I’ve had a nonfiction book proposal out there for quite some time. It went out just as the first round of truly serious layoffs hit the publishing industry, so that added a few months to the wait. But now the responses are coming in. The editors love the proposal. Not each and every last one of them, of course, but the majority are throwing around words like “beautiful” and “fantastic.” One editor even told my agent that I’m an amazing writer.

And yet none of these responses has generated an offer, much less a sale. The problem, according to many of the editors, is that the idea isn’t Big enough. Apparently that’s how the publishing industry sees itself going forward and shrugging off the recession — by publishing only Big books.

So what constitutes a Big book? Well, my agent just spoke with an editor who was all fired up by her new project. “I’m working on a book with Hulk Hogan,” she said. 

Yeah, that’s right — Hulk Hogan. The wrestler who was famous right about the time Ronald Reagan was bringing his first jar of jellybeans into the White House. That’s gonna be her Big book.

God, I’m sick of these people. They’re like a bunch of lemmings that can’t decide which cliff to jump off.

11 thoughts on “Little/Big

  1. C.M. Mayo says:

    Can your bookstore be your imprint? I am not kidding. I know how it is out there, basically, really ridiculous. Better to write the book than not write the book.

  2. Jeff says:

    Is “big” just chirpy publishing code for “marketable,” or do you think it’s meant to imply something more?

  3. Joseph Zitt says:

    Using the bookstore as the imprint would see promising… but the problem would be getting the books into *other* bookstores, media, etc. The “real” publishers still have a sort of gatekeeper role. Without some outside source of funding and publicity, self-published media pretty much doesn’t exist in the eyes of those with the position to take things further. While there have been a few ballyhooed instances of books promoted as having gotten big deals because of being self-published first, the numbers seem to suggest that they are notable for having gotten further *despite* having been self-published first. If you want a more significant result than the existence of a few physical objects with your text printed on them, you have to try to exhaust all options for outside publishing first.

  4. C.M. Mayo says:

    There’s always the Kindle and on-line sales, which are taking a bigger bite out of the book business every day, plus if it’s done POD it’s very cheap (compared to offset printing) to later bring out an updated edition— or sell to a publisher later. I don’t have any illusions about self-publishing, nor do I believe all the advertising about that, but the game’s changeing fast; the balance of advantages / disadvantages of going to a mainstream commercial publisher is sometimes very difficult to discern. Many books that once would have sold relatively easily for a decent advance are going unsold now and there are books that sell so few copies the author might as well have self-published his book anyway. Final thought: Those who have a previous publishing record and a gallery / bookstore / other store have advantages that could be interesting.

  5. C.M. Mayo says:

    Plus, there are freelance publists out there eager for business. And, as far as I can tell, much of book marketing is now aimed at blogs and other on-line media anyway.

  6. C.M. Mayo says:

    Did I mention all the freelance editors out there… freelance book designers… freelance… um, is everybody freelance now?

  7. C.M. Mayo says:

    Steve, you ask about “big.” I think it is “Big” as in “Big Mac.” Unless it’s a Big Mac with foie gras on it, a rare thing to behold.

  8. Joseph Zitt says:

    Well, from my experience self-publishing, publishing others, being published by another small press, and working in a major bookstore, I know that there is a lot of promising hype about eBooks and POD, but the actual impact has been and continues to be minimal in real-world terms. The power is still with the majors. Just look at, say, the New York Times Book Review.

    Yes, there are a lot of freelancers out there, of widely differing quality and price. But one of the main ideas of publishing is still that money flows *to* the writer.

    Yes, there’s a revolution coming… someday… somehow. But that doesn’t change the way things really work now, with the power in very few hands.

  9. C.M. Mayo says:

    Jospeh Zitt, you’re right, I do not disagree. That said, for some writers with certain books, self-publishing can be a valid and attractive option, and this is more often the case than in the recent past (even though, as you say, the power to really get a book out there, into readers’ hands, remains in a few hands). And any day, self-publishing beats the endless, agonizing bottleneck of one’s agent sending & sending & sending & sending to no avail, and not because the book doesn’t merit publication. The question for a writer is, once you know– and you have good reason to know — it’s good, how far do you want / can you stand to keep pushing / keep waiting for that publisher? And will that publisher, in the end, do enough for your book that you will consider it worthwhile to have gone that route.

    Let me tell y’all, there are writers aplenty who complain bitterly about their so-called “big” publishers. Just because you get a contract from a certain publisher, that doesn’t mean it’s all a ride through Candy Land.

    Though maybe it could be. For some it is.

    Of course, the work of book design, marketing, distribution, fulfillment & etc isn’t for every writer. This is why I believe that, no matter what wacky developments we see (from blogs to “vooks”), that bring down the barriers to entry, there will, nonetheless, always be a role for publishers.

  10. Joseph Zitt says:

    Yes. I have two books right now that I consider ready to go. For one of them, “The Book of Voices,” I’m at the very beginning of the long slog toward conventional marketing. For the other, “19th Nervous Breakdown,” I’m finishing up the materials to publish it through my own small press later this year. The latter book is about working in a bookstore — yet looking at my chances of getting significant bookstore distribution, I’m better off routing around it.

    But for the former, a large fiction work, going the conventional route seems inevitable. As hard as it is to get self-published non-fiction noticed, for fiction it’s an even worse prospect. And my gut says that for this one, more that its predecessors, it’s time to bite down and go for it. It’ll probably take years, and it’ll probably fail. But it’s time.

  11. C.M. Mayo says:

    Good wishes Joseph!

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