“I’m looking for new voices!”

I read that line on a writer’s board. The publisher in question was discussing questions that board readers had asked. Almost immediately, the responses came flooding in. “I love you!” one crowed. “You are what makes publishing great!” said another. All this because the publisher said he was looking for new voices.

I have no problem with this since most of our authors are also debut. However, I have never said I was actually seeking new voices because I’m not. I’m looking for great books that will sell very well. If the author happens to be previously unpublished, then I definitely take that into consideration because they lack a readership. This means I need to be confident about the book’s ability to break new ground in a very crowded marketplace. Can I sell it? That is my first criteria.

And that should be anyone’s first criteria, yet this is something I think gets lost in translation when new publishers open their doors and authors eagerly rush to query. Who are they? What is their message? What are their abilities to sell your book?

There are new publishers opening their doors every day, and unless you understand the industry, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of “We’re looking for new authors!” First off, why are they looking for new authors? That statement alone should make you wonder about them.

  • Do they want new writers because they pay lousy advances?
  • Do they want new writers because they think they know less about the industry and will, therefore, not be in a position to judge a good publishing deal from a bad one?
  • Do they want new writers because they’ll be less likely to raise a stink about their books not reaching bookstore shelves?
  • Do they want new writers because they won’t complain about the lack of distribution?

You can see where I’m going with this. To me, this “new writers” thing can be a red flag UNLESS the publisher clearly states why he’s looking for new writers. There really needs to be a reason for it. Benevolence is rarely a part of the publishing paradigm. We’re in this wonderful game to get fabulous books to market and make money, and we don’t do that by being altruistic.

Sadly, what I’m used to seeing is the publisher who announces the “looking for new writers” bit, and they get a rush of queries and a lot of excitement about fabulosity of this new publisher. It isn’t until the publisher has been around a couple years that the real picture becomes apparent. They usually run out of money because they don’t have distribution, so they enough sales to remain afloat.

Ask yourself, what does a publisher gain by specializing in new writers if they don’t appear to have the ability to promote and market them? I’m not saying there’s evil afloat. But what I am suggesting is that writers stop and think about the motivation. It’s not enough for them to say, “We market and promote our authors!” They need to back that up with proof.

And, lastly, I heartily recommend you always give a new publisher a couple years to prove themselves. It takes about that much time for them to run out of their startup financing and implode. After all, it’s your book and you worked achingly hard on it – you surely don’t want to publish it badly. Why give it away to someone who appeals to your sense of hope? Just because someone is looking for new voices doesn’t mean they can deliver.

14 Responses to “I’m looking for new voices!”

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    I suppose a legitimate reason would be that the publisher is hoping that they can find somebody good without having to compete with established houses.

  2. I hear you, Ninjie, but this isn’t a selling tool. And anyone who uses this as a selling feature will quickly find themselves mired in LOTS of green manuscripts in order to find that one or two good manuscripts. Authors should be attracted to the fact that a publisher can get the job done, not that they are looking for new voices. It strikes me as illogical.

  3. kimkircher says:

    Well said: You “don’t want to publish it badly.” Too often writers jump into publishing without understanding the whole story, and even considering that there is such a thing as publishing badly.

  4. DOT says:

    I understand your point; books need to sell and the more the merrier. There is of course a ‘however’, which is new voices are very necessary to move the cause of literature forward. Books are both a commercial project and an artistic venture. Without new voices we would end up like Hollywood, desperately trying to look forward while all the time looking in our rear-view mirrors so achieving nothing of note. I don’t have to list the voices of the past who would be unpublishable today because they would not be seen as instantly commercial but who have become the classics we all now look to. Yours is a tricky role and not one I would take on. And I respect the fact that different agents will deal with different genres, different risk factors with differing passions; however, we do need agents who are willing to take on books that do not fit the mould of past successes.

  5. NinjaFingers says:

    We do, but what she is talking about is new, inexperienced publishers who say they badly want new writers.

    We have a saying in the horse industry: Green + green = black + blue.

  6. Thanks, Ninjie, you beat me to the punch.DOT, I tried to convey the need for new writers in my post because it’s a vital element to keeping literature new and fresh. My post’s focus was on new publishers who use this as a lure to attract submissions. It’s illogical unless you have a specific reason for only signing new, unpublished authors.

  7. NinjaFingers says:

    Wouldn’t a new publisher’s BEST targets be solid writers being dropped by larger houses for not meeting bottom line oriented sales targets?

  8. Sure it would, Ninjie. Most of those writers are agented, and there is no way a legit agent will query a new publisher unless they are known within the industry. For example, a number of agents and their authors got burned with the Kunati implosion, so they’re careful. Kunati’s owners were virtual unknowns to the industry who had more money than brains. When they died, they took a lot of good writers down with them.

    Any new publisher is wise to introduce themselves around to agents and lay out who they are, how they plan on promoting their books, who distributes them, etc.

    It took us years to attract attention from the big agents and get the big books. It doesn’t come overnight unless you have some established pull.

  9. NinjaFingers says:

    True, but with the big houses dropping midlist writers as much as they are these days…

    And I just found this gem on Duotrope…


    I’m sure they have the best intentions in mind, but…

  10. […] Editor Lynn Price encourages you to find out what that publisher means by “looking for new voices”. […]

  11. http://www.otherworldpublications.com/aboutus.htm

    Ouch, Ninjie. Very ouch. This is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about. This publisher is extremely transparent. Real commercial presses don’t gear their websites to writers, they gear it toward readers. Keep in mind, however, that others aren’t as transparent. It’s just my opinion, but when I see someone saying “it’s all about the author” doesn’t really have their eye on the main ball, which is sales.

  12. NinjaFingers says:

    I don’t think they’re a scam, mind. I think they’re a writer turning publisher who doesn’t understand the industry well enough to know what they have to do to sell books…and thus likely to go out of business under their writers.

  13. boipelo miss-bossy kgwadi says:

    My email account is currently inactive but I’ll work on that.I’m very much impresed about what the publisher had to say and being an author myself I must say that new and upcoming writers should take the publishers words into consideration..such things do hapen in the real world!!!*great words I must say

  14. wendy says:

    So if a writer wanted to find a good publisher how would one go about that?

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