About Writing, Life and Writing About Life

Here is another topic which came up at the Literary Festival.

A member of the audience told of sending her book proposal to agents and publishers, waiting seemingly interminable amounts of time on each occasion, only to be told that ‘we don’t take on new authors’ or some other formula rejection. A familiar tale to many, I am sure. She then asked me what she should do. My response was to say ‘publish the book yourself’, but I’m not sure it was a very welcome answer.

So I thought I would step into a publisher’s shoes for a moment – which will take a little stretch of the imagination – and look at it from their point of view. We know that publishing is an industry in difficulties at the moment. They have to differentiate their product from all the self-published books out there. So when they reject your manuscript, is it because they are looking for a better written book? Possibly, but most likely not. After all, they have editors who can help hone a book to perfection. What they are looking for is a book – and an author – who will sell. It is easy to sit outside and say that this means that publishers only take on well-known celebrities, but this is just not true. There are still authors being picked up by the major publishing houses, but these days many of them will have a self-publishing career under their belt already.

What this gives the publishers is a chance to see what the author is prepared to do to support their book. They have already put time and energy into promotion, and learned this skill. This is not entirely new, by the way. The original Chicken Soup for the Soul book was rejected by several publishers. It was only taken up eventually because the authors, Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield, had developed a comprehensive marketing plan – to the extent of having pledges to purchase over a thousand copies from their contacts.

So if a publisher rejects your manuscript or proposal, it might not be because they are looking for a better book. They might be looking for a better author. Look at it from their point of view and wonder why they would take on someone who is expecting to have everything done for them. There isn’t enough marketing budget to support an author like that. The good news is that you can become that better author. By self-publishing a professional product, learning how to promote yourself and making a name for your writing you will show them what an unmissable package you are. Whether you then decide that you don’t need a publisher when you can go it alone and keep control of your work will be your decision. And one day it may be the publishers who will have to show that they have something to offer an author, and not the other way around.

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