and sharing thoughts
For South Carolina Writers Symposium. October 26th.
When writers get together, the conversation inevitably turns to the state of the publishing industry. Much hand wringing and sighing accompanies the discussion of how it’s all going to hell in a hand basket. The changes come so fast we can’t keep up with them. Nobody likes this much change.
We went into shock when the first trusted big house added a vanity publishing line. More followed, until it’s no longer a shock, just confusing. We were told money should flow to the author, and to run away from people who asked for money to edit or publish our books, now the big guys are doing what we were warned to avoid. With the demand for a book a year, top authors pay editors to polish their books. The mid-list we once considered the bread and butter of the industry, is threatened. Authors, who once thought they had a solid career, have to start over, looking for a home.
I confess to catastrophising along with the rest. The few elites among us get good advances, are courted by editors and agents, have publicists, are scheduled for book tours, and sell books. How do you get those perks when you are a struggling writer trying to break into a business that insists on building barriers across every door you try to enter? As an agent, what do I do with a solid mid-list book that would have been easy to sell a few years ago? How do I help an author break into the business when everybody is looking for a best seller and has no interest in building a career?
Some writers give up, but others see opportunity where none existed before. One of my author friends wrote an excellent first book and was signed by the first agent she submitted it to. He quickly got her a contract for a series with a very good publisher. She met the deadlines ahead of time, turned in well written books that needed very little editing, and garnered a faithful following, including me. When she turned in the fourth book in the series, just about the time everything started going haywire, her editor informed her they were cancelling her series. That was that.
A few short years ago, that would be a career ending event, but she has other options now. Her publisher is releasing audio and e-books. She has the print rights back to her back list and can easily publish them. With her history of traditional publishing, combined with the ability to produce printed books on her own and sell them on Amazon, she becomes a hybrid author, and she is in very good company. Her career is revived and picking up steam.
Long time ago, back in one of my marketing classes, an instructor defined the difference in sales and marketing. Sales, he described as having a product you try to convince someone to buy. Marketing, he said, was defining your customers, determining what they want, and providing it to them. As writers, we tend to produce a product, then try to convince our customers they want it. Sometimes, that works. More often, you end up with your product stacked up in the garage with no takers. So what do you do?
In the future, we will discuss options. How do you improve your chances for getting published? How do you build a career? Where do you learn to write what they want, and is that for you? What gets your book rejected? In the meantime, keep writing, and bring your work to the conference in October. We’ll see if we can find some answers.
I've been many things in my life and if I'm lucky I hope to become many more things before I leave the world. Today, I'm a priest, an author, a literary agent, and mentor among other things. This page will contain my thoughts and on any given day, it might reflect any of those identities.