My State of the Industry Post

I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of the publishing industry lately, and how that relates to agents and writers … and I gotta tell ya … It’s kind of depressing.  I seriously doubt I’m the only one who is amazed by all these cuts at all these publishing houses. 

I just talked to an agent yesterday on the phone, and this is what she had to say:

“The game has changed. Agents are still offering
great stuff, but in my experience these past
few months, editors are only requesting 50% of
what they were before the recession gripped us. 
For instance, if I sent 10 query letters out to editors,
I could count on a request to see at least 8 book proposals.  Now,
it’s 4.  Everyone is afraid of taking a chance on
something.  More cuts are imminent, and if
you stick you neck out on a project that tanks,
it may backfire.  If a project tanks, you’re gone. 
So why take that chance?
       … To help make money for my clients,
I’m doing a lot of foreign sales, and then doing
a lot of ancillary sales – film and TV rights.”


For NYC, it’s a lose-lose situation.  If you don’t take chances on books, you don’t have those breakout sellers, like The Secret, or God is Not Great, or whatever.  But if you do take chances on books, and they sink in a bad market, you have that failure around your neck at the next staff review meeting.  The whole thing is depressing to think about.

As far as how this affects us as writers.  My advice is two-fold.  First of all, don’t turn down any work that pays decently.  This is not the time to be choosy.  If it pays OK, take it.  Bank the money.  Secondly, concerning submitting to agents … you just can’t think about it.  I mean, it’s always been tough to get a book published, right?  Well, you could say that now it’s 20% more difficult.  Nothing’s changed.  You still want to produce something great and write a great query and synopsis because the cream does rise to the top – every agent says that same thing. 

I’m already starting to see how this is affecting how agents do business – discussions of a different pay scale and higher percentages if book advances are low.  I gotta say – that doesn’t sound that bad.  The AAR will probably disagree with me here, but from a writer’s standpoint, paying a higher agent commission is not the end of the world.  It will allow agents to continue to take on smaller books that are brilliant but likely to not be high-sellers. 

I dunno.  More on this as we go along.

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9 thoughts on “My State of the Industry Post

  1. Killer Kat

    At the risk of sounding pugnacious, I happened upon a list of some of the most successful published authors. Some of these authors who were rejected by agents and publishers alike include:

    John Grisham-sold his 1st book ("A Time to Kill") out of the trunk of his car.
    Betty J. Eadie-"Embraced by The Light"
    William Strunk, Jr. and his student E.B. White-"Elements of Style"
    David Chilton’s "The Wealthy Barber" sold over 2 million books in the U.S. and 1 million in Canada.
    James Redfield’s "The Celestine Prophecy"
    "Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Save The Earth" selling 4.5 million books and spending 7 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List.
    "The Joy of Cooking"
    "What Color is Your Parachute?"
    "The Christmas Box" by Rick Evans. Mr. Evans He wrote this book in 6 weeks, published and promoted it so well that he sold the publishing rights to Simon & Schuster who paid him a cool 4.5 million dollars. It hit Publisher’s Weekly and was an immediate best seller-and was translated into 13 languages.

    These are but a sampling of titles that were rejected by agents and publishers.

  2. Sheila Deeth

    Depressing news, but the numbers help. So, it’s 20% harder, but it was always about as hard as finding the right place to stand to get struck by lightning. I guess I’ll just continue to follow the nearest thunderstorm and hope.

  3. dr.noshots

    The publishing world is ugly. It is based on who you know, who you are, or for how long you made the front pages. This is probably why literary agents compete for today’s front page celebrities, for living but notorious criminals and for dead but famous authors (ex: Robert Ludlum) and their ghost written masterpieces. The publishing odds for an unknown writer are poor. Major publishers accept manuscripts only through major literary agents and major literary agents accept only writers either previously published by major publishers, or present on the daily news by other means

  4. Rebecca Thrower

    During the Great Depression (or as my Grandfather says "Does anybody remember what was so GREAT about it?") some of the most prolific and illustrious Writers were published. During Civil War, Emancipation, the Industrial Revolution, etc. etc. etc. Great American Writers prevailed.

    When times are bad, money is tight and fear becomes the answer to all of our questions-people will still read.

  5. Jeff

    All the layoffs and restructuring in publishing is troubling. Yet, it’s also a little mystifying as to why new projects are not being acquired. The books signed on now will not be published until 2010. The market is likely to be very different by then. Today’s economic downtown is not going to last forever. Publishing is not about to disappear down the drain, though it may seem like it. Writers should keep writing & revising.

  6. Rebecca Chastain

    As a writer hoping to become a published author, I’ve been trying my best to avoid thinking too much about the economic impact on my future as a writer, much less simply my submission acceptance to an agent. To help bolster my confidence and to celebrate the successes in the industry, I started numberonenovels.blogspot.com, on which I interview first-time published authors. It’s very uplifting to read of their successes. Check it out if you need your spirits lifted.

  7. Rebecca Thrower

    The author of the CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL series (Jack Canfield) was rejected by EVERYBODY. His query letters and book proposals were viscerally lacerated by INDUSTRY EXPERTS-publishing houses and agents. In fact, he cites those early experiences as proof that it’s not always the most talented who succeed, it is the most persistent.

    Jack Canfield has sold more than 100 MILLION books in 20 countries, holds the Guinness Book of World Records for having 7 books simultaneously on the NY TIMES BEST SELLER list-beating out Stephen King, and he hold the Guinness Record for the largest book signing for CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE KIDS SOUL, in addition to guest appearances on OPRAH, LARRY KING, NBC, PBS and more.

    Jack Canfield was rejected by agents and publishers 123 times. And we all know how that turned out.

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