Larry Jordan

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Publishing Part IV: "How Do You Find a Publisher?"

Sep 09, 2022 by Larry Jordan, in The Way
I will be spending the next year or so trying to find a publisher, which means that I will be spending the next few months trying to find an agent. The process is  energizing, but it can be frustrating, especially for creative people who are not business-oriented. In that regard, I am a step ahead.

Most writers say that they are not businesspeople, and they are not salespeople, so they are looking for a publisher to sell their books. In contrast, I am a businessperson, I am a salesperson, and I can sell the shit out of my book. I am looking for a publisher for distribution. 

(Without a publisher, I might be able to place my book at the local Barnes & Noble, but I will have a difficult time placing my book in the Barnes & Noble system.)

The Big Five publishers have the best distribution, but a writer can only approach these publishers with the help of an agent. Agents work on commission, so they are looking for books that are easy to pitch (clear voice, good writing, great platform) and for books that can sell a lot of copies.

Agents are flooded with proposals and for every "great American novel," there are dozens of sloppy, unfocused manuscripts by no-name writers with no appeal. Also, the market is fickle. Consider one conversation that I witnessed between and agent and an author:

Author:  My book is about a mermaid.
Agent:  That's terrific!! Mermaids are red hot right now!! Tell me more.
Author:  The mermaid is bisexual.
Agent:  WOW you are SMOKING HOT!!! This is RIGHT in the zone!! I mean there is INCREDIBLE demand for these books now!! Tell me more!!
Author:  My story is set in the 1950s.
Agent:  *crickets*  Oh, that's too bad. The 1950s are so passe now. You'll have to reset your book in the 1970s. You should have called me two years ago, when there was a market for bisexual mermaid stories set in the 1950s.  Next...  

One agent told me that publishers do not buy books. Instead, they buy proposals, which contain brief descriptions of the author, the book, and the market, along with comparable books, sample chapters and tables of contents. "Sadly," he said, "no one in the book business actually reads book."

One of my friends is a musician, and he was not surprised at all. "No one in the music business actually listens to music. They are too busy making deals." 

In the old days, my friend had a record deal, a publicity budget, and an MTV video. Now, he's making music in his basement, streaming it on Soundcloud, and working social media to cultivate a following with downloads, likes, streams, and subscribes. In the end, he does more of the work, but keeps more of the profits. The book business and the music business have followed the same trajectory.

Some agents prefer to see queries, rather than proposals. Queries are one page summaries of proposals. If they like your query, they request your proposal. If they like your proposal, they request your manuscript. Most authors keep track of their submissions on spreadsheets, since most of us send over 100 of them.

The publishing business is specialized, and most agents and publishers are highly specific. There are searchable databases of both, but if you search for "spirituality," about half of the hits say something like, "I have absolutely no interest in representing books about spirituality." 

Because the business is so specialized, there are many niche publishers who have an interest in specific sectors of the market, such as spirituality. Because niche books are less likely to be blockbusters, agents are less likely to represent them, and authors are welcome to approach niche publishers directly.

Self-publishing is a viable option that is always available, and (like my friend in the music business) self-publishing a book allows the author to establish direct relationships with readers, to keep more of the profits, and to maintain more control of the process and the product. It can be cheaper and faster, too.

However, any author who has any interest in attracting a publisher is discouraged from attempting self-publishing first, unless the book sells really well. One agent told me that if you limp out with a poorly-selling book, you should wait at least five years before trying again, since the memory of a poorly-selling book lingers. 

So, in the next few months, I will be sending out over 100 queries and submissions. Wish me luck!!