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Friday, August 17, 2012

More Reasons Why Traditional Publishing is in Trouble

No longer publishable.
The other day, I got into an interesting conversation (via e-mail) with fellow pilot and bestselling author Richard Bach, of Jonathan Livingston Seagull fame.

Let me fast-forward to the crux of our conversation. Which was that conventional publishing is (how can I put this delicately?) messed up beyond belief, now that all major book publishers have been bought up by mega-corporations and are interested only in blockbusters, and only those authors who are represented by top-flight literary agents. And only those with a very recent track record of mega-stardom.

You may think (as I did) that this means, simply, that new authors and fresh voices in fiction are effectively locked out due to the "old boy network" that has always dominated publishing. But in reality, it's much worse than that.

Richard Bach has sold many millions of books. He has authored 20 books, in fact, one of which (Seagull) was made into a major motion picture. And yet, he is having trouble finding a publisher for his upcoming (21st) book. He finds himself locked out.

Bach told me he has finally decided to go with a tiny, up-and-coming publisher, simply because he couldn't get in the door of major publishers.

What he told me, specifically, is: "My queries about my own new book to Random House, HarperCollins and Scribner, all of whom have published my books, were either rejected or ignored." (Emphasis added.)

Folks, that's messed up, bigtime.

Most major publishers will not even look at un-agented submissions. Their attitude is one of "when you're the only girl in town, you don't need deodorant." But it's worse than that. Even if you're a bestselling author with 20 books to your credit, you're now locked out, unless (apparently) you can prove you're Jesus in a business suit.

Of course, Writers Digest (and others) would have you believe you actually have a chance of getting published, if only you persist (and act like a professional rather than a lame-ass jerk).

Fact is, you have less of a chance than you think. What Writers Digest doesn't like to tell you is that your chances of getting a literary agent to request your entire book manuscript after a cold query are roughly one in 200. That's just to get them to read it, not sign you as a client.

And this is a tragedy, not only for authors (new or otherwise), but for the publishing industry as a whole. Because it means rationality is going out the window. The old-school publishing industry is now officially insane.

Many New York literary agents now won't even accept new clients unless they're recommended by existing clients. (Talk about an old-boy network.) But what if you're recommended by Richard Bach, who has sold millions of books but can't even bust the door of a New York publisher himself?

Let me break it down for you. It means that even if you are a talented writer, you're playing a cruel new type of Lotto.

So let's call a club a club, a heart a heart, a diamond a diamond, and a spade a spade. The old-school publishing industry is dead. Or rather, they're the walking undead, a bunch of characters from a George Romero movie, still ambulatory but totally unaware that they are just animated corpses without a reason to exist.

Random House, Macmillan, Scribner, Pearson-megalith, etc. Just lay down already. Your time is over.

Long live e-books. Long live self-publshing. Long live Lulu.com.

The hell with New York.