Publishing – Still A New Frontier… by Nancy Brophy

As we frequently say in this blog – self-publishing isn’t for everybody.  I read an interesting article in the book section of the Huffington Post, called Unpublished? You Don’t Actually Suck.

The gist of the article was that despite more options, it is still difficult to get published. Not because you haven’t written a publishable book, but because the opportunity is so tiny. She quotes some interesting statistics.

Each year, a publishing house can expect to receive about 10,000 unsolicited manuscripts. Out of every 10,000 manuscripts submitted, about 3 are published.

My husband has always maintained it is just as easy to win the lottery if you don’t play. That’s what these figures tell us.

She justifies publishing houses decisions with: Publishing houses can’t take a risk on everyone. They can only print the people who come with an advantage, the ones who have a guarantee to sell. That means taking on books by pets and memoirs by reality stars and sex scandal anecdotes by famous athletes. Quality isn’t always compromised but there’s no shortage of compromising decisions. It’s the catch-22 of a brand that has two conflicting goals: reputation and profit.

I don’t know that her statistics on self-publishing are right, but she claims: Unfortunately, on average, a self-published book sells about 10 copies in its lifetime.

These figures may reflect the numbers of more mainstream books, but I do agree with her evaluation of why self-publishing is difficult.

Many writers simply shy away from self-publication because it seems too cold, too distant. There’s no one to edit the text and shape the writing and assure you it’s finally ready for the world to judge. There’s no guaranteed reader. There’s no one to spread the word. There’s no one at all.

In the end she suggests a solution may be Writer’s Blog, which she urges writers who wish to have a public forum join. I love this idea.

RWA (Romance Writers of America) has been tremendously successful in promoting romance, connecting writers with editors and agents and providing craft courses. Many things have been said and written about how the genre has changed and why we are no longer bodice rippers. RWA has had a big hand in changing the industry for both the writer and the reader. It is why the romance genre makes more money than baseball and is the most successful of all the genre categories. The money from our genre allows other genres to continue.

As my friends know I have decided not to continue my membership in RWA (Romance Writers of America) this year. I feel they are moving in a different direction than I am. As a result I have become disenfranchised. This is not a terrible thing nor am I sad to part ways. It is what it is in 2012.

Romance writers are unique and need a blog like the Writer’s Blog, but solely for romance. If anyone would like to take on this project I would love to help. And I know lots of other writers who would also. Think about it. Investigate. Make it work.


Posted on September 1, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Intrigued by the blog!

    Also, you made an interesting point re RWA. It seems like the RWA’s greater vison is narrowing when, IMO, it should be expanding. This is an abundant time, especially in romantic fiction.


  2. I have to agree. I think publishing is going to be a wild roller coaster ride for awhile to come.


  3. First, I’d be up for that wide-reaching romance blog, as long as the definition of a romance isn’t as narrow as the latest RWA guidance, and the blog includes some media as well (i.e., author interviews, publishing professional interviews). We should set up a meeting, virtual or in person, to discuss this further. As the cliche goes, “there is no time like the present.”

    Warning below is lengthy post:

    As to the Huffington article, statistics are always interesting to me. Being an academic who has taught graduate students how to do research and evaluate statistics, I’m probably more cynical about any statistical quotes without attribution than most. Without knowing what the raw data represents one really can’t know the context of the numbers. I suspect the Huffington article stats take in ALL of traditional publishing–fiction and non-fiction. As non-fiction publishing is the larger half (or 2/3rds) of the publishing enterprise, I can see how 10 books in a lifetime is an average. Think of all the non-fiction books about very esoteric topics of interest only to the writer and a small group of people. In terms of fiction alone, I would hypothesize that the stats aren’t as horrendous as quoted; and in the romance market I would hypothesize it is even better. I can’t say what the stats are as I haven’t looked into it lately, but I continue to see debut authors almost weekly announced in Publisher’s Marketplace (some of which are not represented by an agent) and I believe a number of debut authors are selling to small presses which means they aren’t in the NY stats.

    I agree with A.M.B. that most readers do not pay attention to who the publisher is. They buy based on name recognition first, reviews from trusted sources second, and favorite genre third (particularly if they have a chance to read a sample before buying someone new). Publisher’s have known this for a long time which is why they write such “interesting” contracts to attempt to tie up an author’s name and next similar work for eternity.

    I think the industry continues to change and the opportunities will remain fluid for at least the next three years. In genre fiction, the way NY publishers are dealing with debut and mid-list authors, whom they don’t see “bestseller” attached to the book or individual, is now with their own e-book only imprints–some of which have brought back imprints which ended years ago. (i.e., S&S Pocket Star, Dutton’s Guilt Edge Mysteries, eKensington, F&W Media’s Crimson Romance, Harlequin’s Carina Press, Avon’s Impulse, Random’s Loveswept, and Hatchette’s Forever Yours). Some of these have a POD print option and some do not or only in rare cases.

    Writers need to stay on top of these trends and continue to be diligent in evaluating their options. NY traditional, NY e-only, Small press traditional and/or e-only, self-publishing under one’s own name, self-publishing under a wholly owned press name. As to what combination of approaches will prove to be the most financially rewarding, I think the jury is still out.

    As with any publishing discussion these days, I have my own hypothetical statistics. This is based on a small sample size and analysis of 18 fellow writers who are self-publishing. I believe the ability to consistently make decent money (defined as $30,000 annually or more) as an author is based on 80% persistence of good craft and story; 10% networking and promo; 8% dogged stick-to-it-iveness along with a personal shell that is simultaneously hard enough that slings and arrows don’t penetrate and soft enough that one appears personable and caring; and 2% luck. I know many people believe luck plays more of a role, but I disagree. If I believed luck had a large role, it really would be like the lottery–which means the odds are 99.99999% against me. With those odds I’d have to quit pursuing my writing and publishing dream.

    My personal opinion is that a combination of publishing venues is the right approach at the moment. Each book has its optimal placement based on genre(s), writing style, market, current distribution options, and the ability of the author to persevere. As to what that secret combination is, once I figure that out I’ll publish it and make a fortune. 🙂 Here’s to the next three years. May we each find our path to writing what we love and making decent money at it.


  4. It is a sad fact that the large publishers go for the ‘easy’ sell book regardless of quality because they don’t invest in the author or promotion anymore. I try very hard to support fellow authors via social media links – a re-tweet may entice a reader to purchase someone’s book. If we are generous with each other’s projects karma will work!


  5. The fact that so few books get published the traditional way makes it especially sad when I see a truly horrible traditionally published book (the absolute worst book I’ve read this year was traditionally published, and the amazon reviews suggest I am not alone in my assessment). For the genres I read, which don’t include books by pets, athletes, or reality TV stars, I can’t understand why a publishing house would ever think some of the books would sell and yet they chose those books to the exclusion of others. Many believe that the “stamp of approval” from a publishing house is a sign of quality and that just isn’t the case anymore. Now, when I search for books to read, I never pay attention to who the publisher is. It doesn’t matter. Reviews from bloggers I trust matter.


    • More people should be like you, but they aren’t. Thanks for your input


      • Actually, I’m not sure anyone (except authors and industry professionals) pay attention to who the publisher is. I’ve always been a huge consumer of books and I never knew who the publisher was. When self-publishing started to grow, but before it was on my radar, I “accidentally” bought a couple of books that were self-published. Amazon didn’t make it obvious and, as a consumer, I didn’t know. People buy books that get good reviews (Amazon, blogs, word-of-mouth, etc) no matter how it’s published, and traditionally published books do better because there’s a machine to push them. They don’t push everyone, though, and loads of traditionally published books end up with dismal sales if the authors aren’t good at self-promotion.


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