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Get a Book Published? The Road to Publication Might be Getting a Little Rougher

Aug 18, 2007
Is it getting easier or more difficult for an unpublished writer to get their first book commercially published? We asked nearly 60 literary agents about the outlook for the next generation of authors. Their comments are in quotes.

Agents do not envision a great deal of change on the horizon. They are mildly negative about the next 12 to 24 months. When asked the reasons behind their forecast, the most common responses were:

Industry Consolidation, Changes Within the Publishing Industry Itself
Changes in Book Retailing
Publishers are Becoming More Risk Averse
The Pessimists
The Optimists
The Impact of the National Economy

Industry Consolidation, Changes Within the Publishing Industry Itself

"Editors no longer rely on their instincts and passions as selection criteria; instead they go by such formulas as, Bad Numbers, Author has no Platform etc."

"Continuing consolidation and conglomeration of industry."

"For non-fiction works, in particular, publishers need credentialed writers, which leaves out the many individuals who have great ideas but nothing to back it up. With fiction, they are more likely to take a chance on an unpublished writer IF it is in an area (genre) they are seeking at the time and the writing is passable enough."

Changes in Book Retailing

"Because of the pressure of the chain buyers, publishers are increasingly locked into publishing only the brand new authors with no record, and best selling authors."

"Because as long as the retail market continues to consolidate in the hands of fewer and fewer retailers, the entire industry becomes dependent on the taste of a small handful of 'buyers' who choose which books get shelf space."

Publishers are Becoming More Risk Averse

"It just seems like it's getting harder and harder to get people to take a chance on an unknown."

"Editors are buying fewer books, they are reluctant to take chances."

"What does keep projects from being bought is the fact that lists are shrinking, and in a marketplace in which it's terribly hard to win anyone's attention, from buyers all the way to customers, everyone up the editorial chain is anxious about making the wrong bet more often than not. No is a safe answer."

The Pessimists

"I base this on the number of rejection letters publishers have sent for well-written, well-plotted novels by new authors that would have sold if given the chance."

"I don't see the market picking up much, and if the current trends continue, it will only decline."

The Optimists

"Because I don't agree that the publishing industry is either for or against unpublished writers. They are FOR unpublished writers who have a brilliant first novel to offer or a nonfiction platform. They are AGAINST unpublished writers who are bad writers or (in the case of nonfiction, are not credentialed in their field, have a new original, high concept idea etc.)"

"The Industry is not a monolithic thing. Some genres (nonfiction especially, which more and more requires the author to have a major platform for promotion and media attention) will continue to become more difficult; some genres (upmarket fiction) exalt first-time writers. The "first novel" for literary fiction represents a unique marketing opportunity for the publisher; it's the second and third novels that tend to be far more difficult to publish well if the first novel doesn't take off."

"Some trends favor new writers and new voices, however the money is often discouragingly small, so there is not the sense of a career being launched."

The Impact of the National Economy

"Publishing is an increasingly tough biz in tough times--fewer people read."

So What Can a Debut Author Do?

1) Study the elements of a good query letter.

2) Make your contact letter succinct, positive, but not obnoxious. Stress that you understand the market for your book and how to address that market.

3) Learn what types of manuscripts individual agents are looking for and send yours out to the agents that match up the best with your topic or genre.

4) Don't give up.
About the Author
Dee Power is the author of several commercially published books. Find out more about her at her website or read her blog
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