Friday, August 17, 2012

More Reasons Why Traditional Publishing is in Trouble

No longer publishable.
The other day, I got into an interesting conversation (via e-mail) with fellow pilot and bestselling author Richard Bach, of Jonathan Livingston Seagull fame.

Let me fast-forward to the crux of our conversation. Which was that conventional publishing is (how can I put this delicately?) messed up beyond belief, now that all major book publishers have been bought up by mega-corporations and are interested only in blockbusters, and only those authors who are represented by top-flight literary agents. And only those with a very recent track record of mega-stardom.

You may think (as I did) that this means, simply, that new authors and fresh voices in fiction are effectively locked out due to the "old boy network" that has always dominated publishing. But in reality, it's much worse than that.

Richard Bach has sold many millions of books. He has authored 20 books, in fact, one of which (Seagull) was made into a major motion picture. And yet, he is having trouble finding a publisher for his upcoming (21st) book. He finds himself locked out.

Bach told me he has finally decided to go with a tiny, up-and-coming publisher, simply because he couldn't get in the door of major publishers.

What he told me, specifically, is: "My queries about my own new book to Random House, HarperCollins and Scribner, all of whom have published my books, were either rejected or ignored." (Emphasis added.)

Folks, that's messed up, bigtime.

Most major publishers will not even look at un-agented submissions. Their attitude is one of "when you're the only girl in town, you don't need deodorant." But it's worse than that. Even if you're a bestselling author with 20 books to your credit, you're now locked out, unless (apparently) you can prove you're Jesus in a business suit.

Of course, Writers Digest (and others) would have you believe you actually have a chance of getting published, if only you persist (and act like a professional rather than a lame-ass jerk).

Fact is, you have less of a chance than you think. What Writers Digest doesn't like to tell you is that your chances of getting a literary agent to request your entire book manuscript after a cold query are roughly one in 200. That's just to get them to read it, not sign you as a client.

And this is a tragedy, not only for authors (new or otherwise), but for the publishing industry as a whole. Because it means rationality is going out the window. The old-school publishing industry is now officially insane.

Many New York literary agents now won't even accept new clients unless they're recommended by existing clients. (Talk about an old-boy network.) But what if you're recommended by Richard Bach, who has sold millions of books but can't even bust the door of a New York publisher himself?

Let me break it down for you. It means that even if you are a talented writer, you're playing a cruel new type of Lotto.

So let's call a club a club, a heart a heart, a diamond a diamond, and a spade a spade. The old-school publishing industry is dead. Or rather, they're the walking undead, a bunch of characters from a George Romero movie, still ambulatory but totally unaware that they are just animated corpses without a reason to exist.

Random House, Macmillan, Scribner, Pearson-megalith, etc. Just lay down already. Your time is over.

Long live e-books. Long live self-publshing. Long live

The hell with New York.


  1. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was barely readable. It's no wonder publishers don't answer his calls/emails. Since this is anecdotal... I have a friend with a new book coming out. On Dutton, end of the month. He wrote it on spec. Found and agent and sold it a month after finding the agent. The deal included a sequel which he's just turned in. Yes, he won the lottery... but if one applies enough discipline and talent to the writing, it can and does happen. His only connection to the old boy network was as a screenwriter, and we all know how well screenwriters are accepted in the old boy network. Keep writing. It can happen. I'm on page 57...

  2. Hahaha! I am so with you! Long live e-books and long live self-publishing! And I loooved JLS when I read it as a teenager.

  3. Anonymous8:33 AM

    Two of my writer friends were found by their agents via slushpile. Both got six figure deals as debut authors.

    I know of a mid range author that is struggling. But there are others who aren't. Things are shifting, but it doesn't mean it's doom and gloom. There's still ways in if your writing rocks.

  4. Doom & Gloom indeed ... shall I give up now?

    Ahh well, who needs 6 figure sums anyway - I do this for the laughs, the thrills, the backache, the reward that I am a creative person with words inside me that write thriller books like "Politically Incorrect"!

    1. don't we all? but there is the thrill of after writing a book that I happen to actually like, I need someone else to read it and hate it even! but to just not get published because of the old-boy network is a scary thought indeed.

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