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The publishing landscape has seen a lot of change over the past few years. Some might say it is harder than ever to get published while others might say now is the best time ever to get a book published. The individuals who feel it’s more challenging than ever are not paying attention to what has been happening in the industry. The change is an exciting growth in publishing, which I’ve detailed in this post.
The major change book publishing went through is the number of chances big publishing houses starting taking on new and emerging authors. Why did this change occur? There are several layers to the reason and they all relate to an author’s platform. Without an existing fan base either on a blog, through social media or being a recognized personality, major traditional publishers began to pass on submissions. This had nothing to do with the quality of work and everything to do with a lack of platform. The cost of building a platform from the ground level is difficult and there is no guarantee it’ll work. In the eyes of these major publishers, it is a risk vs reward scenario and currently, the risk outweighs the reward.
This change left many authors feeling like they were in a hopeless situation when it came to securing a traditional book deal. Several of these authors went the self-publishing route in hopes their book would be the one that got pulled out of the slush pile and picked up by a traditional house. While others who might have been authors themselves or worked in publishing saw this change as an opportunity to carve a new path in publishing.
This new road has a ton of opportunity and is changing the industry as I write this post. This is the road Animal Media Group is currently paving. This third road would technically be defined as traditional publishing, but putting it under the same umbrella as the Random House or Simon & Schuster’s of the world would not be giving these publishers enough credit. They are now taking on the risk and reaping the rewards of discovering the next great writers. They are filling what had become a void and in my opinion, discovering great writers is what makes publishing an exciting industry.
Animal Media Group. AMG is not alone in paving this new road. There are several strong publishers out there who are filling this space and doing so in a wide range of genres. You have Write Bloody who publishes poetry. Think Piece Publishing is a literary publisher who uses literature to discuss social issues and you have a press like Incanto Press who is launching books in series and so many more.
Many of these new breed of publishers have seen how traditional publishers failed with new writers and how new writers failed after going the self-publishing route. With this knowledge and experience, they are taking strategic approaches to reach readers and giving once hopeless writers an opportunity to be successful. They understand reviewers are getting pitched more books now than ever. They also know the power of social media, blogging and the need to try everything imaginable to increase visibility. Many of them have walked in the shoes of the author who feels their situation is hopeless, so they not only know the importance to building a platform, they have a strategies to make this happen.
The major publishers are not going away and neither are self-publishers because there is still a need for both models. There is simply a new model that has filled a needed void. This new model is why it is better than ever to be an author. My advice is to start researching this new model, review submission guidelines and get back to pitching.
Publisher’s Weekly has provided some good content on a topic that needs more discussing. What is the value of an M.F.A.? While I do not believe there is one answer to this question, I do believe it is important to have the conversation. Unlike an M.B.A., an M.F.A’s purpose isn’t for professional advancement like most other graduate degrees. It’s taking a shot at honing your craft as a writer and in a perfect world, your work is strong enough to get picked up by an agent.
Their importance to an M.F.A. might not be directly related, but they are the goal before the ultimate goal. So what do they think? Below is the article from PW. It might help sway you one way or the other, but like most decisions in life, individuals need to decide if a M.F.A. is right for them.
Many agents and editors use M.F.A. programs as resources for finding new talent. “Like all agents, I probably put Iowa at #1, although given how much commercial fiction I represent, that does not necessarily fit my list,” says Alexandra Machinist of ICM Partners. “I then have positive views of Michigan, Virginia, and Notre Dame. My last one would have to be a tie between Irvine and Johns Hopkins. I have seen amazing material from both, and I see great fiction out of Columbia, but it is inconsistent.”
Ethan Nosowsky, editorial director of Graywolf Press, agrees with Machinist on Iowa, Johns Hopkins, and Michigan. He’s also a fan of Columbia and UT Austin, and notes, “In no particular order, these places catch my eye, but really, great writers emerge from all sorts of programs, or they emerge without a program.” Jeffrey Shotts, executive editor of Graywolf, echoes this sentiment: “As an M.F.A. graduate myself, from Washington University in Saint Louis, I have to say that in one way those programs mean everything, and in another way, the larger way, all that matters is the writing, regardless of how it came to be. I am intrigued to see how specific teachers are influencing and mentoring new writers, especially in poetry.” His top five, some of which include a few Graywolf authors as teachers, consist of Washington University in St. Louis, University of Iowa, University of Michigan, Warren Wilson M.F.A. Program, and University of Houston—in no particular order.
Different factors contribute to what makes an M.F.A. program stand out. Sam Hiyate of the Rights Factory says his favorite is the New School, from which he once repped five M.F.A. grads. Great talent certainly endears an agent to a school. “Hunter College is by far my favorite M.F.A. program, because not only has it given me brilliantly talented authors like Scott Cheshire (High as the Horses’ Bridles, Holt), Kaitlyn Greenidge (We Love You, Charlie Freeman, Algonquin), and Carmiel Banasky (The Suicide of Claire Bishop, Dzanc), but it continues to foster bright new literary talent,” says Carrie Howland of Donadio & Olson. “Columbia’s M.F.A. program not only boasts a brilliant faculty, but it does an excellent job engaging agents. Between the thesis anthology, which is mailed to agencies each year, and the annual agent/author mixer, they really help bridge that gap between agent and writer.”
There are also less obvious programs seen as hidden literary gems. Rob McQuilkin of Lippincott Massie McQuilkin says, “I first became acquainted with the M.F.A. program at the University of New Orleans through my client Amanda Boyden, who attended the program along with her husband, Giller Prize–winner Joseph Boyden, and eventually taught there. Our agency has gone on to work with several of her students, including young adult novelists Jen Violi and Lish McBride, a finalist for the Morris Prize in Young Adult Fiction.”
There are other M.F.A. programs flourishing below the Mason-Dixon line. Barbara Epler, publisher of New Directions, says, “I very much like the University of Florida in Gainesville, with the great Michael Hofmann, and the one at Brown University, long under Forrest Gander’s sharp eye and warm heart. I have also had very good experiences visiting the excellent Wyatt Prunty’s program down in Sewanee, Tenn., at the University of the South, and I’ve heard very good things about Iowa and Michigan.” Epler adds, “The most important thing to me is that programs don’t get fledgling writers into terrible amounts of debt: I admire most the fully funded programs.”
Of course, it’s not all about the degree. As Molly Friedrich, of the Friedrich Literary Agency, notes, “I can’t remember a time when [an M.F.A.] truly influenced my decision to pursue an author. If the query letter is eloquent and enticing, I ask to see more, and then it’s all about the writing.”
The popularity of ebooks has opened the door for anyone that has an idea for a book to get that idea published. This opening in the market has made it difficult for individual ebooks to stand out. This means each author has to do more than just put their book up on Amazon, cross their fingers and hope the book sells. Below are five things each author can do to get their ebook to stand out in this endless ocean of possibilities.
1. Edit and edit some more. The content in your book is what will ultimately get a reader to buy it. This means you need to make sure your book has thoroughly been copy edited. It also means you should have a reader you trust read the book for things such as story arc and character development. Editing is absolutely the most critical first step every writer should take when thinking about publishing their book because a poorly copy edited book and/or a badly structured story is going to leave a reader with buyers remorse.
2. Create a cover that pops. When readers are looking for a book to purchase, a cover is the first thing they see. If your cover does not stand out in the crowded market, it is going to be tough to bring in new readers.
3. How you describe your book. You need to think of the book description as a selling tool. Once a potential reader has looked over the cover, they are going to read what the book is about. If the description is not compelling, interesting and engaging, why would a reader want to purchase the book?
4. Pricing. Before you start selling your book, check out similar titles and see how much they are selling for. Price your book so it is competitive in the market.
5. Marketing. You have a clean manuscript with sharp prose and your cover pops! While your book is being edited and designed, start thinking about how you are going to market it. Social media is a great way to promote a book and this should be started long before the book is even available online.
The answer to that question is yes and no. It’s complicated because it’s both harder and easier to get published. Anyone can go and published an ebook or print book through several different channels, but getting a traditional book deal has never been harder to land. Unless the author’s platform is on a national level, the odds of getting a book deal are about the same as winning $10,000 from a scratch off.
What’s disappointing about this reality is that it has nothing to do with what should be the most important factor in getting a book deal–the quality of work. A writer’s ability to craft a great piece of prose is not the most relevant in the world of traditional publishing. As recent as five years ago, a well-crafted manuscript could have gotten a book deal, but those days are so long gone that it might as well have been fifty years ago. Unless your last name is Kardashian or are known as Snooky, one of the big six is not going to be giving you a book deal. Until recently, the other option was self-publishing, which has several issues and really wasn’t a viable option for most writers. Some of the big issues are the cost and difficulty in separating yourself from the junk. You also have egos and without someone in New York telling the author their book is great, many authors who go the self-publishing route feel self-conscious about the quality of their work.
I get it. I went through the same process of getting rejected by countless agents and publishers who liked my manuscript, but didn’t like the platform. After a year of being rejected and feeling like all this work I’ve put into my manuscript was for nothing, I started looking at smaller presses. I was not ready to move into the world of self-publishing for a number of reasons. The two main reasons for me were the financial investment and I wanted someone to tell me that they wanted to publish my book. I just didn’t want to pay someone to publish my book. I was willing to work and use my publicity experience to promote my book. I was even willing to make something of a financial investment, but I just wanted to feel like someone was also invested in me. It’s an ego thing and something most writers struggle with.
I ended up agreeing to a contract with Think Piece Publishing, which turned into a freelance PR gig and has developed into so much more. My book Goodnight Saint Paul … Hello L.A. will be coming out this summer/fall. Think Piece and many other publishers like it, represent the new form of publishing. They are not a traditional house in a traditional sense. Yes they’ve given advances and are distributing books through traditional channels, but the author needs to step in and help with the publishing process.
Though we are not asking authors to pay for any part of getting their book published, I would still consider Think Piece a hybrid publisher. We vet every book that comes in and we want books that have a strong platform. We don’t expect them to be celebrities, but a market for the book is important. But what makes us different than a traditional house is that we are mostly digital. We also need help. In today’s world of publishing, an author not only needs to be a writer, they need to know how to sell themselves. In an interview I did for the May issue of The Writer Magazine, we talk about authors needing to hire outside help.
This is all part of the new form of publishing, which is giving the writers a say in the future of publishing. It’s an exciting time to be in this business as both a writer and publisher. I don’t have to work for a big house where I no say in the books I work on. I make this decision and encourage more writers to submit work to Think Piece Publishing. We truly want good work and you’ll have someone reading it who walks in your shoes.
Hybrid publishing has a bright future and I think it will continue to grow because so many authors are writing off traditional publishing and these writers are savvy. They know they need other savvy people in place to publish their work. If you want somewhere to send your queries, email me at email@example.com.
If an author would have come to me last year and asked if they should use NetGalley, I would not have hesitated in saying yes. NetGalley offered a cost effective PR option for every author and every book I put on the site got coverage. Some titles were only getting a few reviews, but a few reviews could be the same results a publicist gets when you hire them for a national campaign. I thought there was a chance the industry might change to a NetGalley type format where the reviewers are requesting books instead of being pitched.
Fast forward a year later and greed and a lack of organization has ruined what could have been an excellent option for authors. Factor in websites like Story Cartel offering a free option of essentially the same thing and NetGalley wouldn’t be worth the investment if it was free.–here is why.
A year ago, if you uploaded a book to NetGalley, it stayed searchable for the duration it was active on the site. The last 15-20 books I’ve uploaded to NetGalley received interest during the first few days they were active, but in the three month since then, they have not received a single request.
Am I pointing the finger at NetGalley when in reality it’s the books I’m uploaded? If you Google, Losing Tim by Janet Burroway, you will see a feature in the Chicago Tribune and Tampa Bay Tribune and several other reviews. There is also coverage or forthcoming coverage in the LA Times, Booklist, Pioneer Press, NPR and PBS. This same book has zero reviews on NetGalley and a total of eight requests. How is a book that has national exposure not even getting requested on NetGalley? This is where the greed comes in. Losing Tim is buried on NetGalley and the only way to get it back to the top is buying one of their marketing programs.
So would I recommend a self-published author paying to use NetGalley? Absolutely not. I’m not even going into one of the features that made NetGalley a very attractive book PR option. When I first spoke to someone who works for NetGalley, one of their selling points was that reviewers who request a book, they are expected to review that book. If reviewers do not review books they request, those reviewers will no longer be able to request books. This filtering process has clearly not happened and I understand why. It is easy to say those reviewers get filtered out and follow up that comment by telling authors there are over 88,000 reviewers that can request their book.
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