Not an Easy Time For Writers

Alvina Ling is an editor for the Little Brown publishing company in New York.  Last year I attended a two -day workshop she held for writers. Alvina gave us the latest news about the book industry and tips for getting our work published.

        The news for authors is not good. These are hard times for the publishing industry. The economic crisis has vastly reduced the number of books a publisher can risk putting on the market in a year. Little Brown editors used to read unsolicited manuscripts from writers- not anymore. Independent authors won’t get an audience with publishers these days. Ms. Ling only talks to reputable book agents. She personally receives thousands of queries from agents in a year. She accepts about 500 submissions annually and selects only twenty-five to bring to editorial meetings for possible approval. A dozen of those are explored for publication initially but just five are purchased from the author. Three or four of those will actually make it on to bookstore and library shelves. The book will only make money if a blockbuster marketer like Barnes and Noble decides to buy it – otherwise the book is doomed to relative obscurity.

          So what is Ms. Ling looking for in the manuscripts she reads? She says she is looking to ‘fall in love’ with a book and she has to do so within the first thirty pages. Since she knows she can only publish a few books each year she is actually looking for reasons to say ‘no’ to an author. She dismisses books that move too slowly, try too hard to teach a lesson, are similar to something already on the market, are too melodramatic, have inauthentic dialogue or are not expertly written.

        Ms. Ling told us many publishers have gone out of business or scaled back even more than Little Brown in the last couple years. Their company was fortunate because just before the economic crisis hit, an astute editor purchased Twilight, a romantic novel about the relationship between a vampire and a teenage girl. The book has been wildly successful and author Stephanie Meyer has subsequently written several sequels and sold their movie rights. The films and books are earning huge revenue. This has allowed Little Brown to stay comfortably afloat and publish more books than other companies.

         Ms. Ling said one encouraging thing for authors who want to get their first book published is the fact self- publishing has become so affordable. There are many on-line companies that will publish your book and ship copies to perspective customers if you pay a base cost for each copy.  It is even cheaper to publish electronic books for electronic book reading devices. These are gaining in popularity. Ms. Ling says the sales of electronic versions of Little Brown books to people who own readers like Amazon’s Kindle or the Sony E- Reader jumped by 400% last year.

       One of the perks of attending the workshop with Ms. Ling was that all registered writers have the opportunity to send her a query letter. We can submit our outline for a novel or non -fiction book as well as an excerpt from our text. She promises to read them and give us feedback on whether our book has the potential to ‘make it’. She is making an exception to her ‘agents only’ rule for us.  What next? I’ve had several ideas for books percolating in my head for the last few years. Will I have enough confidence to submit one to Ms. Ling? 


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