One of my favourite quotes is from the (slightly alternative) author J. G. Ballard who said, “Any fool can write a novel but it takes real genius to sell it.”
And in this day and age, he was far from wrong. If anything it’s getting ever more difficult to sell a book to an agent, much less a publisher. The number of publishers that no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts seems to be on the rise as they search for the next J. K. Rowling or Dan Brown. But what I find frustrating is that even when one writes in a genre that has an audience ready to buy, it’s impossible to convince the marketing team (or the accountants) the book will sell.
Having published three books now with only nominal advances – in one case, no advance – it’s obvious working writers are living much more hand-to-mouth than say, someone who’s written a New York Times bestseller*. Although that said, apparently even authors who have sold in the past aren’t getting the advances anymore.
I have an agent for my work with Fancyapint, and they’ve been very good at helping us with a contract we had before we approached them. When I showed my agent the manuscript for Death in Amber, he admitted he didn’t think he could find a buyer for it – which was a bit sobering.
The stories about so-and-so getting 7 or 20 rejections before getting published are mutating into stories about not being able to get a publisher at all. My suspicions about having to know someone continue to be piqued when I read that such-and-such got a deal with their husband’s best friend’s sister’s daughter’s publishing company. You know the sort.
On top of all that frustration, traditional publishing is struggling with 21st century technology even more than the music industry – as if that were possible. I recently read an article in the Observer, which was ostensibly about the serious decrease in author’s advances with some perplexity. With even more avenues to get books into the hands of readers, what are the publisher’s doing? Making dead tree versions. Oh, and you may be able to download a copy from Amazon.
There was a bright side to the article, mainly for independent or even self-publishers, as the opportunities being presented by Google and the likes of Amazon are becoming so easy to take advantage of. The dinosaurs of the publishing industry are still struggling to get to grips with technology, and most only do so because they’re being pushed into it by the advent of the Kindle, the Sony Reader and now the iPad. I’m going to the London Book Fair next week and the Digital question is going to be a big part of the programme.
I know how easy all this is from personal experience, as I’ve set up a small independent publisher and Amazon has been the best way for me to get my books to readers, both in dead tree format and in ebook format via the Kindle. Ebook versions for most other readers are also available, with the iPad version turning up on the platform any day now.
What I’m finding is a challenge is just what M Ballard alluded to – how to sell my work once it’s been created, which is the topic of my next post, I think.
*That said, the rumours say it’s no longer that difficult to get a bestseller on the lists as, like in the music industry, they are increasingly based on a lower number of books being sold.