Even though traditional publishing releases at least 1,000 books every day of the year – including weekends and holidays, through snowstorms, heatwaves, hurricanes, floods, wars, and any situation – self-published books are estimated to be double that. Though there are some strategic and economic advantages to self-publishing for some authors, the vast majority of writers wish to be published by someone other than themselves. Is the process to get published getting harder or easier?
Based on the increased amount of competition out there, it’s getting harder to be published, but if you look at the number of published books to the number of American citizens ratio it’s a little better than 1 in 1,000 get published. When I started in 1989 in the book industry, some 45,000 books were released by traditional publishers and with a population then of around 250 million, about 1 in 5,000 got published.
It’s getting harder to be published today because most publishers work only with literary agents and not directly with authors. The number of agents has dwindled and these agents filter submissions not based on your book’s creativity, content quality, or importance, but on whether you have a “platform” and a built-in readership through your network of contacts, social media connections, and bulk-sale relationships.
Self-publishing has ballooned because of technology, its low cost, and the ego of writers. But it also has grown because closed-minded literary agents and publish-by-formula publishers won’t take a chance on some talented writers who have a unique voice to share but lack a following.
Book publishing has a long history of rejecting writers who went on to pen best-sellers, win awards, and have movies made based on their works, and in some cases, lives. The self-publishing world allows for the rejected author to get published, and in some cases, affords the author a chance to shine. Some of the most popular books of all-time began as self-published. The Celestine Prophecy is one that comes to mind Rich Dad, Poor Dad is another. So’s The Joy of Cooking, Your Erroneous Zones, and In Search of Excellence.
Publishers have rejected Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, John Grisham, George Orwell, Dr. Seuss, Jack London, Louis L’Amour, and James Joyce. Publishers rejected M.A.S.H., Lord of the Flies, A Wrinkle in Time, Carrie, Still Alice, and Catch-22. Chicken Soup for the Soul was reportedly rejected by 144 publishers.
Many famous authors have self-published, including Gertrude Stein, Deepak Chopra, Mark Twain, Beatrix Potter, Virginia Wolff, Ezra Pound, and Anais Nin. Books like The Bridges of Madison County, What Color is Your Parachute?, Ulysses, and The Elements of Style were originally self-published. Many publishers missed goldmine opportunities when they rejected superstar-to-be authors.
Why are so many great books and talented writers going unpublished or turned away by literary agents and book publishers?
Everyone in book publishing is consumed by the numbers – namely how many Facebook connections and Twitter followers one has. But none of this has proven to be a reliable metric for book sales. And even if there is some type of correlation between one’s social media following and book sales, should that be the final metric to determine which books get a proper chance to be read – and which don’t? Why do we let popularity contests dictate whose words get exposed to the public?
On the other hand, writers can and should do more to gain brand exposure and to build a platform. Publishers may just find that once authors do the heavy lifting on publicity and marketing, that writers will see they don’t always need a publisher.
Book publishers, however, still add value to a writer’s works and brand. They can sell rights – foreign, audio, film, etc. They can get better distribution than a self-publisher. They add legitimacy to the work, and they style, edit, and package the book appropriately.
Publishers want books that will sell. Authors want a publisher to support their book. But publishers need to go a bit deeper and invest in quality books without looking purely at social media clicks. Authors must recognize they play a key role in promoting and marketing themselves and their books.
Do you want to be published or self-published? They each hold advantages and in most cases, the choice is made for the writer. Perhaps the book landscape needs to have traditional publishers and self-publishers – as well as hybrid publishers. Together, the reading public is given well over one million new options each year. Getting published is less of a problem than getting your book read!
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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at email@example.com. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent. This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource."
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