“Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being.“ A.A. Milne
Nowadays life has become much more difficult and uncertain in many ways. It is difficult to make a living. Hard as it is to write it is still harder to get published. I say it is hard to write because most of the time, unless we have already established ourselves as bestseller writers, we cannot make a living from writing alone. We must have a job, whether part time or full time, to support ourselves as well as our family. We have bills, tuition fees and mortgages to pay. On top of that we are living in economically difficult times. Big conglomerates are taking over small businesses and companies are closing or declaring bankruptcy more often. With the creation of the e-reader, even bookstores are closing, as did Borders. Hence making it difficult for publishers also to sign up new authors. Now more than ever publishers are looking for a sales guarantee rather than the artistic or literary value of a manuscript. Publishing is as Michael Legat says:
“A rat-race business in which the accountant is the supreme, caring little for books, but much for profit.”
It is now important to market books properly, to work with the bookstore chains to get terms, co-op advertising and the like, even before the manuscript is gone to print. Hence publishing is no longer a matter of picking worthy manuscripts. As Gerald Ochs Davis Sr. writes,
“The difficulty is that the publishers who can market are most often not publishers with worthy lists.”
Hence the main reason why manuscripts are rejected by publishers and literary agents. Most of the time these publishing houses and agencies issue the standard rejection letter, the one that means nobody has even bothered to look at an unsolicited manuscript that hasn’t been touted by an agent or bid on by Hollywood which seems to be the trend lately.
Do you know the trick Doris Lessing pulled?
Doris Lessing submitted a new manuscript of her own to four or five publishers. But she used a different name. And she was rejected by all of them.
Or the story of a well known writer?
A famous author and respected figure in the literary world was commissioned by a major publisher to write a book. His agent negotiated the terms of contract with the publishers and agreed to send the manuscript on the due date to the publishers. The author managed to send it off to his agent well before the deadline. A few weeks later the writer received a call from the publishers complaining of late delivery. When he approached his agent with the question, his agent supposedly had no notion of what had happened. Eventually the unread manuscript was located lying around on some shelf in the agency, untouched and unread.
Michael Legat writes:
“In recent years, accountants have increasingly dominated publishing. In firms there is now an insistence that every single book must reach a fairly high level of profitability, and editors role has become subjugated to that of the money-man.”
If first and foremost, publishers these days are looking for books that will make money, does it mean that we will not see in print good literary books for the comparatively smaller group of readers? In the words of Roger Strauss
“The trouble with publishing today, says this old man, is that as you look around the arena, you will not find heads of houses who really give a shit about literature.”
You know as well as I do that you can’t get an agent unless you’ve already been published. You can’t be published unless you’ve already been published. And you can’t be considered for publication if you don’t have an agent. All this said, whether you choose to write a commercial book or a literary one, I hope that it will shine from the page as Jill Black (a Director of Bodley Head publishing) said, for:
“The truth is that we don’t know what we are looking for; but when we see it, it shines from the page.”