Pub Rants

“Just Don’t See How I Can Break This Out In A Big Way”

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STATUS: Ready to turn in for the night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I GOTTA FEELIN by Black Eyed Peas

I have to say that lately, these are the most dreaded words an agent can hear from an editor.

As I mentioned last week, midlist authors are getting hit the hardest—especially when it comes to option proposals. This and debuts.

Lately, the most common editorial refrain seems to be the above. In fact, editors will even be wonderfully complimentary—really highlighting how much they liked the writing, the concept, the talent of the writer but… And the ‘but’ is the tough part.

If editors don’t see something as a big book, they are passing. Or my other recent favorite, if it doesn’t fit into a very narrowly prescribed genre of what has worked for them (oh let’s say something like dark YA angsty romance), then they are also passing.

Okay…. Hollywood does this too until the next big hit comes out of “nowhere” because it’s nothing like any movie currently out. I know it’s tough, editors, but I’d love a little vision.

61 Responses

  1. Cam Snow said:

    Since I’m an eternal optimist, I’ll offer a different spin on things. Perhaps the publishing industry will realize that their cash-cow, blockbuster authors are not enough to sustain them, and will resume the hunt for new talent with vigor once the recession ends. Perhaps they’ll also learn that YA vamp stories and spy-terrorists action thrillers aren’t enough to sustain them either, and they will start to look for different story plots in genres they are currently shunning.

    Either that, or they’ll just request Dan Brown, John Grisham, and Dan Patterson to write a book a month… (I desperately hope not as I’ve given up on those)

  2. Lost Wanderer said:

    You would think they would have learned from history! Every few years it’s somehing new and non-standard that ends up making everyone lots of money, and usually in cases when an agent or a director or an editor took a chance.

  3. AM said:

    So we should be pitching our novels like movie trailers? Huh, that’s very helpful to know.

    Thanks for the insights into the current trends.

  4. Gordon Jerome said:

    There is a publishing bubble right now. There are too many publishers, not enough hit books, and because we’ve all been so dumbed down by the trash that’s been published since the 1980’s, there are way fewer readers than there used to be.

    Book prices are too high; all serious readers (the only ones who actually buy novels to read)are rushing off to e-books because they’re better and cheaper.

    Big names must be found, but there isn’t any money to find them (since you have to go through a lot of midlist authors to find one).

    The only solution is to close up shop. That will leave a few large publishers who will market the big names. The rest will have to go to e-books where the overhead is much much cheaper, where you can publish a thousand midlist authors and it doesn’t really cost you very much.

    This means that the next big thing will probably be found in the e-book market. What’s good about the e-book market is that it’s growing and it’s fertile soil for independent publishers and micro-publishers–the ones more inclined to take chances and publish something truly original. It’s also an environment where true literature can sit on the e-bookshelf of Kindle Books just like the YA GLBT vampire high school erotica graphic novel.

    We are probably entering an era, because of e-book technology, of great literary art. There will be more Faulkner’s, Hemmingway’s, and Poe’s. There will be more Shelley’s, Bronte’s and Lees.

    Readers want those books desperately. They always did. That’s why we immortalize Faulkner, Clemens, Bronte, etc.

    Where will that leave the agent in all of this? I don’t know. You don’t need an agent to approach a small e-book publisher. If I were them, I’d be seriously looking at how I could expand my business into other areas of writing services. This publishing implosion isn’t going to take decades to happen. By the end of 2012, book publishers will be fast going the way of the wagon wheel manufacturer.

    Even now, a book is like a cavemanish thing to buy. It’s primitive a costs too much and uses paper for god’s sake. Jesus, can anyone say papyrus?

  5. Anonymous said:

    I am on submission now– so lets just say I’m a little sensitive. I don’t get this. Not every book can break out in a big way– isn’t that obvious and shouldn’t editors know this? Don’t publishing companies still have quotas and needs to fill for their lists? I just don’t understand this mentality–especially when it appears people are reading more because of ebooks etc.. how frustrating it is to come all this way to have the playing field no longer level–not that it was ever level, but at least things that should be published weren’t being turned away.

  6. Anonymous said:

    Yes, I’m with Anon 7:28 —
    Since when does every book a publisher take on break out anyway? All of them only really crank out the publicity machine for a select few titles a season. The rest of them just get the very basic catalogue and zero ARCs at BEA and the like, unless a book IS their big lead title.

    What’s the difference?

  7. Anonymous said:

    I’d be much more excited about the ebook market if there were editorial standards in place. You think wading through midlist authors to find a good book is bad now, wait until you have to wade through a sea of crappy self published nonsense by a leigon of authors who refuse to believe they’re not good enough to publish and insist on flooding the ebook market with their unedited, uninspired, and unreadable garbage.

    If ebooks do become the primary format for books in the future (which I’m sure they will eventually), traditional publishing will still be in the driver’s seat. The majority of readers want good books that have been edited and proofed and professionally put formatted. They don’t want Suzi Smith’s rambling story of how she found God after her husband ran off with her sister.

    And 2012?

    I don’t think so.

    The majority of readers read a book or two a year, and until ereaders drop drastically in price, people aren’t going to spend that kind of money just so they can buy their annual book to read on an airplane.

    Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my Kindle, but after reading on it for almost a year, I find myself going back to my paper books more than ever. The Kindle is great for trips and vacations, though.

  8. Dara said:


    It’s along the same lines of what I blogged about a few days ago–why publishers shy away from fiction (specifically historical fiction) set in other areas of the world besides America and Regency England. I know it’s got to do with sales, but maybe, just maybe readers would like something new. Maybe it could be the next big thing.

    I know it’s because the economy is rough and they don’t want to take a chance…perhaps when things get better?

  9. Valerie Geary said:

    Ugh how frustrating. For authors, agents and readers alike! The only thing to do is to just keep pushing forward and wait for things to come back around.

  10. Anonymous said:

    Ugh. I’ve had a novel on submission for 8 months now, with the most glowing rejection letters I’ve ever had in my life. Captivating! Delicious! Amazing! Annnnnnnnnd no. It’s completely demoralizing. Everybody tells you, write the best book you possibly can, ignore trends, write what’s in your heart! Sucks to be you if your best book of your heart is delicious, amazing, captivating… and not lead-title material.

  11. Cam Snow said:

    Gordon, I think the problem is that:
    1) publishers still have a horrible business model – they need to stop taking back books and need to sell things like other industries. This will not only improve their bottom line, but it would mean that booksellers would keep fewer copies of some books on the shelves and therefore would have room for more authors.
    2) We need more small/niche publishers that are willing to take risks on non-mainstream novels – big publishers just can’t do that anymore.
    3)Ebooks could be the future, but they could also result in mountains of terrible literature that is self-published – I just hope Amazon and B&N have ways of filtering it out for us.

  12. Gordon Jerome said:

    I’d be much more excited about the ebook market if there were editorial standards in place. You think wading through midlist authors to find a good book is bad now, wait until you have to wade through a sea of crappy self published nonsense by a leigon of authors who refuse to believe they’re not good enough to publish and insist on flooding the ebook market with their unedited, uninspired, and unreadable garbage.

    If ebooks do become the primary format for books in the future (which I’m sure they will eventually), traditional publishing will still be in the driver’s seat. The majority of readers want good books that have been edited and proofed and professionally put formatted. They don’t want Suzi Smith’s rambling story of how she found God after her husband ran off with her sister.

    You are absolutely right. And as someone who checks almost daily for newly released horror titles, I find most of them are crap, almost all of them, actually.

    But here’s the thing. Publishing comes first. I see a book title, I click on it, if there’s no cover art, forget it, if there’s not product description, or other standard publishing info, forget it. I don’t expect there to be reviews, but there has to be the standard ISBN and publishing info. If all that is in place, I download the sample. When I get the sample, if there’s no cover art, forget it. If there’s no table of contents, forget it. If the formatting is jacked, forget it.

    In other words, before I read sentence one, all the publishing has to be in place. If a person is going to self-publish to Kindle, they must become an independent publisher and conduct themselves and their product professionally.

    If all the publishing is in place, then I read the sample (which is the first 10% of the book). If it grabs me I click on “buy this book.” If not, delete.

    It sounds like work, but it’s not, it takes probably less time than browsing books on the shelf at B&N.

    And I like the control. I don’t want publishers telling me what I can and can’t read. That’s how we got in the mess we’re in today.

  13. Anonymous said:

    If you pay attention to the “bigger” publishers, you’ll see that a lot of them (who have been buying less since publishing took a tumble a year ago) have been re-releasing backlists this time of the year. I never used to see so many Avon re-releases in a month, but here they are.

    My guess is that these days, they’re just not committing to midlist authors. They know they’ll need ’em again eventually, but right now, if it’s not someone big I think they’ll go with the tried-and-true–even if it means that the tried-and-true is what has literally been published before.

  14. Bob said:

    Publishing is not immune from the rest of the economy.

    The first thing that strikes me is the writer who calls other published books crap. Who laments the needs for Faulkners and Hemmingways and the rest. Go for it. Good luck. But please don’t insult others who have sweat blood, gone through the brutal process of being published, and fight to make a living in this business. Please list the titles of your published books so readers can’t determine their ‘crap’ level. I have often seen this attitude and it never does the person who proclaims it any good.

    The publishing business is based on a very flawed model. But there are a lot of smart people trying to figure out how to reconfigure it. Right now, my major suggestion is author training. Every time I broach this subject to agents and editors they get a blank look on their faces. They believe newly published authors should pick up their business savvy by osmosis, going to writers conferences and networking with other authors. The concept of formal author training supplied by either agents or publishers is something they can’t conceive of. Yet they bemoan the lack of ‘expertise’ in the business authors display. I can’t count the number of agent blogs I read where they complain about the lack of publishing knowledge authors show. Well, why shouldn’t they? The onus to learn how to function as an author is always placed back on the author. I agree the responsibility lies there, but we can certainly help a little, can’t we? I know agents and editors are too busy to do such themselves.

    Pretty much every other business I can think of trains their employees. But publishers don’t train writers to be authors. The reply I had from one editor was “We contract for the manuscript, not employ the author.” Manuscripts don’t magically appear. They are produced by authors.

    This and the lack of time for agents and editors to do this training is one reason I’ve started my Warrior Writer program– to train writers to be professional authors. I don’t focus on the writing in those workshops (I have a Writing Workshop for that) but rather on how to develop a career plan, set goals, integrate a publishing team of author/agent/ editor and publisher and ultimately reader. How to employ social media. And most importantly, to overcome the fears authors have, such as the possibility of breaking out in today’s market being so low.

  15. Anonymous said:

    Wow! Another post I can sooo relate to. I have a book currently on submission and my agent is getting the–We really loved it BUT it falls across too many genres and would be too hard to market–rejections. It’s so heartbreaking to be rejected for reasons other than my writing. I guess it only takes one editor to say yes but getting there is so frustrating ; (.

  16. Gordon Jerome said:

    Ebooks could be the future, but they could also result in mountains of terrible literature that is self-published – I just hope Amazon and B&N have ways of filtering it out for us.

    I have no doubt that will happen in the future. Right now, Kindle Books is like “come one, come all!” And personally, I think that’s a good idea. The reason I say so is that if you’re like me, you want to have the ability to see all the trash. If you only want bestsellers, you can search by that criteria as well. I search by publication date.

    And eventually, all who can self-publish will have self-published and they will be absorbed into the system. Self-publishing, however, is not a bad thing, if it’s done well. That’s why I believe authors should become independent publishers, and not simply self-publish.

    Case in point: Anon 9:15 up there says they have been in submission for eight months, and they get glowing rejection letters. Well, then, there’s a book that’s probably worth reading. If it’s a ghost story, damnit, I want to read it! But look: the publishing industry has squashed it. Now I can’t read it.

    I think the day is coming when an author must also be a publisher. Big publishers may form when one independent buys out another independent, and so on. And in the end, that may be the way a writer gets rich. And I’m good with that.

    Where does that leave the agent and editor and Random House? I don’t know, doing their own thing with assembly line books by the authors of James Patterson’s corporation, I guess.

    Look, after Obama won the Nobel Prize, and that added to Slumdog Millionaire beating out Doubt for an Academy Award, there’s nothing left in the traditional institutions for writers. E-books are going to let us start over again, and I’m thrilled to be alive and uniquely qualified and positioned to take advantage of it.

    Maybe authors will begin to create co-op publishing houses for their own membership’s works.

  17. Anonymous said:

    I especially admire the illusion that every book needs to be something the publisher can “break out,” while at the same time they know that their marketing/publicity budgets are such that they won’t even try very hard to break out most of the books in a given season’s catalog. What’s the point of demanding that every book have break out potential if you know you’re not going to actually attempt to utilize that potential?

    The fact that the only other option seems to be “we’ll only buy the exact same thing that made us money last year” is even more disheartening.

  18. Ivy Reisner said:

    My fear is that the book industry will follow the movie industry into an age of fear and triviality. The only movies being produced are pre-tested. They’re “based on a…”, a sequel, or a remake. Books are where the good stories play. If the only material coming out is what came out before in some fashion, we’re furthering the current artistic dark age.

    Anon 8:29, I don’t know where you got the idea that people read two books a year from. I know I read two last week (The Windup Girl and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). I can’t count how many I, or most of the bibliophiles I know, go through in a year, but I promise we all pass 2 in January.

  19. Jenny Gardiner said:

    I have to believe that this too shall pass. At some point this has to come back to bite them: there will be no middle class left, basically, in the world of authors. People have to eventually get sick of the powerhouses, or I suppose at some point they run out of steam.
    But the good old days of throw a lot up on the wall to see what sticks doesn’t seem to be likely in the near future…now it seems they only want to throw the sure-thing on the wall, knowing at least some of it’ll stick

  20. Anonymous said:

    Gordon, I have to say that I disagree with your point about there being too many publishers–if anything, it’s the opposite. Over the past two decades more and more of the smaller houses have been merged into the bigger ones, while others simply folded. The big publishers are now all under the umbrella of huge corporations like News Corp and CBS, which demand an outrageous revenue stream, either because they don’t truly understand how the industry functions or because they see these mega-hits in Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer and believe that can be the norm for them, too. I’ve always heard that a publisher is very healthy and successful if it’s making most of its profits off its backlist titles, but as they search for the next mega-hit, most now rely on their frontlist titles, leaving them vulnerable if a project bombs.

    — An Editorial Assistant

  21. Anonymous said:

    Gordon, your overwhelming faith that somehow not having publishers around to sift through the giant piles of dross that all agents see in their query piles is a good thing is….well….I’ll just say good luck with that.

    Apparently you’ve never actually had to deal with a slush pile yourself, or the idea of going through huge piles of e-books and reading samples of each one until you find what you want wouldn’t appeal to you quite so much.

  22. Gordon Jerome said:

    The first thing that strikes me is the writer who calls other published books crap. Who laments the needs for Faulkners and Hemmingways and the rest. Go for it. Good luck. But please don’t insult others who have sweat blood, gone through the brutal process of being published, and fight to make a living in this business. Please list the titles of your published books so readers can’t determine their ‘crap’ level. I have often seen this attitude and it never does the person who proclaims it any good.

    As for me, I have a sample of my first novel and a short story on my website. The novel, Caretakers of Eternity, will be coming out through XYSTUM Publishing the first part of next year. So, by all means get it and critique it all you want. You’re a reader; you have that right. Just as I have a write to call crap what I don’t like.

    Now, I realize you have a business that trains writers to militantly pursue their careers. Great. But you can only shine a turd so much. Some people who want to be writers have neither the intellect nor the education to succeed as writers, nor do they possess the discipline, work ethic or willpower to aquire what they lack. Writers are first born to be writers, then they are trained to be writers. It must be the same way with the Special Forces. Not everyone can be in the Special Forces, no matter how much they want to be.

    I must say though, to hear you refer to writers as the employees of publishers and agents is a bit nauseating. But it doesn’t matter. In three years, none of that will make any difference. The publishing industry is imploding.

  23. Gordon Jerome said:

    Apparently you’ve never actually had to deal with a slush pile yourself, or the idea of going through huge piles of e-books and reading samples of each one until you find what you want wouldn’t appeal to you quite so much.

    In Kindle Books, you have a slush pile. Granted, it’s a more refined slush pile, because there is a learning curve associated with the Digital Text Platform system they use. Most of the slush pile a publisher would see is by people who also wouldn’t try ot self-publish.

    I’m going over right now to see if there are any new titles out. It’ll take me 30 seconds. Any that are there, if they conform to the basic publishing standard I mentioned above, I’ll download as a sample and check out later. I’m not reading a book right now, so I’m looking for one to read.

    And frankly, I would love to go through a slush pile at random house. I truly think it would be cool as hell (I reserve the right to mix my metaphors.).

    But you act like you’re out there saving us all from bad literature. You’re not. You are following a marketing pattern that since 1950 or so has been consistently dumbing down literature to reach ever-broader markets, but now has gotten so low that you are losing readers because you are marketing to people who don’t read.

    That’s why all the romances are porn. That’s why all the cop stories are ridiculous and have the same identical characters in them (usually a twenty-something female in charge of an entire FBI division). That’s why all the horror is just violent blood baths. You don’t have any lower to go. But you’ve gone so low, that you’re publishing for the illiterate. And you can’t change! It would cost too much to re-educate the masses tastes and reading comprehension level.

    The only ones who can save the day are the independent publishers and they now have a medium in which they can financially participate, and it’s growing faster than articles can be written about it.

  24. Anonymous said:

    Dear Publishing Industry,

    I am sick. And tired. Of Dark YA Angsty Romance. I do not want to read Twilight+Enter Supernatural Creature here. I do NOT want to read about self-important teenagers drowning in their own silly angst. It’s tired. It’s boring. YOU’RE boring.

    Stop trying to feed me the same shit over and over again. TRY to think outside the box. Your ridiculous practices are completely unsustainable and it’s making me not want to read anything new that comes out. And when you’ve got television, internet, movies and video games to compete with, that is not a good thing. Trust me.


    Typical YA Reader

    PS – The next book I read that features anything resembling “he’s dangerous, but he’s so sexy, and he might hurt me, but I can’t stop thinking of him OH I’M SO CONFUSED!” I will return it, get my money back, and then set something on fire to alleviate my rage.

  25. Bob said:

    Authors are indeed contract employees of agents if you want to be specific. I get a 1099 that says so. It would be almost better to get a W-2 because then there might be things like health benefits and retirement, but no such. I like my independence as self-employed, though.

    I think one can work with writers to help them improve. I have seen many struggling writers evolve into very good writers over the years. The one thing the successful ones had in common was open-mindedness and willingness to change. Most importantly, they had persistence.

    The publishing business is evolving. There will still need to be quality control, which apparently you feel there isn’t much of now given the free use of ‘crap’ and ‘turd’. Good fortune with your self-published book next year. And if you’re so down on the current business model why are you looking for an agent to represent your work on your web page? Forget it, please don’t answer.

    Good luck Gordon. You’re an angry person. I’m not into that kind of karma. Back to writing.

  26. Fran said:

    This kind of confuses me. When you read agent blogs, one of the first thing you learn is that unoriginal plots turn them off. So then writers think to themselves, all rightly I can probably try to switch things up a bit and try to bring something fresh to the table. Then we get an agent, but don’t get published specifically because our ideas weren’t unoriginal enough? Ummmmmmm.

    Maybe agents from now own should encourage people to just write whatever’s popular. That should be one of their guidelines. If it’s not exceedingly similar to whatever’s big right now, we won’t accept you. That way we can all make our bread and butter (while we watch creativity die a slow death).

  27. Anonymous said:

    Gordon, it’s a good thing you don’t want anything to do with traditional publishing, because after your repeated, idiotic comments here, most editors and agents will likely feel the same about you!

  28. Anonymous said:

    The current mindset in publishing makes about as much sense as buyers for Target *only* stocking green shirts in all their stores. Then telling everyone customers are only buying green shirts, therefore, they will only stock green shirts.

  29. Anonymous said:

    Making up a name for a “publishing” company then buying an ISBN number for your book does not make you a publisher. You’re still self-published. If anything, attaching an ISBN number to your book is going to make it that much harder for you to find a traditional publisher in the future because your sales will be visible for all to see.

    And the idea that traditional publishing is imploding is just wrong. Big publishers are buying new books from debut authors every day, they’re just not buying your book.

    Don’t believe me? Buy a subscription to Publisher’s Weekly and look at the daily deal news and see for yourself.

    Yes, the industry is faced with changing technology, but right now ebooks only make up 2% of total book sales. I promise you that once ebooks become a serious threat to traditional publishing’s bottom line, they will adapt and take over the entire process. There will never be a time when the reading masses will accept unedited, self-published books and be content.

  30. Jake said:

    Actually, Bob, Agents work for you. They do what you tell them to do, and they get paid a commission out of the money you earn.

    Publishers are more of a partner. They don’t exist without you, and you don’t get to publish your books without them.

  31. David Kearns said:

    Oi, Anonymous, I’m not pitching anything to them right now. So I don’t care what the feck they are buying. What I do know is this: it’s all shite!
    How many GD Vampire stories do we need? This qualifies as discovering new talent! Utter bollucks!
    Yes, emachines, readers; electronic tamagacherie; a celebration of the further electronic, digitized dumbing-down of the American mind.
    You want to know the BEST part of owning an actual BOOK? It doesn’t have an off switch, my friend. No off switch.
    The dark ages were circumvented, when it came to the total anihillation of classical thought, and WRITING, by volumes of ‘BOOKS’ written, hidden away in churches and private collections.
    What is the first milestone on the road to tyranny? Someone burning books. See, we know that down deep in our guts. So, someone has come up with the step-wise, incremental plan for destroying thought that won’t smell so bad to us: yes, let’s put it all on a kindle.
    A book, incase you haven’t noticed, lasts longer than an “upgrade”.
    But the big corps have decided to phase them out; starting with the good ones, like the one I’m writing right now at
    which will never get a fair shake when the likes of Sarah Palin is getting $1.25 mil for her nonsense

  32. LLR said:


    A friend of mine who was in marketing before she became a writer says that every publisher wants to be the -second- house to discover a new trend or The Next Big Thing. They want to be SECOND, rather than first, because being FIRST involves -risk-, and publishers are VERY risk-averse.

    Meanwhile, being SECOND is still very profitable. Not as profitable as being first, but profitable without the nasty addition of risk.

    But, alas, only one house can be second. Then there’s the stampede to hop on the bandwagon, and ALL the houses start acquiring and publishing the Hot New Thing as fast as they can, in hopes of getting into the market with it while the money’s still good.

    And before long, they flood the market with SO much material (and, in many cases, much of it not particular good, because acquiring a particular sub-sub-subgenre mattered to them far more than the quality of what they acquired) that they kill the golden goose.

    The single most tasteless, vulgar, and macabre incident of this oft-replayed scenario, IMO, was when, for a short while after the stellar commercial success of DEEP END OF THE OCEAN, publishers were frantically acquiring and publicizing child-kidnapping novels for about a year. (That one didn’t really become a trend though. Gee, go figure.)

    And, thus, an innocent reader goes to the store one day to find a new book to read… and can’t find anything BUT angsty YA paranormal, or paranormal erotica, or treekillers, or “this is just like the Da Vinci Code, only about rabbits instead of about Merovingians,” or whatever.

  33. LLR said:

    Oh, and, also worth noting: What editors and agents say in public is often very different from what they say in private.

    Romance editors who’ve just said in public at conferences that they want to see something new, fresh, and original have then said to me in private over dinner that what they actually want are more secret-baby, virgin bride, and millionaire hero books. Agents who say in public that they want something new, fresh, and surprising, have then said to me in private that what they actually want is “a book just like [name this week’s trendy new hardcover NYT bestseller].”

    A writer I know was substantially pressured to shift her work to follow a current trend if she wanted the house’s full marketing support. I was substantially pressured this way by every agent I worked with, and by several of the editors I’ve worked with–though, happily, not with my current editors. It’s pretty common (and also a good example of why a writer needs to stand up for the work rather than just doing whatever editors and agents, many of whom really don’t know what they’re doing, tell her to–I’ve never revised my work in accordance with notes that I didn’t agree with or think would improve the quality of the book, and I haven’t been out of work as a writer in about 15 years).

  34. Gordon Jerome said:

    I just want to say that it is true I had on my website that I was actively seeking agent representation for my novel. I hadn’t updated my site in a while. I now have. I no longer need an agent.

    Contract employee. Amazing. But like I said, it doesn’t matter. The whole thing’s coming down anyway.

  35. Diana said:

    It seems that the publishing industry if going the way of the movie industry, looking for the blockbuster and being just a bit clueless as to what brings people into the theater to see that blockbuster. Now the publishing industry is looking for the next big breakout novel and not quite sure how to tell what makes a novel break out. Just as explosions and car chases don’t make a movie a blockbuster, vampires and angst don’t make a novel breakout.

    Speaking as a reader, I’ve purchased quite a few books within the past year that sounded great from the back cover description, but when I started reading them, I lost interest in the story. And yet, I recently picked up an old favorite published 15 years ago and I read the whole thing without losing interest.

    Maybe the problem is that agents and publishers are so inundated with manuscripts that they’re having difficulty finding the diamonds in the slush.

  36. Annie Jones said:

    The thing I take away from this discussion (and others in response to the industry posts here) is that writers have LOADS of ideas, solutions, insights, experiences, opinions and connections (to insiders, each other, aspiring writers, people all over and most importantly readers!) I wish the publishing houses would utilize that network more rather than decide from the top down what will or won’t work.

    The results might surprise us all.

    Interesting stuff, y’all.

  37. Kelli Takahashi said:

    it doesn’t matter. The whole thing’s coming down anyway.

    Just like it was coming down in the late 90’s, and the mid 70’s, and the 50’s, and the 20’s…

    You saying it with nothing to back it up doesn’t make it true, Gordon.

    These ‘end of publishing’ discussions have picked up in the last few months because of the success of the Kindle. Now, all these writers who have been rejected over and over are turning toward Kindle publishing as their savior. They don’t have to face rejection ever again. Now they can publish their books on the kindle and be their own publisher and sell thousands of copies and build their careers as independent authors. But if you think about it, have there been many success stories where people sold a ton of books on the Kindle? I can think of three people out of the thousands who’ve put their unpublished books up that have had success. Joe Konrath, John Rector, and Boyd Morrison.

    Konrath was already a traditionally published novelist, but Rector and Morrison weren’t, as far as I know. Now they all have traditional book contracts with major publishers.

    Who else?

    You’d think if Kindle publishing was going to bring the power of publishing back to the masses, there would be more than three examples out of the thousands and thousands of self published authors and their books.

    Seriously, where are the people selling outside of traditional publishing that are leading this revolution?

    The big selling ebooks are ALL traditionally published novels released by the big publishers. All they’re going to do is adapt to the new price point and shift their focus toward ebooks and everything will even itself out again.

    Soon, all the self published books on Kindle will do exactly what they do when they’re POD. They’ll sell a few copies to friends and family, then they’ll drop to the bottom.

  38. Delilah said:

    See, when the agents can’t get the books they believe in published, what hope remains for the writers who have to struggle to find agents? I want so desperately to have my book published, but the only hardcover book I’ve purchased in the last 6 months was the latest Diana Gabaldon. I’m not even supporting my own interests, here.

  39. Mandy Hubbard said:

    Interesting dicussion.

    A)I find it amusing that the people who have ranted hardest against publishing are the ones who weren’t able to break in. Don’t you think that makes you a tad biased?

    B) I belong to a group of 50-60 debut authors whose books hit shelves this year. And that is for ONLY Young adult or middle grade authors. There are also groups for 2010 and 2011 too, each of which is rapidly filling.

    C)David, You’re knocking Sarah Palin’s memoir becuase you think it has taken away your chance at publication. It hasn’t. It’s bettered your chances. Celebrity books are often the lifeblood of a publisher. They are as good as guarenteed revenue becuase celebrity books are proven to earn out time and again. If a publisher makes a tidy profit on a celebrity book, that revenue can be in turn used to take risks elsewhere.

    It took me years and dozens of rejections to sell my debut novel, but I never blamed it on publishing. I revised it and continued to refine it, and eventually it sold becuase I became a better writer. My debut has gotten several very positive reviews from professional review publications. If I had published one of the earlier drafts, I’m not sure that it would have been so well received.

    Sometimes the publishers are right. Sorry if the rejection tastes bitter, but it’s the truth.

  40. Anonymous said:

    Gordon — And here I thought comedy was dead! When you claim that traditional publishing is about to vanish, you sound so convincing! As if you really mean it! Thanks for the good laugh — no, make that laughs.

  41. Adrienne said:

    Grr stupid spelling mistakes, okay I’m going to try to post this again.

    Mandy –

    I don’t think this is the typical case of the unpublished blaming the industry for their lack of success (though I have seen that in the past and get why that conclusion could be drawn – and okay there are a few silly rants on here from such individuals). These are comments to a post by a well respected agent who has been commenting on the industry’s fear of taking a risk.

    If you follow agents on twitter you will notice a general feeling that supports this frustration. And considering, especially in YA right now, that the books editors are asking for and putting out are almost all urban fantasy or romance, it’s hard not to conclude that there are certain books publishers are keen to publish.

    I do think it’s difficult to blame one person/group for the lack of success as an author. I think publishers have to deal with so many demands, the desires of the higher ups and the book buyers for example. But I also think that because of the current economy publishers are becoming even more safe in what they want to buy these days. They need to make money, and they know that certain books will make them money because they are what’s hot right now.

    That isn’t to say new stuff doesn’t get published. That isn’t also to say that within what is trendy isn’t some quality work. But to say that the reason people here are making these comments is because they are simply biased just isn’t true.

    I’m published, I’ve got what I think is a decent reputation in the industry, but I can still see how things have changed in the last year even.

    Just out of curiosity, how many of those authors that are debuts in your group aren’t writing about urban fantasy (werewolves/zombies/ghosts/fairies/vampires/angels) or dystopian future or romance? This is a sincere question, btw. I’d love to be proven wrong. 🙂

  42. Anonymous said:

    Two observations – it is hard right now, that’s true. Less books are being bought – but the “good old days” when so many books were published, genres were over-saturated (much like the vampire genre is right now), and out of so many books very few ever had a fighting chance out of the gate – well those days weren’t so good. Can’t we all hope that maybe, with fewer books being published, the marketing $$ might actually be spread more evenly? But still, for this $$ to be used effectively, yes – a book has to have some chance of “breaking out,” or at least of connecting with a fairly wide audience. I’m not sure what’s wrong with that – although I admit it’s frustrating for agents (and authors) to hear this repeatedly without further clarification. Yet when we do hear clarification – and it doesn’t happen to be what we write – we do tend, as a profession, to moan a lot.

    2nd observation – I continue to find it interesting that self-published success is almost always defined by the author being picked up by a traditional publisher. (As in the examples someone cited above.) That just makes me believe that traditional publishers aren’t going away anytime soon.

  43. anotheranon said:

    Anon 9:15, I hear your pain. I’m there too, and it sucks ass.

    Good luck to you. I sincerely mean that.

  44. Blythe said:

    Couple of things: 1) If you think the first-gen dedicated readers are the ultimate tech for spreading books (yes, I said books) you are rather naive. While e-books will never replace books, they will certainly be a big part of the future. When you are stuck in Afghanistan or on oil platform or an airport, e-books rule. 2) There is a group of readers that are ravenous–and young. They will be wanting books for a long time. 3) Some of the small houses are doing very well, thank you. Part of that is simply because they don’t lay out crazy dollars for celebrity books that will be loss leaders for the box stores. Bottom line: Stay tuned. Keep writing. Keep reading.

  45. Anonymous said:

    To the anons who are out on submission (via their agents) and are being told the ms is wonderful but it’s not fitting neatly into one genre, move over.

  46. Cam Snow said:

    Just to add more to the slush pile of comments that are growing here:
    1) To Gerome – I personally wanted to buy an eReader, but it is b/c I live in a country where there is only a small collection of books available in English (usually just the best sellers) – but I couldn’t because the system doesn’t allow downloading in Egypt. So, I’m a paperback guy for now.

    2) To Bob – When I used the term “crap” to refer to self-published books I was being a little harsh. What I actually meant was that often authors that self-publish don’t take the time to do the careful editing necessary to correct both grammatical and punctuation errors, awkward sentences, etc – things that basically make a book hard(er) to read. True the plot, character development, and pace are what makes a book great, but a lack of QC can make a great book average and an average book horrible. So, when I used the term “crap” that is what I meant. (I’m currently working on a novel that I plan to start querying for soon,b ut I know it needs 1-2 more rounds of self-edits before I send it out).

    3) I think that all aspiring and midlisters need blockbuster books/authors and celeb books, because they keep the wheels from falling off in the bad times.

    4) To Bob – I find author training an interesting concept – there is no doubt in my mind that author’s probably need it in some of the aspects related to the business end. However, I don’t know if you want to extend it to the creative side or not… (and I’m too lazy to find out)

    5) To Mandy – it is easy to see why people can develop hard feelings toward publishers. I’ve been writing technically heavy academic chapters for textbooks and there are things that drive me nuts about it – I couldn’t imagine how hard it is to get rejected 10,20, or 30 times for something that you had really poured both heart and soul into.

  47. Trixie said:

    Has anyone actually taken a moment to check out the NY Times and Bookseller lists? Google ’em. Especially the children’s lists. Paranormal ‘big’ concept novels like Shiver and Hush, Hush are HOT. Dystopian stuff is hot, hot, hot. Publishers want to continue buying stuff like this cos ‘most’ teens love books like this (ha ha, I do too but I’m 32 ;-)! It’s sad they’re not taking risks as much but that’s what happens when economy slows down. Plus you need to remember, when the economy is dire, people traditionally turn to ‘escapist’ books like your Twilights etc. Publishers are very aware of this and very keen to give the audience what it wants. This WILL change, more risks will be taken but right now? It’s tough, really tough.

    (And Mandy Hubbard, fantastic comment, 100% agree).

  48. Mandy Hubbard said:


    A little over 1/3 of our books are fantasy. Definitely less than half.

    Also, CAM: I think Amazon just launched a new international kindle that DOES allow downloading in other countries at no additional charge– I think it’s priced $20 over the standard kindle.

    Anyway, I’ve enjoyed the conversation and certainly agree that there are many, many things about the publishing industry that need to be fixed. But I just don’t want it to be all doom and gloom, because it IS possible to break in. It just might take more patience and work than we’d like, and you have to be prepared to write another book if the first one doesn’t sell, and then maybe a third and a fourth.

  49. therese said:

    I just did a full rant on this as a comment on Nathan Bradford’s blog.

    It’s just sad, the Hot Topic Big Profits is more important than a good, well written STORY!

    Keep the faith!

  50. bringmethehead said:

    Lately a lot of author posts have described being rejected solely on the basis that their book is, ‘too hard to market’? What exactly does this actually mean? So what if a novel straddles genres. Can’t a well written Lesbian Vampire Western be marketed as a Western with a bloody, Sapphic twist? Doesn’t that make it a selling point? Are marketing models really so narrowly insular? Can a book store not buy in three copies and keep one in each respective section? Are marketing people just too lazy to come up with something different? Granted, precedents might indicate guaranteed sales, but surely a well written book, helped by a marketing strategy which promotes its originality or innovation, stands a better chance than a mediocre copy of something that was original. Shouldn’t publishers be primarily looking for the new original success?

    Drink anyone?

  51. Anonymous said:

    You guys are all so hilarious. None of these sentiments are new at all!

    Have a look at the archives of the AOL Writer’s Club circa 1997. Exactly the same! Oooooh it’s so much different now! Oooooh there’s e-books! Oooooh, the agents all say this but do that…Ooooo the pub said they like my stuff, BUT…


    Happy Halloween, scardey-cats.

  52. Adrienne said:

    “Happy Halloween, scardey-cats.”

    Says the person who signed on as Anonymous.

    Mandy – that is good to know! I’m glad to hear it. And I am totally with you, I don’t like all the doom and gloom either. There is hope, and new work is being sold every day. But it doesn’t mean that once in a while such discussions can’t be had, and I think Kristin is, for the most part, very positive in her posts. A couple posts here and there expressing frustration shouldn’t be cause for concern.