Authors and publishers–the old way and the new

In the past several years, getting an agent was the best method for possibly getting a publisher’s attention. Getting an agent was a feat in itself. And, to be fair, a lot goes into getting a manuscript from draft to release. New authors don’t have an easy in, and it seems like often it’s a matter of who you know rather than the brilliance that’s certainly in your words.

It’s disconcerting to these people who are often wearing their feelings on their sleeves. Rejection. No one likes it, but it’s what you have to contend with to break into the business. And then, the illusions of fame and wealth and being a best-selling author are the exception rather than the rule. So, the investment a publisher puts into a book, really any book, is substantial in terms of printing, distribution and marketing.

In the past several years, it’s been more and more young marketing executives at the publishing houses making the decisions on what gets published and what doesn’t. That news makes people who consider themselves professional writers shudder. You want your prescious words to be looked and judged by the all-knowing editor–the guy who sees your words and says, “This must be published! Excellence like this must be published!” That’s the dream of the writer. The bottom line considerations of publishing are otherwise. In the old days, maybe, but these days it’s all driven by making predections on what will sell. However, some strange books will always make their way into the stores. How disconcerting, though, to see volunes of your work selling for 25 cents in a thrift store.

In the process undoubtedly some writers just couldn’t muster the process, which did always seem tilted against them. Always there’s been the attitude that if a manuscript was great, it would somehow end up in print. Fate would make it happen. I don’t believe that, and that is why what is happening now in publishing is so thrilling.

Now authors can get their works published for the ebook market. No longer is it a matter of waiting and waiting for rejection slips. Writers can get their work out there and let the readers determine its value, not the unseen agents and editors who we envision sitting in offices engulfed in manuscripts piled in every direction. There is nothing like a good editor, as most writers will admit, if only to themselves. There will be lots of garbage, but at least there might be some shining stars, too.

It’s said that John Grisham was rejected by 26 publishing houses before finally getting a “yes” for “The Firm.” (Incidentally, this wasn’t the first novel he’s written.) And there’s another story that goes that someone typed up one of Ernest Hemingway’s well-known novels and sent it to the very publishing house that originally published it only to have it rejected as unpublishable.

With the ebook structure, the author now has the opportunity to reap a larger portion of the rewards. With print books, the author generally gets paid his or her percentage after all the other expenses have been paid. Now, on an author uploads a manuscript and gets 70 percent. Of course, many authors will have to learn a few marketing skills, but they often have to do that with print books, too.

There will always be a place for print books. But, at least writers have the chance to get what many of them want–readers and a chance to get their voices heard.


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