The Realities of the Industry – care for a domino?


“What’s the point? Will anyone want to take a risk on a first timer? Will anyone want to get behind a novel that may be compelling and interesting but doesn’t deal with any current hot button issues facing the American people? Should I just wait until the industry figures out what the future of publishing will look like and how they’ll make money from novels?”

Well, it’s all that and a bag of potato chips. I can hear the pain and frustration in every syllable, and I sympathize. The industry is undergoing an evolutionary process, and it’s about freaking time. For far too long, the industry has spent money like drunken sailors loaded on my great grandfather’s homemade kikapoo juice. You cannot toss money about and not have a comeuppance. And yes, it’s painful as all hell. People are being let go right and left, authors are being orphaned, and many worthwhile projects won’t see the light of day for a while because the industry has to right itself.

But it WILL right itself.

Had the industry run their businesses the way we small fry publishers do, this would have never happened. So where does this leave the author? Well, here are the realities:

Everything in this business is like Dominoes. If one domino falls, it impacts everything down the line.

The largest domino is the commercial New York publisher. They are looking mainly for the blockbuster books in order to stay afloat. Many midlist authors are being orphaned.

This affects the next domino, which are the agents, who would love to have a complete stable of blockbuster authors. But seeing as how we are forced to live in reality, no one knows a guaranteed blockbuster, per se, until a NY commerical publisher deems it a blockbuster as seen through their sales. Remember, there is no such thing as certainties in this biz; it’s all a crapshoot – hence our fondness for liquor and chocolate.

Agents, who in the past were able to sell their midlist authors, are now unable to do so. In order to find them good homes, they’re turning to the indie trade presses like us – the next domino. Oh joy joy, happy happy. The quality of works we’re being shown is beyond lovely. Same goes for the agents who are querying us. We’re not able to give anyone the huge bucks the NY publishers are, but we do have great distribution and put out a quality product. We are great homes for the agents’ authors.

The question is how long can this boon last for us small fries. We work very hard to keep our particular domino standing tall and strong. But agents need to make a buck, and they aren’t going to get rich off us. So the next domino to fall could be the agent. I’m already seeing agents who are accepting only the authors whom they feel are “big buckers” – authors who will earn a big advance.

So where does that leave all the other authors? It leaves you at the mercy of a very tight, competitive market. You are the next domino in the publishing line. In order to keep from falling over, you need to recession-proof your writing as much as you can, which translates to understanding how the industry works, knowing your competition, being well-read in your genre, and writing an outstanding story. You’re the ones who attend writing conferences because the networking can’t be beat. Every time I speak at a conference, my cold, black heart thaws just a bit when I see a giddy author who has just been signed by an agent or an editor. There is no better way to learn the inside scoop.

You also recession-proof yourself by paying close attention to your platform. If I have two similar stories and one author has defined and targeted her readership and the other stays at home and knits toilet paper doilies, who do you think I’m going to pick? In this day and age, authors MUST be prepared to promote, and he with the biggest platform wins. If you wrote a stunning novel about child abuse and you happen to be a prof on women’s issues, that’s a big yes because you can use that as a curriculum addition. If you can do it, then we can promote this to all the colleges who teach women’s issues. Cha-ching!

Now how does that help this question?

Will anyone want to get behind a novel that may be compelling and interesting but doesn’t deal with any current hot button issues facing the American people?

My answer is that there are always issues buried inside a book that can be fleshed out to correspond to a social issue – especially if it truly is compelling. Don’t even get me started on the SF author whose main characters were two surfer dudes. If that guy could do it, anyone can. Oh…I didn’t tell that story? I will in my next post. Promise. Pretty danged funny – I use that example in my seminar talks all the time.

As to the question whether anyone will take a chance on a first timer, the answer is of course. We do it all the time. If you’re in this game to retire on your gazillion dollar advance, then methinks you’ve set your goals a wee bit high right now. Yes, there are Cinderella stories, but they are few and far between. The trick to this game is finding the right agent or editor who believes in your story. Just because someone passed on it doesn’t mean that it’s not publishable; it may mean that they don’t believe they can sell it. Check out Janet Reid’s blog post regarding this issue. I laughed just as hard reading it as I did when she told me the story on the phone. It happens. We pass on stuff only to find out that it’s doing great somewhere else. And that’s the name of the game. Getting someone to love your project.

It’s ok to feel discouraged, but it’s also smart continue to believe in your talents. Without your domino, all the rest of us would fall. Research the industry, be educated, and don’t be an island.

The last domino? Why, the readers, of course. If we can’t give them what they want to read, then what? Let’s be sure to never let that domino fall.

7 Responses to The Realities of the Industry – care for a domino?

  1. Alex P. says:

    Hey, thanks for the insight!

    It’s interesting that you call the current status of the publishing biz a boon for small publishers, with more and more agents turning to you rather than to the big boys.

    So I guess I’ll keep plugging along with my current rewrite. And if I don’t find any takers, I’ll just go ahead and try to write, as you say, a “big-bucker.” You know, something about Jesus or a vampire. Or dogs. A cute pup on the cover always works.

    Thanks again.

  2. lynnpricewrites says:

    Alex, I wouldn’t worry so much about writing the “big bucker,” but rather, writing what you want to write and ensuring you have the means to pitch and promote it. After all, you presumably began writing because you had a story burning inside of you, not looking for retirement. In truth, none of us can set out to write a huge hit because we don’t know if we’ll be successful in that venture. We should write where our passion takes us, while keeping an eye on the elements that can sell our stories.

  3. Thank you for the encouraging ending of your post.

    I’m working on the education part, and have a couple of questions. Since competition is increasing, do you think it best for a new author interested in working with a small press to pursue getting an agent first, or to submit directly to the editor of small presses that indicate they are open to author queries?

    Also, on another blog I read about an agented deal with a small press that lists themselves as a “book developer.” What is the difference between a book developer and a trade publisher? Is that the same as a subsidy publisher or POD?

  4. lynnpricewrites says:

    do you think it best for a new author interested in working with a small press to pursue getting an agent first
    Absolutely. Agents are everyone’s best friends. Agents know how to sell their client’s work and make it mouthwatering. I’m more likely to read something they’ve sent me than had the author sent it herself.

    I read about an agented deal with a small press that lists themselves as a “book developer.”
    Hmm. Sounds like a book packager/book doctor, or maybe a ghost writer or indie editor. Hardly sounds like a “sale” to me. Who’s the publisher? This will help me answer your question as to the difference between them and a trade press.

  5. It’s confusing. The blog comment says: Michelle Howry at Touchstone Fireside, at auction, for publication in Fall 2009, by Alison Fargis at Stonesong Press (world).
    It sounds like Stonesong Press is publishing it, and they are the one I was referring to, but isn’t Touchstone Fireside an imprint of Simon & Schuster Publishers? Do I have it backwards?

  6. lynnpricewrites says:

    No, you’re right, Carol. I’m as confused as you. Sowwy.

  7. Great article – and heartening news for a new author. Many thanks!

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