This post is for fiction writers. But it’s also for fiction readers, because what happens in the publishing industry affects the availability, price, and quality of fiction.
In a recent post, I explained how I began my writing journey 18 years ago. It has not been an easy road. Although I sold a couple of short stories fairly early and had a great time editing an online fiction magazine, the complications of a young family, day jobs, and multiple moves across international borders put my budding writing career on hold too often to gain any real momentum. The continual attacks of self-doubt didn’t help either. Any discussion of the publishing process, e.g. the need to know the right people, to find the right niche, and to get an agent (really, the need to get an agent to help you find an agent) froze my brain worse than a slushy chugging contest. The only way I was able to finish my novel was to bury myself away from the publishing world and just write.
It worked. I finished my novel. Finally. But when I poked my head out of my safe little cave, ready to expose my new baby to the world, I discovered the publishing industry had gone mad. (Admittedly, it may have been mad before, but now it was mad in a whole new way.) I began to search the internet, trying to learn all I could to better my chances of publication, here is what I found.*
- Agents are no longer obliged to respond to queries. Some still do, but apparently the volume of submissions has become so great that many agents can’t afford the time to send a form letter or single-sentence e-mailed rejection. Or to figure out how to send an automated response, so that the writer at least knows the query has been received.
- Agents are no longer obliged to respond to manuscripts sent at their request. Some still do, but I’m still waiting on 3 agents more than half a year after sending requested material.
- At least one agent no longer feels obliged to respond to a manuscript revised to that agent’s specifications and resubmitted. (It’s been a year and counting since I sent that one out.)
- It seems like publishers, and therefore agents, are more rigid than ever regarding departures from genre formula. The rise of the clones seems unstoppable. (My novel is an urban fantasy, but not a paranormal romance urban fantasy. Good luck to me.)
- In the face of the growing e-book industry and declining sales in traditional publishing, bookstore shelf space is shrinking and fewer titles are carried by bookstores. Even best selling authors are being hit hard with this one.
- From what I’ve read, most publishers are demanding 75% or more of e-book royalties, even though the cost of producing e-books is rather small relative to traditional publication.
- Some publishers are experimenting with clauses in writers’ contracts, sometimes after the contracts have already been signed, usually to the detriment of the writers’ income and/or freedom.
- The upheaval of the publishing industry is forcing agents to review their business models. Some are responding by experimenting with agent-author contracts, usually to the detriment of the writers’ income and/or freedom. Some agents are adding “assisted self-publishing” services (for the same 15% commission), which creates a possible conflict of interest – will the agent continue to attempt to place a writer’s work with a publisher if she thinks she can make more money “assisting” the author to self-publish?
I knew it would be tough to get published. I knew I’d be competing against a lot of good, hungry writers. But it seems that contest is just a warm-up for the real war—the struggle to survive as a published author. That realization left me unable to write fiction for months.
But I still want to write. And if I want to continue writing and want to find a readership for my stuff, I need to find a way out of this morass. In the next installment of “Marie Meets the Publishing Industry,” I’ll discuss what I think my options are, aside from total despair.
* If you want to read more about the changes in the publishing industry, start with The Passive Guy, who re-posts information on publishing-related issues gathered from blogs and articles around the internet and adds his own spin. He also dissects publishing contracts and agent relationships with the aim of protecting author’s rights. Through his blog, I found Authors Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, who discuss the business aspect of the industry from a writer’s perspective.