Sometimes You’ve Got to Think like a Publisher

We as writers do what we love to do – we write. But it’s more than just writing. If you want to be a professional writer – fiction or otherwise – part of your job includes marketing, submitting, and dealing with rejection.

Concerning rejections, it’s easy to get negative and just quit. Avoid this path at all costs if you really want to be a writer.!!! Believe it or not, you’ll need to accept that some of your ideas are absolute crap. Even world-famous writers have written stories that they have never shown to another living person, because they know what they wrote wasn’t up to par. Being a good writer doesn’t mean everything you write will be good. Being a good writer means accepting that you’re going to write some bad stuff, but that you just have to move past it and keep writing.

There’s something else that writers don’t always consider, and that’s the perspective from the other side, which includes the opinions of editors, publishers and literary agents. Every time they read a manuscript, not only do they have to ask themselves, “Is this good?” But they also have to ask, “Can I sell it?”

If you’re an idealist, you may believe that people will only publish fiction if they deem it as good and worthy of adding to the body of literature. Some publishers might have this goal in mind, since they are the gatekeepers of the printed word. But let’s be real for a second – we are Westerners, so most of us are capitalists at heart. Yes, we want to add to the art and beauty of the world, but we also want to make a buck.

So what does that mean for writers?

For established writers – they know how the game is played. For new writers, however, getting published becomes more than just writing well. Not only do you have to write an eye-catching piece, but you have to sell your idea. To make things even harder, you often have to sell your idea to a whole team of people who make the final decision collectively.

Let me elaborate on how this process might work at most major publishing companies and literary agencies:

  • Lower-level employee, (possible intern), reads through mountains of manuscripts looking for specific items the boss wants.
  • Lower-level employee finds a few potential manuscripts, and then frantically decides whether or not they’re good enough to give to the boss.
  • Lower-level employee submits potential manuscripts and starts the cycle again.
  • The boss reviews the manuscripts submitted by the lower-level employee. The boss may or may not like any of the submitted documents.
  • If the boss finds manuscripts that she/he likes, the boss will take these manuscripts to the next person up the chain or to a meeting of fellow bosses.
  • At the meeting, all of the bosses, (agents/editors), have potential manuscripts they would like to publish. Everyone is fighting for their own projects, because if “their” project sells, then they get credit and potentially more money.
  • As they begin weeding out the less likely candidates, they start looking at the stronger manuscripts, and then they start to ask questions like the following: Are we already publishing a similar project? Does the author have a fan base?

Why are these two questions so important? Again – it all comes down to money.

If the company is already publishing a similar project, then that means they are investing money, time, and effort into that project. If they have yet to receive a return on investment for that initial project, they are less likely to invest in an identical one. If they have started to make a profit, then they might be more willing to publish similar projects.

Example: Look at how many vampire novels came out shortly after the Twilight series. Anything vampire was a hot commodity, so everyone jumped on it and just pushed vampire stuff to print as fast as possible.

 ***Remember that while this is an important question for publishers and marketing staffs to consider, it’s not a question for writers to really think about. You can’t always know if a company is investing in a similar project, so it’s really not worth stressing yourself out over.***

So why does an author having a fan base matter, especially for new authors?

When a company is thinking about investing in a new book, they have to consider the amount of money it will cost to promote the book and get audiences interested. If an author already has a decent sized fan base, (i.e., more than just the author’s friends and family), then marketing departments can build off of that fan base to promote the book. Therefore, it’s cheaper for a marketing team to promote a project that already comes with a fan base versus having to invest the time and effort into identifying potential fans, and then trying different marketing ploys to try and attract fans.

Now – how do writers go about building a fan base?

Traditionally, each writer would develop a reputation as a writer by submitting to magazines or newspapers. They would submit short stories or even news articles just to show that they had the chops to be writers. Writers still do that today. In fact, if you want to write novels, but you have nothing currently published, you may want to consider getting some short stories published. Granted, getting anything published can be challenging, but, at least with short stories, you can write them faster, provided you’re a dedicated writer who actually writes and produces work on a regular basis. Furthermore, you can write multiple short stories, edit them for publication, and send them out to several magazines at once. Again, just because you’re submitting more stories doesn’t mean you will get published, but you can’t get published by just typing away on your computer and never letting your stories see the light of day either.

You can also self-publish your work, and there are a lot of e-book platforms that make this process fairly easy. The major downside to self-publishing, however, is marketing. There is a flood of self published e-books out there, so what makes YOUR book any more noticeable than the others? You can market your own books through social media and other advertising methods, but it’s costly, takes a significant amount of time, and leaves you with less time to do what you want to do, which is write.

That said, though, self-publishing does have merit on certain levels. The traditional ways of mass media disbursement are starting to crumble. People are making their own shows that they stream online, and based on a total grassroots e-advertising campaign, they are getting sizable followings. In some ways, you no longer need the financial backing of a marketing department, as long as you’re willing to put in the work yourself.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you are willing to do to make your dreams of being a writer come true. You need to do what you can to improve your own writing, which may include taking classes, reading other writers, and, of course, practice practice practice. But you can’t ignore the other side of being a writer – the business side. Part of that business mindset means building up the courage to send your work out to publishers and then dealing with the harsh reality of rejection. The business side of writing also includes understanding that publishers, agents, and editors have to consider the bottom line just as much, if not more so, than the merit of your project. As a writer, you will have to find a way to write about what excites you while simultaneously figuring out how you can make yourself more marketable and, in turn, make your writing more likely to get published.


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