Getting published: that is the unattainable dream. The day of authors getting their break and gradually working their way up the literary chain is over. It is nigh impossible to be taken seriously unless said author already has one hell of a following, which largely precludes the need of a publisher, or they know someone, which is insanely difficult.
I could name some of the greats: Stephen King, Robert Heinlein, and Alan Moore to name a few. How did these titans of the literary world get their big break? Not with an agent. Not by knowing someone. They got that big break by publishers still having an open door policy to submissions. That is unheard of with the big publishers anymore. If King or Heinlein were to attempt to break in today they would need an agent, a social media profile, a marketing plan for their work, and, ironically, have needed to be published before. Do you see the difficulty? Moore would likely have been relegated to the slushpile if his query were looked at at all (With Marvel and DC refusing all cold submissions, Image requiring the author to have both an artist and a writer just to query, and the independents likewise requiring some prior experience to even be greenlit to query).
How did it come to be this way? Blame to nineties. Before the mid nineties, there were myriad publishers, small, medium, and large allowing for a broad spectrum of work. Bookstores were likewise independently owned for the most part. Then came the consolidation of the industry as a handful of publishers swallowed the medium companies and merged with one another to form a solid cartel. Random House? Owned by Penguin which is also part of Putnam. Harper Collins? They devoured William Morrow and Co., Avon, and Thomas Nelson with the help of their owner, Rupert Murdoch. Simon and Schuster? Bought by CBS. There are only five major publishers left in America and each is either a large corporation or part of one. Publishing has become a cog in the mass marketing machine, used as a means to spread an idea around and make as much money as possible off of it. The idea of the indpendent publisher simply publishing books is gone. As idea has to not only sell on its own but also have movie/television potential, the author has to fit in with the corporate image as they parade from show to show marketing their novel, possibly serve as a tell all that ties into the newest reality star’s social marketing plan, the work has to fit what focus testing has determined the market wants, etc. A book simply being a good book just isn’t enough anymore.
A book simply being a good book isn’t enough for publishers anymore. And with the corporate system driving profit before art, real books struggle to find their niche. If what you have written doesn’t stand to make a fortune on its first run, then it isn’t worth the marketing muscle a publisher has to put behind it. If the newest collection of selfies by Kim Kardashian competes with an unknown author’s first novel, which do you think the publisher is going to choose.
The rise of Waldenbooks, Barnes and Noble, and other chains did not help the field either. With their desire to cater to a general audience, they limit what is allowed on their shelves, with policies that hurt small publishers and deals from the big five making it more lucrative to limit shelf space. The indpendent bookstore has virtually vanished taking with it eclectic tastes and the surprise discoveries one used to make perusing their shelves.
So the only avenue left is online. But that has grown even more frustrating. With poorly written works such as Fifty Shades and Twilight garnering publishing contracts, its titillation more than anything that sells. It is disheartening to see books poorly edited, lacking depth and characterization rocketing up the charts while others struggle just to draw an audience.
Yet there is hope. I have written several novels, been turned down each and every time, but I keep plugging away. Why? With the rise of the internet as well as crowd funding sites, the opportunity is there. Get out there, reach out to anyone and everyone, and build that audience; draw that attention. Find like-minded people to support your endeavor and create something. Writing has always been for the reader, not the publisher. Now it is possible to bypass the houses, to reach directly to your audience, and let them see what you have to offer.
To be an artist in this day and age is harder, but the tools to make it are there. The publisher is long dead, serving the media more than the audience. True publishing has been democratized. So, with kickstarter, I’m giving it another go, letting the audience decide if what I am writing is worthy of a crowd and if so foster something special, something the corporations failed to see from the lofty heights of their ivory towers.