Ideas on Publishing


I mentioned in my initial post that I wanted to say more about my issues with the publishing industry and my decision to publish my creative work (which, I promise, is forthcoming). To say I have “issues” with the publishing industry sounds more negative than I intend. As I also mentioned, I recognize the reality of the business end of the publishing world and realize that the main criteria for getting published is having a book that will sell.

Part of this reality is that getting published is very difficult. Very few people (relative to the number who write) get published and only a small fraction of those people sustain an independent writing career. Because supply exceeds demand, the process of getting published becomes rather tedious. It’s akin to getting a degree and looking for a job: you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job. Which is to say, the best way to convince someone that your work is publishable is to be published.

The process, as I see it, is:

  • get stories published in genre/literary magazines
  • write a novel/collection of stories
  • try to convince an agent with a 1 page letter and 1 page synopsis that your work is salable (not necessarily that it is “good”), doing this 1 agent at a time
  • hope those 2 scant documents are enough to convince him or her to ask for pages
  • hope that the agent thinks he or she can make a buck off your work
  • wait for agent to submit to publisher
  • maybe get published, maybe not. If not, start process again with 1 other agent.

I don’t mean this as a harsh criticism, only as an explanation of what I perceive to be the realities of the process. And a slow process at that. Your manuscript can get tied up in this process for years.

And the bottleneck starts right at the beginning. Literary magazines are awash in manuscripts. They can get hundreds of manuscripts a month and may, perhaps, publish a dozen or two a year. The math ain’t pretty.

Which has me exploring options. As I mentioned before, self-publishing has a bad reputation. Those writers I referred to with lousy queries to Query Shark? They may get frustrated and self-publish, and there’s no one to stop them. Being a terrible writer is extremely easy and self-publishing is becoming cheaper and cheaper. How is a serious reader able to wade through all the self-published junk to find the occasional gem? What incentive do they even have to do so, what with the plethora of great books already in libraries and bookstores? With some exceptions, self-published books are not vetted through the same review process as traditionally published books. Self-published writers are left with self-promotion and word of mouth. Luckily, we’re at a point now where word of mouth (in the form of Web 2.0 technologies) carries some weight.

What writers can do now (as I am attempting to do) is to put their writing out on the web and see what happens. At a certain point in one’s life, the perceived benefits of getting published are outweighed by the tediousness and uncertainties of the process. Blogs allow for feedback, making this form of “publishing” not so much publishing but a thinking out loud, a conversation of the work at hand. And, yes, it is a self-marketing tool as well. But, for me, the discussion is the most important thing. If nothing else happens, I’ve lost nothing and may received helpful feedback that will enrich my writing experience.