Do Not Give Up Hope On Traditional Book Publishing
I am a literary snob!
There, I’ve said it. I readily admit to being a snob. I have read great works of fiction and nonfiction, and the joy I have received from those experiences has been substantial. It has also left me with very little patience with regards to mediocre or bad writing.
Still, I see mediocre and bad work published on a regular basis. I am an avid reader. I read, on average, two books per week, so that’s over one-hundred per year, and of those one-hundred there are probably ten that I consider very good. For those of you who are math-challenged, that is a ten percent success rate. So I have to ask myself how does this happen? How do traditional publishers end up publishing mediocre work when their industry almost demands that they only publish quality material?
Times are tough in the traditional publishing industry. With the advent of ebooks and other online publishing venues, the traditional publishing industry is on very thin ice. As a result of this shrinking ice, they have to be very careful in their choices of who to publish. Many publishing houses are not even giving a look at new writers and instead choose to stick with the winners they currently have, the proven writers who have a solid track record.
So how does it happen that mediocre and even bad writing gets published?
The Genesis for This Article
I just finished reading “A Cold Day In Paradise” by Steve Hamilton. On the back jacket of the book we are told the following:
“A Cold Day In Paradise” won both the Edgar and Shamus awards for Best First Novel, launching Steve Hamilton into the top ranks of today’s crime writers. Now, see for yourself why this extraordinary novel has galvanized the literary and mystery community as no other book before it.
I was hooked after reading that glowing praise. I was hooked by the fact that this novel had won two of the more prestigious awards in mystery writing. I was hooked by the fact that this author has nine books in this series to his credit, and I was hooked by the fact that he was published by Minotaur Books, part of the St. Martin’s Publishing Group, a well-known industry leader in publishing.
I was about fifty pages into the book when I realized that I had lost interest in the story. How could this happen? Obviously there must be something wrong with me. There must be something I’m not seeing.
Well, no, as a matter of fact, the book is just mediocre and it failed to captivate me.
Mr. Hamilton is a decent writer. He does a good job of painting a scene. His writing has a fast pace to it and his plot leaves one guessing about what is going to happen next. Still, I was left feeling like I had just dated a beauty queen with zero personality. Finally I realized what the problem was: Mr. Hamilton’s dialogue was stilted and dull. All of his characters sounded exactly the same. If he hadn’t told me who was talking I would have had no idea.
Alex McKnight, his main character, sounds exactly the same as his love interest, who sounds exactly the same as his best friend, who sounds exactly the same as the mass murderer. After fifty pages I felt like I was on a continual diet of valium.
Not only that, but I had no interest in any of his characters. They all were just names in a book. I never felt like I knew any of them as real people.
And yet this man has nine books published by a respected publishing firm. What the hell is going on?
An Important Reality to Understand About Traditional Book Publishing
Here it is: choosing which books to publish is a very subjective undertaking.
How else can we explain the fact that average books are published from time to time?
Let me give you an example from my own submission history. Three years ago I wrote my first novel, “The 12/59 Shuttle From Yesterday To Today,” a fun little fantasy about resurrections and love and saving the Earth. I finished the book and then set about contacting publishers and agents. Two rejection emails that I received will demonstrate the point I am making. One read:
“Thank you for contacting me with your novel. I’m afraid your synopsis fails to capture my attention. Feel free to submit future works and best of luck with your endeavors.”
And then this one arrived:
“Loved your synopsis and the first twenty-five pages were greatly enjoyable. However, at this time I am afraid I cannot take on another fantasy novel. Stay in touch and I look forward to seeing more of your writing.”
So what happened? The novel hadn’t changed and yet one publisher was not interested at all while another was greatly interested. How could that be?
I repeat: choosing which books to publish is a very subjective undertaking.
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There Are so Many Criteria to Look at As a Publisher
Publishers have limited resources to devote to a limited number of new books each year. Some only handle mysteries; some only science fictions; and some only handle the current hot genres. Some publishers are looking for strong dialogue; some are looking for dynamite plots; and some are only interested in deep, reflective pieces about the universal struggle of man.
Some publishers have bad days on Mondays. Some are in a hurry on Wednesdays, and some can’t be bothered with anything new on Fridays. Some are having marital problems and some are strapped for cash and some have an audit coming with the IRS.
In other words, publishers and agents are human beings, and as such they are subject to their own volatile mood swings just like every other person on this planet.
Somehow….some way….the planets and stars aligned perfectly the day Mr. Hamilton submitted his first novel to Minotaur Books and the rest, as they say, is history.
Thus, there is hope for you!
And That Is the Central Message of This Article
Take hope from Mr. Hamilton and his success.
Listen, I have nothing against Mr. Hamilton. There is no jealousy fueling this article. I am happy for any writer who finds success because I know how hard it is to write a book and how damn near impossible it is to get that book published the traditional way. No, in fact I am ecstatic for Mr. Hamilton, because if it could happen to him it can happen to me….and it can happen to you.
I have no doubt I can write as well as this author. I have no doubt that many of you can as well. That is a statement of fact based on being among you now for three years and reading your works….so we must not give up hope.
Of course traditional publishing is not for everyone. Many of you are quite happy publishing ebooks and never having to play the publisher/agent game, and that is all well and good. But for those of you who dream of one day signing a contract with Bantam Books, keep Mr. Hamilton in the back of your minds as you go about your day of writing.
Rejection does not mean that you are a bad writer. You may be an excellent writer but your time has not come yet. Hell, your time may never come in traditional publishing, but that is not a reflection on you and your abilities.
Believe in yourself and keep improving your craft, and then pray to the gods that you find a publisher who is in a great mood when your query letter arrives and who instantly recognizes your genius as a writer.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”