Wednesday, February 01, 2006


There are unpublished writers who have plenty of talent and are producing professional level work, and yet cannot get a proposal in front of an editor from a major publisher because the publisher doesn't accept unagented material. These same writers have shopped around for agents, but experienced agents rarely take on unpublished writers.

It's a nasty loop, and the one thing about the industry that I think needs to change (not that I have any practical solution to offer; I'm thinking wave a magic wand and make the problem go away.)

If you could wave a magic wand over the publishing industry and change one thing about it, what would it be, and why?


  1. Reverse the Thor power tools tax ruling or provide an exemption for books so publishers could hold more stocks and give books a longer shelf life.
    They're in and out of the stores so fast they hardly get a chance to pick up a readership.

  2. Obliterate form letters. Give the editors and agents a bagful of time and energy (or legions of minions) so they could explain to me, in detail, why my book doesn't work.

    I'm fine with being told that my work is not professional quality, but without SOME sort of indication as to what needs to change for the better, I can't.

  3. Anonymous4:57 AM

    I think the market will settle down eventually, with most genre publishers looking like Baen.

    However, that business about ordering to the net (?) should go.

  4. I'd make books and reading be cool. Kids would hang out at the local Book Arcade instead of the video arcade.

  5. Well, I don't know, being nearly completely unpublished, but I think that the business has evolved to be the way it is because so many people want to be in it. The problems that people complain about are caused by the huge amounts of material that publishers and agents are deluged with.

    Few people think they can remove a brain tumor or drive a race car. On the other hand, nearly everybody thinks they could write a book (how hard could it be?) and so, like the hopeless ones on American Idol, many of them do. Having read some of the stuff produced in online critique groups, all I can say is that I see why publishers and agents are the way they are.

    So, if I could wave a magic wand? I'd create a mechanism, a piece of software perhaps, that would scan your work and pronounce it unpublishable if it were really awful. That would probably cut down on the volume that publishers and agents have to deal with by 70%.

    I'd call the program 'Self Awareness 1.0'

  6. Anonymous8:17 AM

    Considering I'm just starting the agent/publisher process (and feeling like I'm a kid again, wandering back and forth between Mom and Dad, who each keep saying, "Go ask your mother/father."), I would have both groups establish a set of rules for accepting unagented/unpublished authors. For instance, you must have published a minimum of [number] short stories in paying markets, placed in a recognized writing competition, etc. - something to point out that you are capable of decent work, and so should earn a place above the slush that isn't even coherent. At least give us a CHANCE to get in there instead of laughing as we run back and forth between two locked doors. *~*

  7. Many publishers and agents lament that they want FRESH and NEW voices, but when something fresh and new comes their way, they are often scared to take a chance. Agent Deidre Knight did a great blog entry on Romancing the blog about that several months back.

    I wish publishers and agent would take some chances instead of staying with what is safe and what is sure to sell. I know it's a business, but you can't get anything fresh if you don't take a chance.

  8. And in the vein of Trace's comment, remove the marketing and sales people from the book-buying process.

  9. It has almost gotten to the point where you need to submit your work to a professional... agent submitter. Then they send your book to the right agents or dismiss your work, and letting you know why.

    But then there would be another big loop to jump through.

    I would like to see publishers make an effort to try at least one new book every year. One that's wildly out there and crazy. That way there is something of a chance at striking gold.

  10. Andi said
    >both groups establish a set of
    >rules for accepting
    >unagented/unpublished authors.
    >For instance, you must have
    >published a minimum of [number] >short stories in paying markets

    Seems like a great idea but...

    It would just push the problem further out.

    The magazines and competitions would be deluged with cr_p.

    The results would be somewhat random and even scamtastic - who's better at judging a book, a pro agent/editor, or a couple of amateurs running a glorified fanzine?

    Also, time. I don't have time niether to write shorts - which is not my form anyway - nor chase small publications. All my writing time goes into my 100K fantasy novel. So, my voice would be lost.

  11. If I could wave a magic wand, I'd make it so that editors could buy every book that personally excites them instead of having to get upper management and marketing approval; that every book published would have terrific distribution; and that everybody who's worked so hard to produce publishable, dynamite fiction would catch the eye of the right industry professionals.

  12. Anonymous11:54 AM

    Agree with Trace, Cece, Mary Stella. A lot of the problem lies with the marketing-sales people. Thus the determination to stick with familiar names and insistence on following popular trends.

    But as one who's experienced this 'loop', I can't think of any ONE thing that would change it...unless it would be to suggest the hiring of competent readers to give more people a chance.
    For publishers, sponsor contests, or have a window of time once or twice a year when you consider unagented submissions. And if you only have a staff of 2 or 3 people, HIRE somebody for God's sake!
    As for agents who are only interested in 'established' names--you're missing out on the future.

  13. PBW's agent/publisher merry-go-round strikes a cord. But I also think that, at least in the romance genre, consolidation has really added to this problem.

    I would like for more smaller houses to be able to flourish. The large houses stick to certain formulas because they sell, and that makes sense--it takes a lot of money to run an empire. E-book publishers are gaining strength, but I'd like to see more small print houses be able to flourish without getting absorbed into the mega-publishers. Then maybe you'd have a chance of getting looked at without an agent.

  14. There are so many great, well-thought out comments here that it's hard to top them, so I won't even try.

    What Dean said really struck a chord though, and that's everybody seems to think they can churn out the next best seller... in a month no less.

    Well, anyway, it seems everybody and his brother are giving it a shot, and who's to say which one of them actually has talent? Certainly they all think they do, so there is a flood over the transom.

    Can't really blame the publishers for trying to stop the water.

  15. Yeah.

    If I could, I would make a surgical cut straight to the Marketing Department, by passing the agents and editors completely.

    From what I have seen (and granted my view is limited) if Marketing can't sell it, the aquiring editor can't aquire it. If they publish one, they don't publish the second if your sales in that first month on the shelf fail to meet a specific sell-through percentage at specific stores.

    It's time to say "hi" to the elephant in the living room. Novels are a commodity and the life cycle of that commodity does not even register a heart beat until the Marketing Department gives the go ahead.

  16. My magic wand would convince the heads of the big publishing houses to use some of their profits to create a smaller imprint solely for the purpose of publishing new authors, agented or not.

    A part of these new imprints, would be staff who monitor reader and writer blogs/web pages for reviews and recommendations.

    The publishers will be able to choose the popular ones to market more forcefully, and the ones who don't perform as well, learn from the experience. Everyone wins.

    The internet is the growing market for what is being read and it's time the publishing houses paid attention.

  17. Wow - you hit on one of my big ones! That and getting more agents/publishers to accept electronic submissions. I'm even willing to jump through hoops to do it (some kind of registration system, etc.).

  18. Anonymous11:58 PM

    The *cough* necessity of authors to self promote. I'd rather just write, thanks, and leave promotion to the professionals.

    If you're a marketing powerhouse (like MJ Rose or Joe Konrath) self promotion's GREAT! But if you're shy and awkward and, well, broke, this self promo bandwagon sucks rocks.

    It all should rest on the words, the story. Not who can buy the neatest gizmos, run the most ads, or convince media people that the author needs to be on a talk show.

  19. You just named the #1. I'm planning on blitzing everyone and hoping for the best. There must be some way to break in. How did you get your start?


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