Thursday, August 9, 2012


Yesterday I received an email from a fellow writer announcing his resignation from the writing business.  By the way, he's not making a living from his writing.  Not even close.  Oh, he's a terrific writer with a history of publishing short stories in very reputable literary magazines and he's even had a literary agent for a while.  He's also never been seriously close to getting one of his novels published and that's where the frustrated email was born. (He's since backed off his threat to quit writing, but that doesn't diminish his intrinsically exacerbating situation.)

It's easy to see why he'd gotten here.  After all the publishing industry is about making money, not discovering new literary talent.  So if a publisher has a choice between a new author with some serious writing chops and the twentieth unauthorized Frank Sinatra biography, well, you see what I mean.  When an illiterate like Snooki gets a books deal, I think it's obvious traditional publishing has become a place for no-talent big names to get their book deals.  Think Kardashians and Paris Hilton.

So why do I bring this up when I've been doing quite well with my own little career writing thrillers?  Because many writers have been stuck in the old model of query an agent, get a publisher, then wait two years to see your book in print.  It's an antiquated system which rewards very few authors who wiggle their way through the hoops to get to their goal.  It also doesn't allow for writers to try new things.  If a new writer attempts to write a story in first person from several different people, it's considered edgy and too much of a risk.  Meanwhile Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy can write an entire book without using quotation marks for dialogue and that's just fine.  Don't get me wrong, McCarthy is obviously an unbelievable writer, it's just that he makes money for the publisher, which means break any rules you'd like. 

So if you're a new writer, stay within the lines and don't stray too far from the norm.  In other words, don't get too creative, please.  And what about self-publishing?  Well, that's even more frustrating for newer writers because the pool has begun to fill up and now they're supposed to suddenly go from concentrating on writing to becoming an expert on formatting and marketing on the fly.  Or pay a large fee for someone else to do that for you.  Is this how the system should have gone?  No.  There was a time when publishers actively searched for new voices, then when they found him/her, they would throw some marketing money behind the book and get it off the ground.  But somewhere along the line they decided to go for the quick buck.  People like Kato Kaelin, (remember OJ's poolboy) who struck a $500,000 deal with St. Martin's Press were lurking in the alleys whispering to the industry with soft, alluring words of guaranteed profit.

Am I indicting the entire industry?  Of course not.  Am I suggesting publishers could have prevented a lot of this mass exodus toward independence by creative writers?  Sure.  I feel for my friends who have struggled to reach the masses and I will always champion their work.  Writing is the one profession where fellow competitors for the same readers would help each other whenever possible.  I've seen too many of my talented friends get lost in the shuffle and I hope the day will come where they can find their audience so I'll never get an email like the one I received yesterday.          


  1. Well said, Gary.

    And I so feel for those still trying to go the traditional route these days. I saw a tweet the other day on Twitter from an agent who admitted she reviewed 63 submissions in an hour.

    So, you received 60 seconds of her time for the hours worth of polishing your query that you spent.

    Forget that. I'm not selling a ton, but it's so nice to be selling something. It's energizing and invigorating, compared to checking your e-mail or mail box to see if an agent might bite.

  2. I finished my first novel earlier this year and have had some kind comments from agents (all within rejections, of course!)

    I've been told that humorous fiction is too hard to sell and it was even suggested I remove the jokes to help get it past the marketing people. It seems counter-intuitive as I always set out to write as funny a book as possible; in hindsight it seems that was a mistake.

    I am still querying and waiting to hear back from agents and just hope someone sees potential in 'Spotted.' It's funny, topical and finished. What more could the reader want!?

  3. Thanks, Stan. I appreciate the comment.

    James, there are thousands upon thousands of writers in exactly the same spot you are right now. We're rooting for you to succeed, whatever your version of success is. Good luck.

  4. I totally agree--great post--and yes, creativity is being snuffed in the headlong run for the big bucks--I gave up after sending my fantasy out to over 50's a good story, not Tolkien or Harry Potter of course--I had it professionally edited and then went with Createspace--they are not expensive--they link to Amazon and they will format for Kindle for 60 some extra dollars...of course marketing is a bear but hey...its better than waiting until I'm too old to see...

  5. Gary, You nailed it. Thanks for saying what's been on my mind for a long time. Over the past two years I have become a publisher, marketeer, and web designer - as well as a writer. I can either spend money for someone else to do it or spend my time and do it myself. It's all expensive, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I like my creative freedom.

  6. Gary you hit the nail on the head. All of us independents who have chosen creativity over the current model need to support each other. I too like my creative freedom. It is a brave new world, and we are in it. Thanks for the great post!

  7. Yep, I realized I am about as interested in the publishing industry as it is in me...practically zero.

  8. Yeah, thanks for the comments. This was all due to that email from a struggling writer friend who is the perfect example of someone slipping through the cracks. He's so talented, yet, his genre is very nebulous, therefore it's hard to place his work in a certain category. He's almost too literary for a genre, that's how good of a writer he is.

  9. Hello Gary:

    Thank you for an insightful, timely and topical post about the of world pubishing. I am sure we would all agree that it is forever changing and what we do as writers today has shaped a new-age in publishing.

    It is no for years since I published my book, and like many pursued the traditional method of publishing. However, if I was just starting out today, I would save my time and energy and go independant.

  10. Yeah, Stuart, it's a tough road to travel no matter which way you go. However, your story would sell in the caveman era. Hope all is well on the other side of the planet, Mate.

  11. Thanks Gary, all is well here down under. We are more laid-back here in, Australia, and only now has my book been picked up by readers! People(very grateful)in the US welcomed my story four years ago!

    I look forward to your next post, Mate.