Authors: Established vs Newbies

I’ve been following the Amazon/Hachette melee, and maybe because I’m a new author, I am leaning toward Amazon’s view of the world. No, I’m not in favor of monopolies, and Amazon is heading that way, but I’m also not the least bit happy about the way new authors are treated by the traditional publishing industry.

My view of the world is that there’s a double standard when it comes to established, well-known authors versus new authors.

Some of it I can understand.  I can see that a publisher may not want to take a risk on a thousand page novel by a new author, one which may tank after they’ve made a major investment in physically creating a tome that size. Most new authors start out with a novel significantly less than 125K words [approximately 400 pages], and so I had a hard time selling An Untold Want to an agent. In fact, I never was able to get an agent to represent me. Several specifically said they wouldn’t even consider a manuscript with more than 90K words from a new author. One agent told me to cut it down to 85K words and then come talk to her. She wasn’t offering me a contract up front. No, she was just saying she would possibly consider it if I cut my novel in half. I passed on that offer.

Some of the issues I don’t understand, like quality of writing. Awhile back I did a review of The GoldFinch. If a newbie author had submitted The Goldfinch to a major publishing house, let’s just say Hachette, that author would have been laughed out of their office.  The book is long and convoluted and badly edited. And yet, the publisher is pushing it. And it won a Pulitzer. Yes, it has some beautiful prose and is an interesting story, but it would never have seen the light of day, a book that won a Pulitzer would never have been published if it had been written by a new author.

Agents and publishers expect newbies to come to them with a complete, fully edited manuscript. With a social presence already in place. From what I’ve read, in multiple articles from well respected news outlets, publishers now only focus on supporting their big draw authors, the J.K. Rowlings and James Pattersons of the book world. If I were to get a contract with Hachette today, I’ve no doubt that I would have to do a large majority of the advertising myself.  So for a whopping 7% of the sale price [yes, that’s what new authors tend to get from publishing houses], I would get to do 70% of the work, not including writing the novel.

When I couldn’t get an agent, [Your book is too long. Your book doesn’t fit our genre. Your books just wasn’t for us.] I went down the indie route. By self publishing with Amazon, I get 70% of the royalties and I own the rights to my book. Yes, I did all the work, but the ROI is significantly better than if I’d gotten an agent and gone down the traditional route, say with Hachette.  There are tons of agent/publisher horror stories out there. My favorite, the one I tell myself at night when I’m trying to boost my ego about why an agent wouldn’t want my book, is that many authors finally get an agent only to have their books placed at the bottom of a huge pile of I’ll get around to this later.

The Huffington Post posted a great article that sums up the indie versus traditional situation: Are There 5 Reasons to Stick With Major Publishers? No, There Are Zero Reasons

Just to be fair, there is a down side to self publishing. Indie books are still considered substandard. All self published authors are lumped into a huge ball of what appears as mediocrity. Those who do the work to polish their novels are pulled down by those who don’t. Even I shy away from indie authors because I’ve paid for too many books that were badly written. I wrote about this phenomenon in my post Do Yourself a Favor: Edit Your Book. Too many new authors write what is in essence a first draft and then rush to publish it. As one web article said, we are drowning in indie books, and my take is that many of them are sub-par.

With that said, the best reason to be an indie author is that I’m in control of how successful I am. I can edit or not. I can create a great cover. Or not. I can do what I want, but what I do is in direct relation to how successful I am. I am not waiting on someone else to promote my book.

2 thoughts on “Authors: Established vs Newbies

  1. Very interesting. I did not know agents were against 90k+ word stories. For some reason I always heard 90-120k was the magic number in general. Anyway, you learn something new every day. good luck with your self-published stuff! I’m actually looking into that soon…

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  2. Axel Rider, sometimes it depends on the agent. I was able to find a couple who would look at my novel, but I was told that the rule is usually nothing above 90K for a newbie. Following that rule means most agents won’t automatically turn you down. I stayed with my 125K word novel, but it was a hard sell, and as I said, I was never able to get an agent to represent me.

    I’ve also been told that sometimes, it’s just the luck of the draw. Right place, right time, etc… So if you’re just now writing a novel, and want the best possible odds for finding a agent with a spot open for your particular genre, try to keep it under 90K.

    BTW, the best place I’ve found to help with understanding agent requirements is http://www.agentquery.com/. Everyone is different.

    I wish you lots of luck. Really!

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