What Everyone Really Thinks in Publishing

(This is one of my most favorite blogs. I’m reposting for those that might not had a chance to read it last year.) 

In order to gain experience, I think it is important for you to understand the true feelings of a large traditional publisher, a mid-size traditional publisher, a self-publisher, literary agent, bookstore manager, and the eBook craze. 

You are invited to the Fictitious Writing Conference! Our panel today includes Mr. Big Six, who represents most of the power in publishing. We also have Miss Traditional Publisher, Mr. Self-Publisher, Mrs. Literary Agent, Mr. Chain Bookstore, and Mrs. Author. Thank you all for coming. Let’s open it up for some say-whatever-is-really-on-your-mind-Q&A. 

Knight: “Mr. Big Six, why can’t you consider authors that have talent, marketing, and a true gift for writing, but have yet to make a name for themselves?” 

Mr. Big Six: “It breaks our heart that we no longer instruct our staff to look for the next Stephen King, John Grisham, or Nora Roberts. In fact, we are losing authors to Miss Traditional Publisher, because of our lack of personal touch. Be that as it may, our business model is to sign authors that have an audience of 500,000 or more.” 

Knight: (I look at Miss Traditional Publisher.) “Do you follow the same business model as Mr. Big Six?” 

Miss Traditional Publisher: “Not really. The only thing I agree with him is that finding the next great author is just about impossible. We spend $50,000 per year on marketing and publicity for each author. If that author fails, it could set us back several years. Our business model focuses on plucking authors from Mr. Big Six. That way, we are signing authors that are established and have a solid fan base.” 

Knight: “So how does an un-established author breakthrough?” 


Knight: “Moving on. It seems that Mr. Self-Publisher has a large market of 700,000 authors that are looking for help.” 

Mr. Self-Publisher: “Honestly, most of the books we publish are not good. In our business, the author takes reasonability for everything, including writing a marketable novel. If they do not sell, it is their own fault. On the other hand, where else can authors go? Mr. Big Six will not consider these authors and Miss Traditional Publisher limits their risk of new authors. We provide a service that at least gives the author a chance.” 

Knight: “Let me ask the panel a simple question. If you signed an author, would you actually read their book?” 

Mr. Big Six: “Yes.” 

Miss Traditional Publisher: “Yes.” 

Mr. Self-Publisher: “No.” 

Mrs. Literary Agent: “Yes.” 

Mr. Chain Bookstore: “Only if I personally bought the book. Otherwise, no.” 

Mrs. Author: “Yes, I read other authors.” 

Knight: “Mrs. Literary Agent. If breaking into the traditional publishing world is close to impossible, what is your advice to authors that are not signed by an agent?” 

Mrs. Literary Agent: “First of all, I have to be excited about the author’s book. The author and his/her work needs to have a unique voice and the author needs at least some sort of following. Their storytelling and writing mechanics should be polished and the author should have a marketing plan. If that kind of author sends me a query, I’ll find a way to assist them to greatness. And if all fails, we will create an eBook for the author and I’ll take a small piece of each book sold. After a year of consistent sales, I’ll pitch the author again to publishers.” 

Knight: “That sounds great, Mrs. Literary Agent. But what are the chances an author can sign with you?” 

Mrs. Literary Agent: “Of all the submissions my team goes over, I sign about 2% of them.” 

Knight: “How about the rest of you? What are the chances of you signing a new author?” 

Miss Traditional Publisher: “.001%.” 

Mr. Big Six: “0%.” 

Mr. Self-Publisher: “100%. That is, if they have the money.” 

(Mr. Chain Bookstore stands up, his cheeks flushed with anger. At first, we did not know what was going on, until Ms. E-Book walked in the door and marched towards the panel.) 

Mr. Chain Bookstore: “What is she doing here?” (He sits back down. Even his neck and arms glow with resentment.) 

Ms. E-Book: “Hey, I have been heading your way for a long time. Are you really shocked that I have showed up like this?” (She takes a seat and joins us.) 

Knight: “Ms. E-Book, you are gaining popularity by the day. In your opinion, why does everyone think you will make a huge impact on the publishing industry?” 

Ms. E-Book: “I’m cheap.” 

Knight: “Excuse me?” 

Ms. E-Book: “Let me explain. I cost less than printing, which saves authors money, and I am attracting new readers.” 

Mrs. Author: “I still do not understand something. If Mr. Big Six will not sign new authors and Miss Traditional Publisher only takes authors from Mr. Big Six, eventually, you both will run out of new books.” 

Miss Traditional Publisher: “You are talking about two different issues. First, you want us to sign new authors because it is the right thing to do. I agree. In fact, I miss going through thousands of submissions to find that one great gem. Nevertheless, authors do not understand the basics of our business. It’s not safe for us to sign an unproven author, no matter how good they look.” 

Mrs. Author: “What happens in two years when you cannot pluck anymore established authors from Mr. Big Six?” 

Miss Traditional Publisher: “We will adjust the way we sign authors.” 

Mrs. Author: “But I will have found different ways to publish by then. Authors like me won’t be there for you.” 

Miss Traditional Publisher: “There will always be authors.” 

Ms. E-Book: “Mr. Big Six and Miss Traditional Publisher are changing their business model to make room for me, but that is taking time. Meanwhile, Mr. Self-Publisher and Mrs. Author are growing strong because they are taking advantage of my ability to sell books.” 

Mr. Chain Bookstore: “Let’s not forget that Ms. E-Book is driving me out of business!” 

Ms. E-Book: “Oh, please. Everyone saw me coming ten years ago. I wasn’t the reason you were late to the party.” 

Miss Traditional Publisher: “I have to say something that is bugging me. Mr. Self-Publisher and Ms. E-Book may provide a service to authors, but you should follow the same rules as we do. Not everyone deserves to be published.” 

Mr. Chain Bookstore: “I agree. You cannot trust Mr. Self-Publisher or Ms. E-Book. In fact, I wouldn’t even let Mrs. Author in my store!” 

Mrs. Author: “Listen you moron. There are authors that belong in your stores and some that don’t. But until Mr. Big Six and Miss Traditional Publisher start looking in my direction and stop avoiding eye contact, I have no choice but to hang out with Mr. Self-Publisher and Ms. E-Book.” 

Ms. E-Book: “You tell him, girl!” 

Knight: “Okay, let’s clam down. Mr. Big Six. What is your opinion of Ms. E-Book and Mrs. Author?” 


Knight: “Well, we need to wrap this up. I just want to ask one simple question for all of you to answer. Here it is. Can you survive without authors? Yes or no?” 

Mr. Big Six: “No.” 

Miss Traditional Publisher: “No.” 

Mr. Self-Publisher: “No.” 

Mr. Chain Bookstore: “No.” 

Ms. E-Book: “No.” 

Mrs. Literary Agent: “No.” 

Mrs. Author: “No.” 

Knight: “I suggest all of you remember that…” 

Thank you for coming. Hope to see you again soon. 

Ron Knight


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  1. I self published two books. Currently one of them is an ebook and available on Amazon. The other one is being edited and a revised edition of this book will be available some time in March 2012 on Amazon as an ebook. . I have a third book completed and am currently waiting for a response from a traditional publisher. If I don’t hear from them soon, I am considering it as another self published project and put it on Amazon ebooks in the fall (2012). My ebook titled “The Unknown Baseball Player” has does better on Amazon than on any other venue I tried in the past.