Indie News Beat: Gatekeepers by Default?

One of the more interesting side-effects of the self-publishing revolution is that independently published books are acting as a “testing ground” for mainstream publishers. More and more often we hear in the news of a self-published author who worked hard to shift a few thousand copies, and then along came a mainstream to snap them up and market them as a new discovery.

While this may be good news for the authors concerned, the other side of the coin is the intimation that, if an Independent Author can’t shift thousands of copies on their own efforts, then de-facto they can be deemed somehow to have failed. This article on Authonomy is typical of a mainstream encouraging authors who can’t get off the slushpile to go the self-publishing route. Authonomy is HarperCollins’ pseudo-indie platform, a place where unknown authors can go to showcase their work, so it’s no surprise it takes a mainstream-centred point of view.

The article begins by name-checking the usual suspects who started out self-publishing and then went on to enjoy mainstream success, before, wagging its finger like a parent admonishing a wayward child, pointing out that these authors “knew their market and had taken the time to cultivate it.” Many literary agents now regard self-publishing as an “incubator” for new talent.

Then comes the catch: it may take up to 100,000 sales “before publishers are vying for your signature”, although a few thousand will probably be enough to get the attention of literary agents. In this way, literary agents and mainstream publishers retain their function as gatekeepers by default. Instead of wading through vast slushpiles, agents and publishers can sit back, see what authors and titles are building a market, then step in with an offer.

The only problem is, it’s self-defeating. As Howey and others have shown, if an author can build an audience of thousands without a mainstream behind them, why do they need one afterwards? The only answer is validation: that mainstream publication still has the lure of making an author feel legitimate. Now, however, we move into irony: the Independent Author works hard writing, blogging and promoting for years to build their audience, only for a mainstream to come along and say: “Congratulations, you’ve made it! Now we’ll take your book and instead of the 70% royalties you’ve been earning by your own effort, we’ll let you keep 12%, but that’s a small price to pay for being a ‘real’ author!”

I think it’s clear most writers accept that the days of the JD Salinger, who could find a publisher and retreat to live life completely out of the public eye, are over. Whether independent or mainstream, each author knows that they have to interact with their readers to promote their books and their name. The question, though, is: are you self-publishing for independence or to snag a mainstream? If the answer is to snag a mainstream, then aren’t they and the literary agents maintaining their former role as gatekeepers by default?

 

Writers Conferences – Are They Worth It?

I have only been to one writer’s conference. It was a small one in Auckland, New Zealand run by the Romance Writer’s Guild. So yes, there were a lot of Mills and Boons authors there and yes, I possibly could have found one that was a slightly better fit for me, but all my books have a heavy romantic element and it was in town, so I figured I should give it a shot.

Was it worth it? Continue reading “Writers Conferences – Are They Worth It?”

Exception Rejections by Bill Stephens

Author Bill Stephens

Before I became an indie author, I did serious agent querying for my current project, and I learned that agents have discovered something more demeaning and insulting than the “Dear Author” form letter/post card/email rejection. I’ve dubbed it the “Exception Rejection.”

Here’s how it’s explained on the agent websites: “We receive such a high volume of queries, that we respond only to those in which we are interested. If you have not heard from us in four to six weeks then consider that we have passed on your project. Do not under any circumstances inquire about your submission or we will put your genitals in a vise and force you to watch us eviscerate your first-born. ” Actually, I added that last part. Continue reading “Exception Rejections by Bill Stephens”

A Perfect Rejection

Author John BarlowThis post is about rejection. More specifically, it is about a rejection letter that I received from an editor at Mulholland Books, an imprint of Little, Brown (Hachette).

My noir mystery What Ever Happened to Jerry Picco? was submitted to Mulholland by my (then) agent because it seemed to fit the imprint’s profile for intelligent, inventive crime. The book involves the disappearance of a midget porn star. However, it is not an explicit book; it’s about a missing pornographer, a sort of noir-romp with a few references to Shakespeare and fairy stories. NOT sexually explicit. Bear that in mind. Here’s the letter:

Thanks so much for the chance to consider WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO JERRY PICO? I took this under very close consideration; there’s much to like here. The writing, throughout, is pitch-perfect; Flores* is clearly in command of a masterful, thorough knowledge of the genre, and it shows in both his prose and in the bizarre, fringe characters with which he populates this well-executed novel of investigation (Pico’s wounded, needy and binge-drinking bombshell of a lover is especially appealing). Continue reading “A Perfect Rejection”

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