Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How Fucked Up Is the Publishing Biz?

Pretty fucked up, it seems. First, this Wall Street Journal article on the death of the slush pile. Literary Rejections on Display has this post on a query rejection emphasizing the doomsday state of publishing. Both non-form rejections I've received cited the fiercely competitive fiction market, and there's been plenty of buzz about timid editors looking only for grand-slams and blockbusters, the mid-list be damned.

Even when they get things right, publishers still get it wrong. For almost two weeks now, I've tried to find a copy of Game Change, the Heilemann-Halperin book on the 2008 campaign. HarperCollins got a boatload of free publicity and spun up plenty of demand for the opus. The only thing they seem to have forgotten to do is print some actual books.

Where does all this leave us, dear writers? Should we shelve our completed novels and wait for better times? Or will there never be better times? Has consolidation of the book industry, publishing and retail, made the climb up the publishing ladder a Herculean effort, the equivalent of scaling Everest, that only the few and the lucky will survive?


  1. No, I don't believe any of it. It's a matter of finding the right thing for you at the right time.

    Last week I posted an ad for a job on Craigslist and as expected I got a ton of responses. There were a fair amount of unqualified candidates, some qualified and good for the position, and then some who were qualified but not right for the position.

    Yes, it's personal. No, it wasn't their fault that they weren't perfect for the position. But it was also just the way it was--they'll be right for another job, just not this one. It was a "fiercely competitive market."

    The ones who were qualified but not right for the position will find work elsewhere.

  2. I don't think shelving it is the right answer, because you never know what might happen if you continue to query.

    Reach for the stars and land in the clouds and all that jazz.

    (Jazz hands.)

    Do NOT give up, Trav!

  3. Did you guys see this one? Scary.

    That being said - I'm not planning to shelve mine and I don't think you should shelve yours either. I think, relatively speaking, the climb up the publishing ladder does require a Herculean effort. But that's not something new, or a surprise.

    On Sierra's blog, she talked about luck being preparation + opportunity. I am a little too cynical to believe that fully (in writing and in life in general) but there is definitely a kernel of truth to it. As in any lottery, no matter how bad the odds are stacked against you, if you don't play you can't win.

  4. Luck and perseverance have a hand in this business. Published writers just happen to be in the right place at the right time. But, if we unpublished writers don't try, then we'll never BE in that right place at the right time to win.

    So, keep trying, keep fighting, and remember that climbing Everest isn't a small feat accomlished in a month-long attempt. A lot of people fail, but go back every May to try again to reach the summit.

    Geesh, maybe I should shelve my book and practice climbing with an oxygen tank strapped to my back instead.

    Good luck, Trav!

  5. It's not only the publishing biz that's fucked up...the whole world is fucked up. Each year my hope for finding an agent dwindles as people get stop reading books, this encomony tanks, and Americans get stupider and stupider. Pretty much at this moment in time, God could tell you that you've written the next great American novel and still no one would publish it. F that.

  6. I am on the same track as you. Querying since mid-september and my initial confident attitude has changed to a pathetic "I'm good enough and smart enough . . ." one. I actually blogged about this exact thing about a week ago called "Breaking Through" and it seems as though no matter how many queries I get out there to the seemingly right agents, the rejections still roll in.

  7. I think we are screwed... but what else can we do but keep trying, and keep writing.

  8. well.. we don't have any choices. We write. It's what we do. I don't know about you, but I can't stop even when I try. The stories.... they ache. The novels get written. Persistence is always part of the game. I know people on their seventh book and tenth year and JUST got an agent. I know people on second or third agents because they couldn't sell their books to publishers. It sucks. It's the way it is. I got a rejection today on a partial from an agent who I know was a good fit. I don't know if he read the query, I don't know if he's said to his staff "No third person omniscient this week!" Who knows? I just know that my wip? My wip is my one true love right now. Published or not, novel number one and two shelved or not... number three.... ahhhhhhhhhh.... she calls me.