Survival in the competitive world of publishing
The number of people writing books appears to have picked up worldwide. In France, it seems everyone is writing a book. An AFP article titled: French Publishers drowning in a tide of manuscripts is one of those titles that you can substitute about any other nationality for “French” and hear the same story. Most of the submissions are novels.
“Most, some 75 percent, write novels loosely based on their own experiences, turning the editor into a kind of shrink, an often unwilling confidante party to the author's deepest secrets, fears and desires.”
Most are rejected. Only one or two out of a thousand are considered as possible candidates for publication.
“Anyone can tell the story of their life. But more than 90 percent of what we receive cannot be printed by anyone. It's simply rubbish," said Gerard Berreby, from Allia publishing house.”
In Thailand a fair number of books following in the gray zone between memoir and fiction are based on the author’s experience. They have left the west and discovered themselves in the east. Revealing their reaction to a new culture, relationship, and language is documented. There is nothing wrong with such a book. No one should be discouraged from writing a book from their heart about their life. The tragedy is that many of these authors are unaware that such accounts have a very limited audience. To put it simply, they are not commercial and if they sell more than a few hundred copies it would be a miracle of marketing. Modern cheap printing allows them a place on a bookstore shelf in Thailand. But most simply don’t sell through.
Even in the world of commercial publishing, books that are filled with insight, written by talented writers with a flare for words and creative ability to weave an effective narrative, the path is not certain. Two recent examples serve to illustrate the point. One is a memoir titled
The Beginning of the End – The Crippling Disadvantage of a Happy Irish Childhood, published by Mainstream of Edinburgh. A wonderful, brilliant book according to amazon reviewers. But according to the author has sold a 100 copies. And this is after glowing reviews in major English and Irish newspapers.
Then there is John Barlow’s Intoxicated which is ranked on amazon at over 500,000. Meaning it doesn’t sell. Intoxicated is a literary novel published by William Morrow, a major New York publisher. It has sunk like a stone. The author has registered his despair for his novel. On Barlow’s blog, he’s written: “Personally, I think hardbacks are a disaster for the emerging writer. Who the hell wants their book out at $25 instead of $15? It’s crazy. How many readers regularly plump for new/unknown writers in hardback? It’s an extra ten dollars that you are risking.”
In any event, my point is that getting yourself a deal with a mainstream publisher in New York or elsewhere is no easy task. Once in print, an author has no assurance that his or her book will find an audience. Perhaps it is the wrong format. Hardback books cost too much. Most people won’t buy them. Part of it is fate. The Life of Pi gets worldwide recognition, wins major awards, and is translated into many languages. While Barlow’s Intoxicated awaits a drinking companion.