Monday, June 06, 2005

Why Can't I Get a Book Deal?

I hear that question a lot, and frankly, the appropriate answer 12 times out of 10 is, "Because you're an idiot."

Several weeks ago (okay, months ago) I posted a piece about
Whores on the Hill, which received a comment by a blog called Another Useless Fact directing others to his "review" of the book. As it turns out, the Useless review was simply a listing of titles released (by many different publishers) from Random House that could be construed as "chick lit" based solely on their titles and brief descriptions. Now, without getting into any discussion of chick lit, it should be said that Useless hadn't actually read any of the books he chose to disparage. Each book description was followed by several snide remarks, few of which were even remotely humorous.

But before treating us to any of his incisive commentary, Useless first took a moment to re-iterate that well-worn phrase, that battle cry of the untalented writer, "It's no wonder most of us can't get an agent let alone a book deal...." I suspect that if Useless employs the same sound judgment, reason, and good taste in his writing as he does in his reviews, he'll never get a book deal. Perhaps he will one day write the authoritative biography of Lincoln without actually having read any books about Lincoln. I'm sure it will incorporate Useless' uniquely "snarky" tone that we all love.

But hey, it's fair to blame the industry, right? After all, they are collectively responsible for all of the books that get published. Those nameless, faceless giants at Random House and thoughtless publishing mill they run - naturally they're all morons for not seeing the linguistic cunning of dear old Useless. Or maybe they're just too polite. There's a large elephant standing in the middle of our little book party here and it's dying to tell you, "If no one's interested in your book, it's because it isn't good."

7 Comments:

Blogger mike said...

That's too easy of an answer. Maybe 90% of the books written that don't get published are garbage, but there are a lot of books written every year and I bet hundreds of niche books get overlooked because a large publisher can't figure out how to sell them. Large publishers are like the Hollywood of the book business. Good niche authors need to find a way to go the Sundance route.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

And vanity presses are the right path for those works. The many fine small independent publishers are, but they have a keen crap detector too. That's what a vanity press doesn't have, hence the bad company.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

That was a bad slip. Read that "aren't" the right path.

9:26 PM  
Blogger mike said...

I completely agree that one advantage of traditional publishers is that they provide a way of filtering content for mass distribution. But I think it's too early to say using POD technology and marketing to people with similar tastes is not a valid alternative. There's no vanity in that.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

How much ground can one yiels to a market of 500? For me not much.

9:46 PM  
Blogger sepulculture said...

This is one of those relative term arguments, and the word in question is "niche." How many people constitute a niche? If we're talking about 500 people, that's not a niche market, that's a group of family and friends. Why? Any time you talk about a market, you have to presume there is money to be made by selling to that market. You will never make money selling 500 copies of any book, whether it's through a large publisher, a small press, or POD. Your costs will exceed your gains on 500 copies, so a niche market has to be much larger (in the 1000s) to have any success and for a book to gain any traction.

That said, I actually like and believe in POD publishing, but one must understand it is still largely a vanity format at this point. Most POD books will not be financially successful, and those that can find a real market (niche or otherwise) will probably be picked up by some kind of publisher eventually.

I like POD for its democratic opportunities as a proving ground for books. Like websites on the internet, anyone can participate and the best find a way to rise to the top.

Vintage Books alone publishes roughly 150 books a year, and we're just one paperback imprint among hundreds. All of those books don't sell tens and hundreds of thousands of copies individually, so as a matter of fact, we publish scores of niche books every year. If we could advance more copies of even more titles, we'd probably do it, but there's not a market for that many books. Even a B&N superstore has to limit the number of titles it can carry.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

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3:15 PM  

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