I'm afraid I'm a bit of a downer today. There's a point here, though. Light
at the end of the tunnel. Don't worry.
Anyway, I seriously doubt this is going to surprise anyone here:
It's more difficult to publish successfully now than it ever has been before.
Half of you are saying, “No kidding, genius.” The other half are saying, “Are
you serious? It's easy to get published. I go sign up for a free Blogger account
and start writing. As soon as I click “post entry,” presto! I'm published.”
It might help to define the term “publish successfully.” By my own purely
subjective criteria, publishing successfully means essentially two things: 1)
You are being read widely; and 2) You are making a living at it. Adding that
further definition, which camp are you in?
True, there are more and more ways to monetise your blog. Book deals have
been made based on blogs. But really, what's the percentage? 2 per cent? I think
that's generous. If true, 98 out of 100 blogs you read are completely
unremarkable. How many agents and editors are spending their days sifting
through the blogosphere, looking for that one great voice? Frankly, I think the
slush pile odds are better.
There are other self-publishing opportunities. Lulu and iUniverse are going
strong, as are many dozens of smaller companies. Some of the stigma is beginning
to drop away from publishing in this form – some of it, and very
The stigma will remain as long as these companies publish whoever pays them.
Point blank fact: many of their books are awful.
The publishing industry still has a major advantage over all of our little
do-it-yourself opportunities. They have quality control. Say what you want
about the publishing industry (I do). Lament their ridiculous
turn-of-the-century business practices (I do). Roll your eyes at their
head-in-the-sand attitudes about new technology (I do).
Watch them die, slowly and painfully, subsumed by a culture that views books
as a low tenth priority when it comes to entertainment.
The industry's a dinosaur. Ironically, the industry is also made up of a ton
of creative, smart people who know how to do their jobs really, really well.
I've met a lot of them, and they always impress me.
Part of their job is objective judgment. Yes, this book is marketable. No,
that book is not marketable. Yes, this writer has talent. No, that guy couldn't
write his way out of a wet paper bag. I'm considering self-publishing myself. I can't find a small press
publisher with time to even look at my novel manuscript. “Sorry, closed to
submissions. We are concentrating on our current clients at this time.”
Some writers think of self-publishing as a breath of relief. No more
submission hoops to jump through, no editor/agent gauntlet to run, no unwanted editorial input. It's all you, man.
This is true. You can get a MySpace page for free and post your stories
there. You can post your work on your blog. There are a lot of ways to do it, cheaply or even free.
Here is the brutal truth: if no one reads it – if it doesn't generate enough
interest to go viral and reach three million users in a week – you are left
to face the harsh reality that it just isn't good enough. The public has
voted, and the vote is: your writing is average. And there's no one to blame
Viral marketing is simply word of mouth. Ironically, it's always been the
publishing industry's most effective form. Somebody reads something, and
they love it so much they're inspired to send it to their friends. That word
of mouth spreads fast. Each person who sees it passes it on to five others
(a very conservative estimate), those five pass it on to five more...
It's math. Don't ask me to give you the numbers. I'm a word guy. But you can
see how it works.
So if your blog is up and you've at least let your family know it's there,
why don't thousands of people flock to read your undying wisdom, click on
your Google ads, pay you to advertise their targeted, related products and
leave you with a self-sustaining money machine that earns while you sleep?
Answer: because your writing isn't good enough.
It's harder to publish successfully now because it's harder to stand out.
There are more writers out there, more venues, more ways to be published.
More voices, average and extraordinary.
Are there more people reading? Doubt it. More people watching reality TV.
That means you have to be better. You have to work that much harder on your
craft, hone your edge, find your voice, speak from your soul. Nothing less
Self-publishing just cuts all the uncertainty and doublespeak out of the
process. If an agent rejects your query letter, you probably won't know why.
If you self-publish and your project languishes unread, you'll know that
much sooner: you're just not that good yet.
Are you ready for that truth?
The good news is that it's entirely up to you whether or not you become a
good enough writer to make it. I knew no-one when I published my first short story. I was barely
even aware of what markets were available. I wrote the story, somebody
thought it was good enough to publish, and I went from there.
The writing is always, always always first. If you want publishing, after
that, it will come. In whatever form you most prefer. You control that, too
– by either putting your work in the hands of professionals you trust and
respect, or by doing it yourself.
If you submit the novel and it's good, it'll get picked up. If you
self-publish and it's good, readers will buy it.
And then it might get picked up by a major publisher. If that's what you
It's pretty simple: people who read know good writing. My wife isn't a
writer, but she knows good writing when she reads it – whether she's reading
a blog, a website, a story or a novel, she knows.
Did I say the writing comes first? I said that, didn't I? Just making sure.
About the author Dave Duggins has been writing and publishing genre short fiction for twenty years. Recently retired from a career in the Air Force,
he's now a full-time creativity coach, offering helpful tips, inspiration and instruction to writers through
After previously closing to new material in 2005, Literary agency "The Zack
Company, Inc." is now open again to new queries. However, writers considering
approaching this agency are advised to proceed with caution in relation to a
number of points:
1. Despite our offer to correct any errors of fact in our listing for
this agency, the agent has taken offence at being included in
firstwriter.com's database of
literary agents. He has therefore adopted a policy of rejecting any
submission from an author who found the agency's contact details through this
site, regardless of its quality. Authors are therefore advised not to disclose
where they found the agency's contact details.
In general when approaching agents, there is no value in stating where you
found their contact details, unless you have been referred to them by an
existing client or someone else within the industry. If this is not the case
then this is redundant information which will not help (but may harm) your
query, so should be left out.
2. As well as operating as a literary agency, this business also
provides editorial services.
firstwriter.com advises caution when approaching any agency that
receives funds directly from writers, rather than purely by selling their work
to publishers. Offering editorial services is a tactic used by many known scams
to extort money from writers. The way this works is that a con artist poses as a
literary agent accepting new authors. When they receive queries they tell the
author that their work needs editing, and either offer to provide this service
or refer the writer to an editorial service which is really part of the same
company, or which will split the proceeds with the scam agency. Sometimes
representation is offered on the condition that this editing is carried out with
that particular company at the author's expense. The offer of representation
will be fulfilled, but the scam agency will not actually do anything to try to
sell the work – they are only
interested in charging the author for editing.
It must be stressed that there is no indication that the Zack Company Inc.
engages in this kind of activity
(and indeed the agent's desire to be removed from our database suggests it does
not), but you should exercise
extreme caution if at any point when approaching this agency you are directed to
their editorial services.
3. This agency is no longer a member of the AAR. The AAR requires strict codes
of conduct from its members, and
being a member of the AAR helps you to be sure that an agency is legitimate and
not a scam. There are also lots
of perfectly legitimate agencies that choose not to be a part of the AAR for a
variety of reasons, but our
understanding of the AAR's Canon of Ethics leads us to believe that this agency
would not be permitted to be a member even if it wanted to be, as a result of it offering editorial services
which appear to be precluded by
the AAR Canon of Ethics:
"The AAR believes that the practice of literary agents charging clients or
potential clients for reading and
evaluating literary works (including outlines, proposals, and partial or
complete manuscripts) is subject to
serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession. For that reason,
members may not charge clients or
potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works".
4. The agent has published on his website private correspondence from
firstwriter.com, which we believe to be a breach of copyright (it is well established in case law that even short
letters that take less than 30
minutes to write are subject to copyright; see for instance
http://impact.freethcartwright.com/2007/02/court_ruling_co.html). He has been
notified that this action is
believed to be a breach of copyright, but has ignored requests to remove the
material from his site.
While the actual publication of this correspondence is relatively unimportant,
it is always worrying when a
person acting in a professional capacity demonstrates a willingness to act in
what at least appears to be an unlawful
fashion. It is particularly worrying, however, when a literary agent – to whom
authors entrust their copyrighted material – seems to demonstrate a willingness to defy copyright law
and publish material without
the permission of its author. Before approaching this or any other agency, we
advise taking reasonable steps to
protect your copyright.
Having said all this, it should still be remembered that two of the sources we
consult independently confirm
sales to royalty-paying publishers for this agency. There is an indication on
one of the sources that this
agency was previously listed as "not recommended", but this is not currently the
case and may have been related
to the fact that the agency offers editorial services (though this usually
results in an advisory warning,
rather than a label of "not recommended"). It is also worth remembering that
most scams would be keen to be
listed on firstwriter.com in the hope of luring in more writers, while this agent is
keen not to be.
If you have or have previously had any contact with this agency, please let us
know about it by
listing and clicking the "Leave Feedback" button.
For more information about this agency go to
http://www.zackcompany.com. If you
have any questions for the agent, Andrew Zack, you can reach him at email@example.com, however
please make sure you consult the submission guidelines on the website carefully before making any approach.
For the details of over 750 other agencies, click
Are your articles being subjected to unnecessary editorial changes?
Are you beginning to think your writing’s at fault?
Have you felt like committing hara kiri? Giving it all up? Packing it all in?
Don’t! Hang on! It’s not what you think!
Read on and discover why editors are the way they are, what could possibly make
them the way they are and feel better…
A promising theory
I have a theory! It’s a theory no self-righteous editor is going to accept. But
it’s one I believe that all writers will lovingly embrace! And that is that most
editors are a jealous lot! A lazy bunch! And how have I reached these
preposterous conclusions? If you are a writer, you will undoubtedly agree; and
if you are an editor, you might well want to dump me and the articles I might
send you the next time into the ubiquitous bin that sits next to you.
They know no better
My conclusions are, I’d like to plead, based on experience. Much rueful
experience of having my masterpieces, such as they are, mutilated beyond repair
by people who should have known better but who didn’t. There is much truth in
the adage that "those can (will) ‘do’, while those who cannot, ‘don’t’". Apply
it to writers and editors and what do you have? Well those who "can" will write
and those who "can’t" will find great happiness in chopping, changing, cutting,
rewriting something they would have liked to write but could not have written in
a hundred years! Get my point?
Did I really say it "like" that; could I have actually written it "that" way,
you wonder for a disappointed moment. But thrilled at seeing your articles in
print you couldn’t care less and carry on blithely. But when it happens again
and again, euphoria gives way to doubt, doubt to anger and anger to dejection.
And when they do appear sometimes without any cuts, changes or rewrites you
actually feel blessed! You begin to dread sending them in. You start to lose
confidence, even wonder if your writing is at fault. No it’s not. The very fact
they are publishing it says it’s not. It’s only because God has itchy fingers!
The need to play God
To be an editor is to wield great power: the power to reduce hapless-talent to a
diffident mess or make an absolute no-talent into a Booker Prize winner; the
power to reject is packed into their restless five-finger fists. And if this
doesn’t give them an air of importance, I am Salman Rushdie!
The urge to meddle
While writers take great joy in producing stuff, that perhaps, nobody
understands, editors take immense pride in cutting both the writer and that
stuff down to size, so that somebody can understand. Or so they believe. The
pleasure, I fancy they must justifiably feel when they see what must be to them
an easily expendable ocean of words, is probably what makes them tick. To trim,
tidy and smarten up for their mandatory "word limit" or whatever, a readily
available creative "mess" – with nary a thought to the amount of effort that
must have gone into it! It must give them a euphoric rush; a glee much beyond
Writers are suckers
Writers only write. They write because they just have to. It is a compulsion
from within that defies all explanation. The need to weave words into a tapestry
that begs to be shared with the world. And this need to be read, to share
transcribed thoughts such as they are with others makes them vulnerable. But it
also makes for powerful motivation.
So these no-good word chasers keep awake half the night and more, to produce
what they believe are gems and serve them up for our esteemed know-it-alls to
decide whether those gems are what they would want to bite, chew and spit out on
their print platters. And if they don’t like the taste or the look of it, these
pearls don’t even get to their mouths, sorry first base! And why do you think
they take great delight in running their editorial saliva all over it? Because…
They can’t write
The genius of realisation tells me that not all editors are good writers. Nor
are they the last words, in anything! But they pretend to be because they need
to be and with much time and practice they are able to be, by rejecting
,changing and deleting their way through to make their magazines sell and
writers quail or how else would they earn their fat paychecks? Many a time
subtle nuances and gentle puns are completely lost due to an editor’s lack of
creative understanding or an inflexible mandatory word limit. And there are no
bad writers, I was assured. Only bad editors!
The question arises – do we need editors at all?
Do we need them at all?
Now don’t get me wrong I am all for editors. And we do need them, of course we do!
How else would the media run? Who else would collect, co-ordinate, print and
publish? Who else will tell you whether your 1,000 words is rubbish, rightly or
wrongly? Who else has that unique ability to send your confidence soaring or
nose diving? Who else will do all the dirty work you can’t? Revile them, hate
them, but we can’t do without them. And you do need someone to point out your
inadvertent mistakes before the world laughs at you. And I am not talking about
spelling, grammar or mere punctuation. But I do wish, oh how I wish, they would
limit it to just that or at the least acknowledge the fact even, grudgingly,
that the poor goons who wrote the stuff are the best judges of what they churn
They are at best an unresponsive tribe who while calling the shots have
forgotten the basic rules of etiquette their parents must surely have taught
them. Do you suppose they grew up without parents? That’s it then! The reason
why they don’t acknowledge, they don’t reply, they don’t even at times bother to
give you credit for what you’ve delivered (i.e. till you’ve "arrived"). Or is it
simply a case of the one who plays the pipe calling the tune?
Without writers would there be editors?
And rare is the editor who engages in meaningful dialogue with the lowly writer.
In fact, shouldn’t it have been the other way round? What use his editorial paws
if there were no articles to play around with? Without writers would there be
editors? Alas a writer is only as good as his last article, hence perhaps this
impassive editorial "hard to get" act.
If they could, wouldn’t they?
And so my question is this: why would the lofty editors rely on talent they
always have to fix? If they could, wouldn’t they surely have done it all
it themselves? Emphasise, "If they could". Answer. Simple: They can’t! At least not all
of them can. And how many good writers do you know who would willingly give up
writing to take up editing? So like most armchair critics, who always believe
they know best, instead of leaving well alone, they set out to reject or mangle
what they cannot produce on their own. So then, I ask you, what great noble emotion
do you think makes them do this? I rest my case!
Feel Better? Now do carry on writing and submitting!
About the author Sreelata Menon is a freelance writer who enjoys writing on all kinds of
topics… the more controversial the better! Her "letters
to the editor" on current happenings appear with quite unfailing
regularity in India while her articles and features make the scene in online and
print publications everywhere! A Masters in History from Mumbai University,
India, she has worked as an Asst editor with the Onlooker and World trade
Magazines in Mumbai .She has taught history to undergrads, done a stint as an
accts executive in an ad agency, before switching over to full time freelance
writing. She is currently busy reinventing herself as a web content writer
with quite a few projects in hand .Married to a civil servant she is presently
based in Allahabad ,India and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monthly competition goes global After his UK writing competitions attracted the attention of writers from around the world, published novelist and creative writing tutor, John Dean, has expanded the competitions to have an explicitly global scope.
Publisher and literary agent, Kate Jones, dies Publisher and literary agent Kate Jones died of cancer on February 1, 2008, aged 46. She had previously survived the disease in 1996, but it later returned. She is survived by her husband and daughter.
During her career she handled the estate of Ian Fleming, worked with the likes of Sarah Dunant, Sara Paretsky, William Boyd, Rageh Omaar and Cherie Blair, and helped orchestrate Martin Bell's election to the House of Commons.