Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Brave New Publishing World


Terry here:

The question we are talking about this week is: We seem to have moved from “unprecedented times” to “a constantly fluid situation”. What did you learn in 2021 about the “new normal” of the business of being an author that you’re going to use to help your future career, and please tell us what you’re planning for 2022. 

“New normal” has been a fluid situation for as long as I can remember in the publishing industry. It seems like nothing stays the same. In contrast to the dramatic changes with the inception of the ebook revolution, I don't think that much changed last year. 

 When I first started sending out manuscripts, looong before I had studied the craft enough to be accepted by agents/publishers, here’s how I understood the process would go. 


1) You sent your typewritten book to agents. Through the mail. With enough postage for it to be returned if it was not accepted. 

2) An agent accepted the book without spending much time on editing. If they rejected it, it arrived back on your doorstep like a dead rat, without fanfare. 

3) If accepted, agent sent the book to an acquiring editor at publishing houses, with minimal “notes.” And the agent rarely got back to you with information about what was going on. 

4) Book was kept for months at a time before being accepted or rejected. 

5) Meanwhile, author got back to work on next book. 

6) Book was accepted. Contract was signed—a contract with sometimes loose wording. 

 7) Book was edited. Cover was designed without regard to the author’s input. 

8) Author reworked book per editorial notes. 

9) Book was published as hardcover or mass market paperback. If hardcover, six months later, it came out as mass market paperback. 

10) Publisher took care of marketing, promotion, lining up bookstore events. 

11) Editor worked with author to develop the next book. 

 In other words, the author wrote the book, the agent peddled it, and the publisher published it and did the marketing and promotion. 

What about self-publishing? It was rare—and then you had to pay to have it published as if you were a major publisher. 

 What about ebooks? No such thing. 

 What about trade paperback books? Only for “literary” fiction from small, precious houses. 

 NOW, in our publishing world: 1) Manuscript is submitted to agents in e-form. If you’re lucky, the agent sends you a real rejection; otherwise, silence. If you’re really lucky, agent accepts the manuscript. 

 2) Agent edits manuscript heavily. You work with agent to get it ready for submission. 

3) Agent sends to publishers. A good agent keeps you informed of responses from publishers. 

4) Acquiring editor bestows on you the miraculous gift of a contract. An iron-clad contract. 

5) Agent goes over contract, negotiates on your behalf. 

6) Edits get done. Cover gets designed, sometimes with author’s consent; sometimes not. 

7) Meanwhile, author gets started on another book, knowing at some point s/he will have to take time out for business. 

8) Book is published in hardcover, trade, mass market, and/or ebook.

 9) Publisher assigns an in-house “publicist” to do book promo—usually consisting of tweets and Facebook posts and to get trade reviews. 

10) Author gets to work setting up bookstore events, begging for extra reviews, begging for blurbs, whipping up buzz on social media, sending out newsletters, setting up library events, going to conferences and trying to get visibility through panels and talks. In other words, the author writes the book, the agent edits the book, the publisher publishes the book…and the author then has to do a lot of the promotion. 

 OR Author goes independent and does everything the agent and publisher does.

In 2020 a lot of publishers/editors/agents pulled back because of the shock of being isolated at home. But in 2021, it seems like publishing was back in gear. 

 Except that my personal relationship with publishing changed. Because I decided to cut ties with my previous publisher a year before the pandemic started, I was in a particularly difficult situation last year. I had to face either finding a publisher who would be willing to take on my Samuel Craddock series midway, or publish myself. Meanwhile, my long-time agent and I decided our relationship had run out of gas. 
So last summer I was without an agent as well.

I dithered for several months, getting conflicting advice about publishing independently vs. going with a known publisher. People were passionate on both sides of the fence. Author friends were kind and thoughtful, and did everything they could to encourage me—on both paths. It didn’t help that during this time I moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. I have some advice about that: don’t move. 

Eventually, I realized that every time I thought about publishing on my own, I felt gloomy. As hard as it was to consider getting a new agent and a new publisher, I decided that was best for me given my chaotic life. I was fortunate to join forces with agent Kimberley Cameron, and she got to work right away placing the Craddock series. And she was successful. That's right. 

Except I can't talk about it yet. Stay tuned for news of what will be coming to fruition in 2022. Terry


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Well said, Terry — except now I can't get the image out of my mind: a manuscript arriving back on my doorstep like a dead rat. I too remember sending the whole thing off in the mail, and waiting …

Terry said...

I remember vividly the first time it ever happened. The poor thing just lay there, dead. Of course that doesn't address the fact that I now know it should never have been sent off to begin with. I simply wasn't ready. But who knew? One publisher kept it for over a year before deciding not to publish it.

Susan C Shea said...

There’s another step up front that may be even more discouraging now: the dreaded query letter to agents that is the only way to even get to a place where new writers can submit even 50 pages of a manuscript. I know a handful of writers right now who can’t even get a response to their short email to a potential agent. It’s demoralizing.

Susan C Shea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry said...

I forgot about that. It really is demoralizing. Even if an agent doesn't want to take a look at a manuscript, I don't understand why they can't send an automated reply. It would take one key stroke. It would mean nothing to the agent; and would at least make the writer feel respected. No reply is so disrespectful, and I don't understand how it got to that point in the process.

James W. Ziskin said...

Great post, Terry. You nailed it. And congrats on placing Samuel Craddock! Can’t wait to hear more.


Josh Stallings said...

Congratulations on Samuel Craddock finding a new home! Thanks for laying out so clearly how daunting the journey from brain to book. I came to this from self publishing, so I had this dream that a time would come were all I did was type my tales and a team of pros would do everything else... um nope.... I have learned to embrace getting into the world be it virtually or in actual person, marketing save me from becoming a hermit.

Great post, as ever.