Friday, July 06, 2007

No Place At The Table

A friend of mine, who has published at least 10 novels in the crime genre, has written a new one.

She was unable to get an agent, (some didn’t even bother to call her back or return her email) despite having been published, so she decided to send it to editors herself.  Not cold.  Editors she’d met at various conventions, etc.

Here, from an editor at a major house, is the last paragraph of a rejection letter that praised her novel.

“This is a fine piece of work, as you no doubt are painfully aware, but I’m not sure that we could convince the big stores to buy thousands and thousands of copies.  And that is my mandate these days.”

It just makes me feel all warm and cozy.  And it definitely makes me want to sit down in front of my computer and hit those keys.  Not that I intend to write a book that will make those big fat stores buy thousands and thousands of copies.  And that’s just the point.

Who is going to publish the books I write…the books that you write?  I know the mid-list category for fiction is nonexistent but I didn’t think it was happening in the crime genre.

The editor’s mandate.  Discouraging and depressing.  I’ve never sold thousands and thousands of copies to the chains.  Most of us don’t.  We all know who does.  Ten, twenty at most.  And they’re the people who get major reviews and big time ads.  Over and over again.

I know there are quite a few independent publishers and I certainly wouldn’t mind being published by one of them.  I’d like it.  Still, the idea that unless you can be sure you’ve written a BIG book that will have the BIG stores buying thousands and thousands of copies is, in a word, disgusting.

The stores run publishing now.  Not news, I know.  And the sales people at the publishing houses help decide who will be published. 

Where does a new writer go?  How does he/she get an agent?  Agents also think about those thousands and thousands of copies. And on and on.

I’ve always believed that a good book would eventually be published.  I’ve changed my mind.  That won’t happen unless you fulfill an editor’s mandate.  And trust me, this isn’t an isolated approach to publishing.

So, what to do? I think there are three choices.  Write what you want, anyway, get a job if you don’t have one or retire from the whole thing.

It’s up to you.

4 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Or go back to the short stories.

Kay Sexton said...

Sigh. It sounds all too familiar. I'd hoped that the established writers, those with the 'track record' and the 'fan base' might be able to get away without writing the 'big' novel because, after all, they've had some success already - but obviously not. It's not exactly encouraging, is it?

Jean Sheldon said...

Hi Sandra, I’m 56 and new to fiction/mystery/crime writing. I self published my first book earlier this year mostly because I felt I didn’t have enough years to pedal to agents and publishers. The state of the publishing world surprised and discouraged me to say the least.

This from Harper’s Index:
Minimum number of different books sold in the United States last year as tracked by Nielsen BookScan: 1,446,000.
Number of these that sold fewer than 99 copies: 1,123,000.
Number that sold more than 100,000: 483

I have to assume there are more than 483 good writers out there, which tells me that you’re correct— there is something very wrong with the system. Unfortunately, it goes beyond the world of publishing as your constantly moving war meter shows.

The last place I want my books sold is in a warehouse store next to a big yellow smiley face, so I will probably continue self-publishing. I don’t know what will happen, but I’d like to catch up on a few years of missed writing.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

Hello Jean,
I would try to get an agent with your next book. I think you should give it a shot. Who knows? What can you lose? It's obviously not about money for you so give it a few months. Send out multiple submissions.

The big trouble with self-publishing is distribution. You say you don't want your books sold in a warehouse store (not sure what this means) but I'm sure you want them sold.

56 is not that old to try it the old-fashioned way. Raymond Chandler was 46 when he wrote his first.