I received a very thoughtful and passionate comment on my Gaining Perspective blog post and I ended up using parts of it in a subsequent post. It was so wonderful, I decided to use another part. So, Vanessa, if you’re reading this, send me your address, and I’ll send you a copy of The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box as my way of thanking you for sharing your thoughts so succinctly.
From a fiction writer’s perspective, traditional publishers are tough as a nut. Even with a big-name agent representing me a few years ago I couldn’t crack it, with rejection letters saying “not convinced this is a best seller”, “this may not be her break-out novel”, and “too mid-list for me”. I would have gladly settled for midlist.
So here’s the thing about fiction: it’s vastly impacted. So impacted, that it’s incredibly hard to sell…even for the the big guys. Everyone has been hit in the financial un-funny bone, and taking a chance on an untested novelist is a dicey proposition. Please keep in mind that I’m talking in generalities because many debut authors are published every day.
I adore fiction, and my personal library is overflowing with novels. But I know I can’t sell it in numbers large enough to keep the beagle in designer chewie bones because I feel that I’m too small a publisher to drive a novel to the top. The competition is fierce with fiction, and I can’t compete with the big guys. To do otherwise would be financially irresponsible and achingly reckless to the author. So my expertise remains in nonfiction, where I can compete quite nicely.
Because of financial strains, publishers have to go with the sure thing – or as sure as we get in this business – and that cuts out a LOT of authors who write fiction. The big guys have big overhead and are owned by corporate masters who demand big results. Therefore, they’re looking for a bigger payday – and yes, the midlist author has taken a hit with the big gun publishers.
This is also why genre fiction has hit it big. First off, it’s developed a loyal readership. As it is with most things, writers jump on the bandwagon.
“I can write vampire YA!”
“I can write vampire Romance!”
“I can write Steampunk!”
This goes on until those markets become saturated as well. Publishers can’t afford to be on the back end of a trend – they/we have to be always “fashion forward” with big books.
Vanessa also said:
And here’s the clincher. Because of the difficulty of breaking into the traditional publisher’s world (as described above), I decided the smaller town of e-books might be the way forward. But again, after requesting my entire manuscript, a newly established e-publisher came back recently with his response, and I paraphrase: too literary for e-books which tends to be fast-paced (I’m assuming like the murder mysteries now on his website). He recommended I go only to traditional publishers where my literary style would be more suited! Arghhh! I want what’s left of your beagle’s margarita.
The beagle is more than happy to give you the entire blender. And I don’t agree with their analysis that e-books tend to be “fast-paced.” E-books are simply another publishing format, and there are no parameters that differentiate an e-book from a print book. Silly to suggest otherwise.
But more importantly, your comment brings up a vital consideration: Consider the reasons for rejection – especially if you’ve received a LOT of rejections.
Opinions are like bellybuttons – everybody has one – so it’s impossible to consider every opinion when reading a rejection because it’ll drive you batty. I may reject something because I find the pacing slow, yet someone else may feel the pacing is fine, but it’s over-written. We all read submissions through our own filters, and the result can yield a lot of contradictory opinions.
But what you can probably take to the bank is that there is this: if you’re getting a slew of rejections, chances are there’s something fatally wrong with the story. I see many stories that I know will never be ready for publication because, face it, not everyone is a good writer. As tough as it is, one needs to consider whether they have the talent to be published. That’s why I recommend writing many books and not spending years trying to sell that one book.
Frustration = Making Unwise Choices
The by-product of endless rejection is frustration – something that I see happening to new writers who are trying to make a break into publication. And frustration can lead to making unwise choices.
My months’ long search for the perfect hairstylist led me down the road to a disastrous fashion choice that dogged me until the horrible mistake grew out. It made for some unbearably awful family pictures, which, of course, will haunt several family’s photo albums forever. I don’t mean to diminish this conversation with something as trivial as a bad hair day, but rather to convey the emotion behind looking like an over-aged circus clown with a serious addiction problem. Even the beagle growled at me.
And that’s what publishing is – emotional. We’re exposing something that came from our soul while trying not to take rejection personally. I get that. We all do. But in experiencing abject frustration, it’s unwise to let that frustration lead you down a path that will take your literary career from bad to worse.
I’ve seen many cases where new writers reach their maximum capacity for frustration and reach out to someone – anyone – who will read their book and tell them they rock the earth and moon. People who fall into this category are:
- New publishers who mean well but have no background in publishing and don’t really know what they’re doing
- Vanity presses who will love anything provided it’s wrapped around a nice fat wad of cash
- POD model presses who need a constant influx of new meat because they make their money from selling to their authors, not the marketplace due to lack of distribution
And what’s worse is those authors had no idea what they were getting into. I know this because I hear the horror stories all the time.
Whatever you’re feeling at the moment, or even the long haul, don’t make any rash decisions that will result in your losing something you love to someone who doesn’t care, and can’t get the job done. Honor yourself and your book enough to be smart about your next steps…even if that step is putting it under the bed.
Fiction is hard, it’s very impacted, and it’s a buyer’s market. Because the market currently favors publishers, they have the choice of picking the very best, or what will sell very well (no, those aren’t necessarily synonymous…hello Snookie)
Sadly, I have no magic bullet to offer you novelists. You can attend any number of writer’s conferences and hear famous authors talk about how to write a NY Times bestseller, and it always makes me gag. They have no clue as to what makes a NY Times bestseller. No one does. They know what works for them. Just like I can’t take one of Paula Deen’s recipes and expect my dinner to come out tasting exactly the same, no author can use a famous author’s recipe and expect to have a winner book.
In short, the platitudes are the same – write a darn good book, know the marketplace, be in touch with your targeted readership, blah, blah, blah. It’s all sound advice, yet it doesn’t guarantee success.
On the flip side, I know many novelists who didn’t bother wasting time on being frustrated, but instead put their heads down and wrote other books while learning more about the industry. And sure…I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug Tackle Box because I wrote it for exactly this audience with the intent of helping authors increase their chances for success. The more you know, the better able you are to make wise decisions that will favorably impact your writing career.
So for all you novelists, don’t lose heart just because this is a very tough genre. If you love writing, take pleasure in it because it’s no small accident that fiction is the largest selling genre. We love it. Don’t give up, but do know how to navigate a bumpy road.