Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More Sobering News for Writers

For mid-list or new authors, an article in last month’s The New York Observer was sobering, or, to use another term, a real bummer.
Only the most established agents will be able to convince publishers to take a chance on an unknown novelist or a historian whose chosen topic does not have the backing of a news peg. The swollen advances that have come to represent all that is reckless and sinful about the way the business is run will grow, not shrink. Authors without “platforms” will have a more difficult time finding agents willing to represent them.
That’s not good news for new writers or those writers struggling to stay in print.
Mid-list projects, Mr. Abate said, the kind of books that have traditionally attracted advances in the $50,000 range, will suffer as a result: For little-known literary authors and journalists, “the advances are going to be lower and it will be that much harder to sell them.”

In fact, he said, these books “might not even get bought.
The author of the article, Leon Feyfakh, says this:
What lies ahead instead is a necessary scaling back of ambition: an age in which the gambling spirit that has kept book publishing exciting gives way to a shabby, predictable environment that cows its participants into avoiding all things adventurous and allowing only the proven few a seat at the table.
One thing all of this says to me is that if you’re lucky enough to get published this year or next, you’ve got to take advantage of the web 2.0 world. Get out there on the internet and promote yourself and your book.

What do you think about this article? What should a writer or newly published author do? Is this just a cycle like our downward economy? Will this raise the status and number of e-books?


  1. Unfortunately it seems that publishers may be getting gun shy following their own excesses and dubious deals. So they'll be even more controlling of what they want us to read - and that doesn't mean we'll want it. There are tons of small press and good midlist authors to choose from instead. But hopefully some of us still climbing up the ladder can try to reach the top rungs.

  2. Chris is right. You can't give up. You just have to lower your expectations and submit to regional and smaller presses. Tom Clancy got his start at a small press as did a number of well-known authors. Publishing success is a matter of luck as well as talent. Most important is getting your name and work before the public and there's no better way than the internet.

  3. I'm bummed. I need a long session with my buddy Johnny Walker.

  4. I'm glad Chris mentioned small presses. Many are advocating use of the net for publicity in almost any field, not just writing. I'm an artist who loves to write. For over a year now, I've read marvelous tips for internet promotion for my artwork.

    We always need to plug away, even when there is "sobering news." Tis a shame though, reading this in your post, but perhaps that will motivate those of us who are small potatoes to try harder through other means like you suggest.

  5. Bummer. But you keep going. Attitude is everything. One of my favorite motivational self help speakers is Les Brown. He has this book, "It's Not Over Until I Win!" One of my bibles.

    But I think I WILL join Mark in that Johny Walker session. This kind of news deserves a couple stiff ones.

  6. This doesn't come as a newsflash to me. It's obvious where the industry is headed - cater to the chosen few and forget the little guy/girl.

    Even at bookstores it's obvious. What's strange is the independents who have more to lose are much more willing to take a gamble on an unknown author.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. As others have said, I think the way traditional publishing is going will lead to more small press and self-published books and more e-books. The positive aspect is that writers who can't get through the barriers of being published by a traditional publisher can still see their dream or publication come true. The negative aspect is that, while there are a lot of wonderful books being published by small publishers, there are also too many bad books being published (by all publishers). That makes it harder for the good books to be found by readers. I suspect there will always be people who won't read e-books or self-published books, but those numbers are dwindling and will continue to do so.

  8. Hello all! I've been out of town for two days -- just got back. Had zero internet connection at my hotel (who would have thought it in this day and age!).

    I feel like the church lady -- I left and y'all just talked amongst yourselves. Love it! And what a great discussion.

  9. Just wanted to add a thought, Helen. How much are we at fault for the books that get published? A teacher at my writing class was handing out an assortment of books the other day, one of which was a romance novel/chick lit book by a famous author who shall remain nameless. It was terrible!!!! Everything I've ever been taught not to do, everything I've hated in books within the first few pages, which was all I could read. I feel that if people stopped settling for mediocre books just because someone famous wrote it, actual GOOD authors would have more of a chance!

  10. I think you're right, Emma. We need to support new and mid-list authors whose writing we like. We can also support best-selling authors whose writing we like. But not buy a book based on the author's name. I prefer to avoid celebrity authors. Put the name of the person who actually wrote the book on the cover instead of the celebrity's name. But the publisher is not going to do that because it's the celebrity's name that sells.

  11. I agree with Lillie's comments about there being more ebooks and self published books in the future. I think you'll also see more unique ways of marketing that take advantage of the internet. One of the most unique I've come across is Mary Patrick Kavanaugh's site, My Dream Is Dead But I'm Not, where she celebrates the rejection of her novel by traditional publishers with a public funeral for the book.


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