When they begin looking for a publisher most new writers aim high…and they should. But if they assume agents and editors will be immediately eager to publish their magnificent words, there is great danger they’ll be disappointed, so some knowledge of the realities of how our business works is important. It helps avoid discouragement, or even the awful worthless feeling that can come after a few rejections. That’s when some authors simply give up. Are you going to do that? Well, do you really want to be published? Then you won’t give up. For one thing, I’m sure you’ve heard stories about all the authors, now well-known, who were rejected a hundred or more times before their work sold to a publisher. What was it with the Chicken Soup guys? 160 rejections? Something like that.
When preparing to sell for publication, learn as much as you can about agents and your target publishing houses. Study guidelines and always follow them. If, for example, they say books should be between 75 and 95 thousand words, don’t assume they’ll make an exception for your brilliant 110 thousand words. They probably won’t. (It helps if you understand that a publisher’s production costs can go up 10% for every ten thousand additional words.)
Today, maybe more than at any other time since Gutenberg, the book publishing industry is in a state of flux. Publishing has always been an odd duck in the business world anyway, and shrinking profit margins are causing publishers to re-think their deals with authors as well as booksellers. One large publisher has even discussed stopping advances to authors, and also wants to shut down the book returns long allowed to booksellers. Both of these ideas are causing a hue and cry and, if enacted, could be painful, UNLESS THE PRACTICE IS ADOPTED INDUSTRY-WIDE. (I wonder…in what other businesses do purchasers give product manufacturers cash up front before they see a product? How many of them allow retail outlets to order large quantities of that product then, within a month or after many months, accept full-credit returns from the retailer whether items are damaged or not–and continue doing this year after year?)
But…changes like this are a long way from being put in place, so here’s more information about publishing as it exists today.
Currently several world-wide publishing conglomerates or corporate publishers rule the New York book market. All of them have multiple imprints so it’s difficult to keep track of who owns what! They are, briefly stated:
Bertlesman, a German corporation that owns Random House and a long list of other imprints. Viacom, U.S.A., has Simon and Schuster and imprints. Then there’s Rupert Murdock’s News Corp., (U.K.) including HarperCollins and more. Pearson, U.K. has Penguin Putnam and imprints; Bloomsbury, also U.K., owns Walker and others; Holtzbrink, (Germany) holds Macmillan and imprints. The final “biggie” is Hachette Livre, a French corporation holding Warner, Little Brown, etc. (Confusing?)
Is that all? Hardly! There are, at latest count, around 100,000 smaller publishing companies in the United States. We’ll begin a discussion about them next time. (No, not all of them!)