’s all casual dialogue, etc. Once in a very blue moon it will be because of bad writing (your agent would have caught this). They’ll stop right there--whamo--they won’t break open the first chapter.
 

So take heart. We’ve all had rejections because of economizing. It’s the business. It’s not you. The right editor and the timing is crucial--more important than you think. Of course, you’ll have to have that knockout book! 

Red-shifting outta here,

Chris
Cave2 square Irina Ivanova · Reader · edited 7 days ago · 1 like
Reading is massively subjective, and (good) editors are people who are trained to balance their subjectivity with their knowledge of the market/demand.

The story of Rowling is interesting (as are the stories of many of the big names who went through a ton of rejections) in that Harry Potter filled a huge demand editors weren’t necessarily aware of and actively trying to fill. That the people who put in the resources to launch her properly figured out that Harry Potter is not only worth publishing, but should be pushed big, is part of that lottery, in my opinion.

On the flipside, Kindle and the others (including the hybrids of self-publishing and traditional publishing) might have shifted the landscape, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying they’ve ruined it. They’ve made it harder for midlisters who aren’t actively involved with their fanbase, and they’ve made it harder on neophyte authors by luring them down the difficult road of self-publishing before they’re ready, or really know what it is they’re getting into. They’re also pushing writers to acquire skills beyond storytelling, complicating it all further, but these skills potentially help traditionally published authors too, especially the ones who aren’t launched big out of the gate.

What matters, though, is that readers are still finding the books they like, because word-of-mouth is even more powerful in the age of the internet.

Different is not automatically bad.

Finally, the notion that "great writers aren’t getting discovered" for any reason... Define "great"?

From my personal experience, one’s "great" is another’s "what is this silly thing I’m looking at?" So my own windy writerly road took me on a year-long quest for feedback on multiple stories through multiple avenues, including professional (non-acquisition) editors. Each and every sample I’ve sent out has gotten at least one "this is great / I’d love to edit the whole thing" and one "utter &%$^ / wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole, go jump off a bridge (figuratively speaking)."

Probably even more tellingly, a novel partial I workshopped with professional writers and editors got positive notes from everyone but the Hugo-winning (acquisition) editor in the room. Interestingly enough, when it got to his turn (he went last) to elaborate on his notes (which called for a major restructure), he stayed silent for a while, then said that after hearing the reactions around the room, he had reconsidered his notes and maybe the structure of the opening was indeed better as is. (of course, that doesn’t mean he’s knocking down my door to acquire that story =)

The reason I’m retelling my own experience is to explain my reasons for believing the following: Editors are people. Their decisions are subject to multiple factors, some data-driven and others, gut-driven. They’re not exempt from mistakes, and they will admit their mistakes when they make them.

No reason for being turned down is "stupid," though. Even the mistakes are honest ones. Traditional publishers want the stories that will break out, and hopefully break out big. That means, they want stories they believe readers will love.

And (I honestly believe) there’s no single story that will satisfy all readers. So, do the best you can with your stories, toss them in the hat (or promote the hell out of each if you go the self-publishing/hybrid way), and hope they’ll find their readers.

Either way, good luck!
F aenpqg Chris H. Stevenson · Author · edited 7 days ago · 1 like
I’m in agreement about the necessity to screen out cliche plots and subjects and material that might pose a gamble. Lousy writing also deserves to get the boot. But the rejections of excellent material by our now famous and classic writers is very, very long indeed--it is so long, it doesn’t make any sense. This does show a subjectivity that ranges from one spectrum to the other, making it nearly a crap shoot or lottery endeavor. You would not believe my own experience in 28 years, three agents and close to 500 book rejections. But forget me, there are others who write circles around me and go unnoticed for years and years. At the risk of being run out on a rail, I will say that the major fault lies with the Kindle program, furnishing a program for anyone in the world to publish anything they want, and then beat the virtual streets to promote and market. it. This deluge has caused a very diluted atmosphere for very serious writers who are currently repped. The vetting process is no more. It is now, who can write the most books and name-brand one’s self.

For large-house trade publishing,  I believe it is timing and the right editor that determines publication. Or it is so commercial that books like Twilight and 50 Shades are ambulance chased by the Big Five because they have found favor with thousands of teenagers on the likes of WattPad and Booksie, and can rake in truckloads of money.  
Zack badge color 2 Z.Z. Traver · Author · edited 7 days ago · 1 like
Your question is an interesting one. Debut authors get turned down all the time, and probably in most cases it’s warranted. No doubt there are a few cases where it turns out to be a colossal mistake, e.g. JK Rowling et al. Most agents and publishers I have met are quite professional. But they are often in the "hit record" business, meaning they are trying to find authors who have a story they can fit into what’s currently popular. That often means they aren’t willing to take the gamble to work with fiction that might be too niche or for which there isn’t a proven, large audience. Hence, the rise of indie publishing, Kindle, Inkshares etc.
F aenpqg Chris H. Stevenson · Author · edited 11 days ago · 1 like
Do you have any examples of being turned down as a debut author for a stupid reason, and are you aware of the real rejections practices of agents and publishers?