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Why publishers hate writers

Updated on November 19, 2011
Even a letter can be complex. An industry can be equally complex for a much less valid reason.
Even a letter can be complex. An industry can be equally complex for a much less valid reason. | Source

Most writers go through a learning curve in which they discover that the entire publishing industry creates as many obstacles as possible to getting published at all. Like the music industry, the publishing industry has become "just another mucking middle-class trade".

If not as self-righteously subhuman as the music industry, it tries hard to live up to the basic ethos of all creative mass media, which is to prevent any form of originality or creativity which might show how absolutely pathetic most of their products are.

A good example of obsessive obstructionism of the publishing industry is to be found in submission guidelines:

Provide a 20 page excerpt of the first chapter of your book

Translation: We want to destroy as many forests as possible while rejecting your work, costing you money and wasting your time.

You should seek assistance from a literary agent….

Translation: Before you do anything, try and find somebody who is prepared to condescend to take 20% of your income and occasionally pick up the phone and pretend to be doing something.

Format your submission...

Translation: We’re too damn lazy to format a Word document, and anyway that's why we asked for hard copy in the first place. Insisting on using an ancient butt ugly font, which is rarely used by anybody under the age of 120 is just for fun.

Which market is this book written for?

Translation: Do our market research for us, that's why we spend a fortune on marketing.

We do not accept electronic submissions.

Translation: We are still living in 1890.

We have great opportunities for new writers…

Translation: We would like to rip off somebody else for a change, and experienced writers won't touch us with a barge pole.

We accept submissions from the following genres:

Translation: We haven't seen sunlight for the last 30 years, because we've been living under this rock.

We can offer very high-quality production to authors.

Translation: We’ve found some cheap pulp and a panel beating shop which knows how to put out short print runs of something which looks very much like toilet paper, but not quite as upmarket.

Our authors are highly successful, including…

Translation: Somebody who may or may not still be alive, if they ever were.

Self publishing opportunities….

Translation: We would like to provide you with the opportunity to spend an incredibly large amount of money for nothing in particular.

Give a brief synopsis of the story

Translation: We are incapable of figuring this out for ourselves, and anyway if the storyline doesn't fit our demographic it's a great excuse to reject the book.

But it's not all fun and games in the publishing industry. Under this rampant hedonism, carefree bureaucracy and what appears to be on an industry-wide Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, is a level of pedantry rarely seen in human history.

Shakespeare, for example, didn't have to do things like that. Tolstoy somehow managed to stagger on without them. In the 20th century, or at least the first half of it, publishers employed people who not only knew how to read, but understood the things that they were reading.

For anyone under 40, this strange phenomenon was known as "literacy", and is now believed to be actually illegal.

Enlightened publishers of today now employ interns to do all the hard work of actually reading anything, and then spend their time explaining to the interns why they're wrong about everything they do. Your submission contributes to this useful process, and gives aspiring interns a reason to dislike authors, after being on the receiving end of lectures from mentally deficient illiterates for several hours. The psychological effect is of course to associate anything to do with writers with unpleasant experiences, a sort of Pavlov's publisher effect.

The poor interns are usually scarred for life by this experience, and have to wait for years to get their revenge against a new generation of interns. Hence the modern obstacle course which is the earthly paradise known as the publishing industry.

Not all publishers are psychological cripples, though. Others are perfectly normal misanthropes, able to hate people simply for being people. These publishers consider rejection slips to be a sort of sacred duty, and make a point of sending you copies of copies after six months trying to remain alive. For publishers, this is their version of community service, with a built-in advantage in that it allows them to make life a misery for so many people.

If you look at the absolutely pitiful pig swill which is currently attempting to pass itself off as literature, the hideously mediocre print quality, and the fact that the entire retail book industry now runs largely on bargain bins, obviously hating writers has been a major cultural success.

Literacy is being holistically prevented, and readers now need to use sieves or astrology to find anything of interest in the average book. Gushing morons can roam the world claiming to be literary critics, and most importantly, somebody makes a few cents on each book.

Having achieved this industrial nirvana, they can then go out into the meadows and breed.

A few pointers

Just some basic information here:

To hell with literary agents who don't have a track record. Very large numbers of people have literary agents simply because they're supposed to have them to be looked at by publishers, and as you may have noticed not all writers are multibillionaires.

Hard copy submissions are more trouble than they're worth. They’re extremely expensive, particularly if you're sending them overseas. Given the success rate for submissions is so low, you need to think about even spending a cent on these things.

Many so-called publishers and literary agents exist specifically to rip off writers. They claim to provide "services" including editing for which they charge you, and that's only the beginning of the fun. You are very strongly advised to check out these "people" on a site called Writer Beware, particularly if you live in the United States. Writer Beware is run by professional writers, and those people are extremely helpful.

Do not enter into a contract without legal assistance. In keeping with the other noble ethical triumphs of the publishing industry, you can sign yourself into some very difficult positions. Do not assume anything, and educate yourself regarding the legal issues as well.

***All writers, please make a point of checking out Writer Beware, because it contains extremely valuable, well laid out, very useful information which is absolutely priceless for all writers. It can save you a lot of time and misery.


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    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Yep, it's all part of the great "office boy" motif that pretends to know what it's doing. The industry is so backward that the demand for real outlets is huge.Ironically, the way around it is for publishers to do something similar to print on demand- Do a short promotion run at selected outlets at a fixed cost, then print copies and provide downloads. It'd save millions and give authors a lot more valuable space, but don't ever expect to see it happen.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      I wish and many other you would get all together and create a Co-op. I had tons of rejection letters until I found out that tehy don't even look at it but hire a firm to write automatically the rejection letters. They really need to be grounded.

    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Peter, these guys write like checklists. The creative stuff doesn't connect, because it's not on the spreadsheet. Co-op is a very good idea, and more so because publishing is so much cheaper these days. Literature should declare independence, like music.

    • Peter Allison profile image

      Peter Allison 

      7 years ago from Alameda, CA

      Great hub and yes, you nail the foibles of the industry square on the head. Thankfully self-publishing, blogging, eBooks, apps and social marketing tools are providing writers with the tools to go it alone. The idea of an agent as a compulsory conduit for YOUR writing is absurd. It would be cool to see writers form their own co-ops (like musicians do Indie labels) and cut even deeper into the mainstream markets. I just finished a book by a well connected MFA in writing grad with praise from Stephen King, chock full of every derivative crowd pleasing cliche of the moment - which absolutely sucked... Sorry to vent there - on the other hand I'm liking Peter Carey's Oliver & Parrot a lot... my point being? Not entirely sure - good hub though!

    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Sorry for slow reply. Knowing anyone in the music industry is like being on first name terms with a disease, so yeah, more like epidemiology than any relationship to talent. I still have no idea why anyone would want to know people like that, regardless of "contact" status.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The question is, how do new writers get published? Perhaps it is like the music industry. It's all about who you know.


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