Sunday, November 14, 2010

A writer's market

I’ve been “building my online presence” for a couple of weeks now.  I’ve started this blog (which I’m enjoying more than I thought I would) and put together a very rudimentary website.  I’ve joined Facebook, which I am mostly avoiding but also enjoying.  None of it has dramatically decreased my actual writing, maybe because I’m currently spurred on by the Nanowrimo challenge.  I’ve been finding (and in some cases, subscribing to) blogs about writing, blogs about reading, blogs about readers who write and writers who read, and blogs written by editors and literary agents, both about the industry in general and as a method of information dissemination to aspiring writers such as myself.  It’s this last group, the agents and editors who blog, that confounds me the most.  Don’t get me wrong.  After ten years of keeping to myself, I’m happy to find information on the current standard for formatting a manuscript.  I find it helpful, I guess, to read about other people’s dismal queries and what agents found particularly dismal about them.  I’m interested in the industry, in what’s selling and who’s getting these great signing deals.  But it seems that there’s an entire, separate industry with goods for sale to writers:  advice books written by editors and agents, “Webinars” hosted by agents during which you can craft the perfect query, the endless conferences and workshops.             
Let me say that I’ve never empathized with agents and editors so much since I started to read many, many manuscripts on a site called Authonomy.  It’s a Harper Collins venture, wherein writers can post a fraction or the whole of the novel, even design and post a cover and write a pitch for it.  Books are rated by a complex mathematical equation of support received from other members and the author’s participation on the site.  That’s a very simple explanation, by the way.  The exact rating system can be found at  But the end result is that the top five books are rewarded with a review by a Harper Collins editor.  Not publication, a review.  Okay, so the reason I empathize with agents is because I’ve been reading and reading the opening sections of novels and non-fiction offerings for months.  And what surprises me is not that there is a huge amount of bad writing (that I expected), or that there is an even bigger amount of something worse—mediocre writing.  No, to my complete amazement, there is a significant amount of intriguing, complex, accomplished and in my unprofessional opinion, print-worthy books of every genre.  The people who wrote these polished works are writers, which means they are reclusive, introspective and in general, not great marketers of anything.  To require a writer to be their own marketer seems entirely unreasonable.
Everyone knows that the publishing industry is beholden to the best sellers.  But with the change that’s a-comin, the revolution that awaits in regards to self-publishing, e-publishing, etc., I would argue that agents, editors and publishers, instead of “creating an online presence” for themselves, would be better served to log off the blog and read more manuscripts.  In my experience, most queries end two ways:  1) a generic “not right for us” or 2) no response at all.  Again, I realize that they are inundated with, well, let’s face it, with a lot of crap.  But think of the stuff that they’re missing.  Even at Authonomy, when you get your coveted review after reading and commenting on hundreds, sometimes thousands of books, the review usually says something like:  “Well done, many good aspects, not for us.”
In a lot of ways, the publishing industry is like the current economy.  Many things involved, all intertwined, all difficult to fix.  Agents can’t sell books that publishers won’t buy.  I acknowledge that we live in a new time, a technological, look-at-me time.  But let writers be writers.  Let the rest go back to selling books, not advice on how to sell books.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mary, I agree with what you wrote here. I just couldn't articulate it. Thanks for the comment on wheelerwrite. I recognized your name from authonomy but I haven't read the opening to your book yet.
    Steve W


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka