Have you ever bought a book and been so disappointed that you wondered how the author got published? Ever wondered why that can’t be you getting published by that big guy? Don’t feel alone. Most struggling writers have felt much the same way. In fact, there is some wonderful talent out there that is still being ignored by the big publishers. And technology is actually making that scenario worse.
Most upcoming writers are completely blind to how the publishing industry really works. Within the darkest recesses of the pit of despair that most writers flounder in, is a big secret that is not so darn secret anymore. Publishers are not waiting for the next great novel. Well, okay, maybe they are, but they certainly aren’t looking for the next great novel, with the emphasis on the word looking. Most of the time, they are relying on an agent to bring them the next new thing, or they are relying on the old guard to present them with the next great thing. Essentially, the publishing industry is set up backwards. I don’t mean to sound disparaging here. I’m just being honest.
Imagine this. A young woman sits in a tiny office with a pile of manuscripts surrounding her. Ordinarily, this young woman might be filing her nails. But she has no time to file her nails. She has to get through that gargantuan pile of manuscripts by the end of the day, and quickly, because come morning another gargantuan pile of manuscripts will appear. Is she an editor? Nope. Is she some big wig in the publishing house? Nope. Does she know anything about writing? Most likely not. She’s just a gopher, maybe an assistant, or possibly the receptionist. And her job is to open those manuscripts, find the self-addressed stamped envelope inside, insert the publishing house’s form rejection letter into the SASE, and get it in the mail ASAP. She’s not even reading the first line of the manuscript. I think you know what this means. By and large, you are wasting good money on those nice, clean, crisp manuscript boxes, all that expensive ink, and miles of postage just so that someone can…do nothing with it. If you just finished your first novel, this news will make your heart fall into your toenails, because it only gets worse from here.
How can a publisher find new talent if no one is reading anything? Because they are relying on the agent. So, let’s get back to the agent, shall we? Who is the agent anyway? I call them the Keepers of the Gate. The agent is the person who takes part of your money. I call them the Keepers of the Gate for two reasons. One: you ain’t gettin’ in unless you got one of ‘em. Two: when I say they keep part of your money, I mean they get your money before you do, extract their cut, and then send you your cut. Sound backwards to you? Well…I did warn you, didn’t I?
Sorry, friend. It gets even worse. The agent doesn’t want you either. The agent wants the guy who is already a big name. The agent doesn’t know you. Soooo…you gotta get the agent to know you. “Well,” you might say, “that sounds easy enough.” Yup, it’s easy alright. About as easy as being struck by lightning. Hurts real bad. You want to know how the publishing industry suggests that the agent get to know you? Through a recommendation from the editor, that’s how.
Sound backwards? It is. See the going theme here?
Just in case anybody got lost in that vicious circle, let’s recap. The publisher doesn’t read what you send them. They don’t know you from Adam. So, you need to get an agent. The agent doesn’t read what you send them. They don’t know you from Adam’s house cat. So, you need to get the agent to know you. Back to the publishing house. The agent wants a recommendation from an editor. Then the agent will get to know you. But you can’t get a recommendation from the editor, because the editor doesn’t know you.
You might think technology has improved this scenario. It hasn’t. Agents that invite you to submit your manuscript via email may have their emails set up to auto-reply with a form rejection. The technology saves them a ton of money. Now the girl in the office has a little time to file her fingernails.
This is why some writers end up becoming a depressed heap. My advice: keep a day job, preferably one you love, and write on the side. Get noticed by being fabulous in every other way, in every other medium you can possibly find. And keep trying to get an agent. Learn your craft, hone your craft, believe in yourself, and never give up. But…learn and hone, learn and hone. Be the best in the pile, even if you aren’t getting read. If you are any good, eventually, you will get noticed.