Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reexamining Some Publishing Truisms

I would say, for the most part, the following publishing mantras still hold some water. But a few of them are questionable or failing to pass the test as we reexamine them in view of today's marketplace. We've all heard these before, lived by them, practiced and held them dear to our hearts when we've drawn blanks or found ourselves depressed. But folks, things are changing...and fast.

Write More Books

This one primarily comes from the self-publishing crowd who believe that the more content you have for sale, the more you will sell. The caveat here is that series and novels written in the same genre are the best candidates. That might have been true two years ago (the Golden Age), and up until a few months ago, but what kind of opinions are we seeing on the Kindle boards lately? How about sales drops for the majority of the authors in the past three months? There are some notable exceptions, but I'm constantly seeing a decline in my personal sales, and reading some very disparaging remarks coming from some veteran self-publishers. Not meaning to put a negative twist on it, but are we seeing the very beginning signs of a sales halt or wind-down? Has the bubble swollen to the point of near bursting? Are the predictions coming true, which state that an ultimate threshold will be reached, and that no matter now many freebies or books are offered, the self-publishing industry has become a gluttonous repository where demand no longer equals or eclipses supply? Are these the early warning signs of our literary self-pub apocalypse? Or is this, as some claim, a seasonal drought or extended Amazon glitch and there's nothing to be worried about? The Boy Scout Motto is "Be Prepared."

One Book Publishable by One House is Publishable by Another

 There are too many variables for this truism to hold water--editor's tastes, marketing decisions, genre, book length, publisher experience and longevity and scores of other reasons. Two small press publishers can vie for the same manuscript but for entirely different reasons. One publisher could have very low acceptance parameters, or be willing to publish strictly on the strength of the author's bio and credit list. It's doubtful that two Big Six editors could even agree upon the same reasons for accepting the same manuscript and, indeed, would probably never see eye-to-eye on the editing and marketing of such a book. After 25 years and over 4,000 rejections, I had this happen twice to me--this is not a wide-spread trend, by any stretch. I just had a book receive a grand prize, first place award in a novel-writing contest, but after sending out multiple submissions, I'm not seeing anyone beating down my front door with a contract in one hand and a pen in the other. Lightning has not struck twice, even with this book. I think the only time this truism holds up is when the book goes to auction and several publishers engage in a feverish cat fight over it.

A Great Book Will Find Publication

 I don't think John Kennedy Toole, author of  A Confederacy of Dunces, got that memo. His book was passed over scores of times, and he ultimately resorted to suicide out of frustration and deep depression. Ironically, his book was later awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Publishers have a hard time picking a diamond out of the carbon pile as it is, so how can every editor on this planet pick out all of the great books and bring them to print? Folks, there are just so many publishing slots in each genre and category to publish each year. And that's it. No more. It takes a bit of luck and pluck to get yourself on that lineup to begin with. If all great books eventually found publication, and I mean books that drew huge reader populations and produced millions of sales, then I'm wondering what happened to Harry Potter in it's early days, as well as Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey. How about Wool? And all of these other self-published best-sellers that were passed over by these publishers, whose job it is to find really great books. The only way a great book will find publication is by reader vote, and they are the ones who determine who will see print, especially Big print.  And right now, books that have had severe editing problems have still gone on to make the bestseller lists, with some manuscript's prose actually left intact!

Start at the Top and Work Your Way Down

This works if you've written perfection. And I mean a slab of prose that is ready for prime time; one that has no errors: plot holes, typos, inconsistencies, pacing problems, genre confusion, weak characters, get the picture. Those books are ready for agents and A-list publishers. But what if your manuscript is not perfect? What if you expect an editor to give you some good socks and lay it on the line? What if you have some creeping doubts, as small and minor as they might be? Now that's me in a nutshell, and that's why I start out with the small press, for a limited number of submissions. Why? It's simple, and not unfair at all to anybody--I use small press as an editing guide, or my first Beta reader. If I garner the same editorial feedback from several publishers, usually more than two, I'll halt my sub train and perform a revision--especially if I agree with the suggestions. Any and all comments are welcome and I'll evaluate all of them before I even contemplate a rewrite. I'll then start at the top with the best crafted  manuscript, with at least the assurance that I've made some viable and logical changes that were recommended by a credible editor. If I have a major or minor flaw, the last person I want to hear about it is, is from one of my favorite Big-Six editors. By then it's too late and I've wasted a perfectly good submission. Now If I receive an offer from a small press, I'll politely decline, but keep them in the bullpen for a later chance at bat. Note: this doesn't work for everyone. You're certainly no worse off following it...unless you'd like to try an alternate method that might work for you.

Bookstores--Still the Only Viable Sales Platform

Not. Unless that publisher has full distribution to nearly every bookstore in the United States. Small and independent presses are woefully inadequate for getting books shelved, and many of them are dropping print lines or requiring a threshold of e-book sales. The problem is, with the recent demise of Borders, we have less and less bookstore options and they're dropping like flies as we speak. Never mind independents, the large chains are cutting back and reserving shelf space for the brand name draws or the hottest breakouts. With shelf longevity lasting from six to eight weeks, you better make your splash or face a mountain of returns. Don't get me wrong, print isn't dying. It's just seriously wounded, all for except the largest publishers with the most bookstore presence. Digital publishing has now reached nearly a 25% market share and it's still climbing, although it's slowed somewhat. To see the difference between print and digital sales, randomly pick an average author (or dozen or two of them), and compare their e-book sales rank with their trade print sales rank (forget hardbacks). Tell me what you see. Even the ten-buck e-books are winning the race.

Is this blog post a scathing revamp of everything that we've been taught and followed? Not by a long shot. It only professes to show how change is affecting the industry, and explores some alternative actions and thoughts about an industry that we have to constantly adapt to. Simply speaking, nothing is written in stone.