Posts Tagged publishing

Where Do All The Writers Go?

I’ve been an aspiring writer of fiction (largely science fiction novels) for over twenty years now, and have yet to publish a book-length work.  I have published a few short works, including one poem (free style), but nothing—short or long form—to a paying market.  Not a particularly auspicious beginning to a writing career, especially when I read every now and then about someone who writes a book, never having written a book before, and sends it to an agent or two, and they love it right off, and it sells to a publisher in a preempt for 6 or 7 figures and now they’re really well known, and accolades and awards and prizes pour in, and all’s well that ends well.  The writing magazines love to do interviews with them.  And seriously, my hat’s off to them.

But—and I put myself in this category—for every successful author like that, indeed for any successful author regardless of how long it took him/her to get there, there must be hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands or maybe even hundreds of thousands of unsuccessful authors who write and write, but whose work is not deemed worthy of publication by agents, editors, publishers and the like.  It’s not good enough, they say, or it doesn’t meet our needs at the present time, or we just published/handled/represented that type of story recently, or it needs work/editing/cutting/revision, or nobody’s buying that type of work any more, or it doesn’t have zombies in it, or the undead or Abraham Lincoln, or it’s just plain lousy, or—and this is my favorite—we just couldn’t get past the writing (?).  There are a zillion reasons writers don’t get published.  Perhaps a different reason for each author.

Only a small number of writers get to the stage where an agent/publisher will pick up their work and decide to give it a go to the extent of a book or series of books; I suppose the vast majority of those who submit are never picked up.  What happens to them?

I’ve been to a number of writer’s conferences in my attempts to learn enough about writing to get published the traditional way, and at those conferences I’ve seen many who could be classified as The Great Unpublished.  They, like me, submit and submit, but nothing ever comes of it.  Some may get a book deal, but I suppose most don’t.  I don’t know of any statistics on the subject, so I find myself wondering: what happens to them?  Do they eventually quit?  Do they go on and on, endlessly submitting and getting rejected?  How many unpublished novels are out there that are eventually self-published because no one will take them?  In other words, and to put it a little more scientifically, for how many novels, is KDP an endpoint?

I’ve heard it said, and I’ve read it in magazines, that no matter what you write, someone, somewhere out there, wants your work.  This is supposed to get you to keep submitting.  You’ll find someone somewhere sometime.  Don’t give up, they say.  Granted, that’s sound advice, but personally, I’ve had little success with it.  KDP is looking better and better.

Does anybody know of any statistics about how many writers quit after giving the publishing game the old college try?  (Sorry about that.)

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Fees–Great And Small

Over the past several months (late 2017 and early 2018), I’ve sent out several short stories to literary magazines around the country.  Some submissions were simply in consideration for publication, while others were to enter contests.  I’ve even scanned the submission requirements of other magazines to which I did not submit.  (For any one of various reasons, the most common that their submission period is not open right now.)  While it’s always good for a short story writer to submit and get published, and while winning a contest looks great on one’s literary resume, I’ve become concerned about the fees that some journals charge for regular submission, or to enter a contest.  Most frequently, the fee takes the form of a small charge of three or four dollars which goes to pay the company that runs the submission machine.  In most cases, this is Submittable.  I haven’t been too concerned about that fee since it’s small enough that most anyone, even a starving literary artist can afford.

But now comes along a different fee animal.  A couple of contests I entered recently charged $20 to enter, and I’m thinking about entering another one that charges even more.  Keep in mind, these are contests, not general submissions.  This puts the fee, while not out of my reach—at least not yet—on the road to the stratosphere, and I have become very concerned about it.  Such a fee may or may not be unreachable by others, I don’t know, but it brings about a larger problem.

I’m sure the journals are using the fee to pay costs associated with running a contest, especially to pay the person who judges the entries that made the final cut and picks the winner and perhaps a runner-up and possibly a few honorable mentions.  But from the point of view of those of us who are entering such a contest, a different facet of the question arises.  If I pay $20 or $30 or more to enter, and I don’t win anything, what have I gotten out of it?  The satisfaction of having entered and not won?  Not so much.  I get no publication, and nothing to put on my resume.  (Some magazines give every entrant a year’s subscription to the journal, which is usually two copies.  That’s at least a little better.)  Many of the contests get hundreds, if not thousands of entries.  My chance of winning is small, and that means that my chance of getting something for my money is also small.  I’m not sure it’s worth the fee.  Two or three dollars, okay.  Twenty or thirty, not so much.

Basically what it comes down to is that the journal is using fees to run its magazine.  Let’s say they get 500 entries and charge $20 to enter.  They’ve made $10,000.  If they have several contests through the year, the fees add up.  Financially, it may work for them.  But from the POV of a writer trying to get published, it doesn’t.

In my literary naivete, I always thought money flowed to the author.  That’s been the standard for a long time.  Paying to enter a contest with a meager chance to win is a reverse of the standard model.  I’m not sure what can be done about it, but it needs attention by persons more knowledgeable about the publishing process than I.

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Good Enough To Be Published

Over the past eighteen years, I’ve written three science fiction novels, each about 125,000 words.  That’s just the word count of each of the manuscripts as they exist today, and doesn’t take into account all the re-writing and revisions I’ve made over the years, especially to the first.  The total number of different words I’ve put into those books, and taken out and moved around and cut-up and redistributed and so forth, must total over five hundred thousand.

Currently, I’m finishing the third in the trilogy, but I’m still trying to sell the first.  Over the past sixteen years I’ve sent query letters to well over a hundred agents about that first book, but haven’t had a taker.  I’ve met with agents and editors at meetings, but no one has yet agreed to represent it.  In the meantime, I still work at writing on the trilogy, mostly on the third, but occasionally I go back and make changes and revisions to books one and two.  I also write short stories and blog posts.  Writing keeps me busy.

The most common question I get asked about all this is, have you considered self-publishing?  The answer is yes, I’ve considered it, but I have, at least for now, rejected it.  Those who have self-published a book say it’s a wonderful experience.  You get a book out there on Amazon and other places, without going to the trouble of having to find an agent and a publisher.*  Just do it, they say.  No, I say.

Why not?  My usual response is that I would prefer to write and leave the publishing details to those better prepared to deal with them.  Sure, I could go ahead and find an editor and a cover artist and a printer and all that, and put the book out there.  That could be done.  It wouldn’t go into many bookstores, though.  The most important question I ask myself about this process is: would the book be any good?  There’s a lot of self-published stuff out there that isn’t.  I’m sure an editor, especially an editor who looks at content, could give me his/her opinion about the whole matter, and manuscript reviewers (that is, beta readers) could give me feedback too, but the ultimate decider of whether a book is any good is the reading public, and I wouldn’t want them to read a half-ass book.  Or a three-quarter ass book.  Or even a seven-eighths ass book.  I want to put out only my best work.  I’d rather go through the regular old-fashioned process of getting an agent and publisher and let them decide if the book warrants publishing.  So far, that hasn’t happened, and leads me to wonder if my first book is really good enough to be published yet.  More revisions loom.  And if it’s not good enough to be published through the traditional route, it certainly isn’t good enough to be self-published.

*Sometimes I get the feeling that some people self-publish because they know their book(s) isn’t/aren’t good enough for the traditional method in the first place anyway.

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Being Read

Recently I read an interview of the literary agent Jennifer Joel in the March/April 2015 issue of Poets & Writers magazine, and she made an astute comment which caught my eye.  I thought about it for a few days and realized she was right.

The interviewer, Michael Szczerban, asked her, “What would you love for writers to know before their work reaches your desk?”  She replied that she “would love writers to do their homework by the time they come to me.”  That is, to know what an agent does before you send her/him a query letter describing your work.

But Ms. Joel expanded on that comment with another statement to the effect that writers need to understand the distinction between being published on the one hand, and what they really want on the other.  Yes, there is a distinction.  Ms. Joel’s comment was that what writers really want is not merely to be published, but to be read.

That’s right, to be read.  I think many people, myself included, have misinterpreted the real endpoint of writing by assuming it was publication.  To get the damn book out there.  To get it on a shelf in some bookstore and be proud of the fact that it’s there.  I think we assume that if it’s there, it’ll be read.  I’m not sure that’s true.

Many people self-publish their books and assume that if it’s on Amazon or Kindle or Nook or present in some other such platform, that they’ve made it in the publishing world.  “I’ve published a book!” they trumpet loudly to the rest of the world.  That may be enough for them.  But I find myself silently asking them, don’t you want your book to be read?

In light of what Ms. Joel said, I’ve thought through my publishing desires.  Sure, I’d like to be published.  But will people actually pick up my book (or the whole trilogy) and read it?  As an unpublished author, I don’t feel I have the authority to state categorically, “If it ain’t good enough, it won’t be read.”  But I highly suspect that’s the case.  This is one reason, if not the main one, I’ve steered clear of the self-publishing route.  I want some (i.e., several) professional literary types to pass on my book before publication.  I’m not—and I’ve stated this several times before—ready to throw a book out to the world without some validation by someone who knows what they’re talking about.  In my opinion, that’s more likely to get a book read than just throwing it out there.

If you’re a writer (or more properly, an author) isn’t that what you want?  Don’t you want people to read your book?  Getting published isn’t the end of the road.  Getting read is.  Who’s going to download your book if it isn’t well written?  Do you think a colorful cover will get it done?  Think again.

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