Thursday, 5 November 2009

Publishing Industry exactly like The X-Factor

The publishing industry is exactly like the X-Factor. You start with tens of thousands of hopefuls, all certain that they are talented and deserve to be made into stars/published. Their friends and family are equally convinced, or at least have to say they are out of loyalty or blind love.

These thousands of people turn up to auditions/send in their manuscripts, and the gatekeepers of television/publishing have a limited amount of time to try to spot the ones that the public will like and want to get to know better. Sometimes it will be obvious that someone has enormous talent, or is exceptionally attractive, usually it is not that obvious.

The majority,through sheer weight of numbers, will then be sent home/have their manuscripts ignored or rejected. Even those who get through to the show/publication, will still be ignored by the public/voted out and will end up disappointed not to have had their dreams come true and angry with those who have succeeded where they have failed.

Someone, of course, has to win - just as with every lottery. On the X-Factor it will be Alexandra Burke and in publishing it will be J.K. Rowling, and then there will be the people who simply gain public attention because they are different and make people smile - John and Edward in the X-Factor, Katie Price in publishing.

It is all quite fair because everyone has the same chance to lay their goods out on display and there are only a limited number of hours that we can all watch television or read books, so most of us will inevitably be knocked back.

There has been a spate of complaints in the media recently from published authors about the state of the publishing industry and how hard it is for new writers to break in and how unfair it is that the bad stuff gets published and the good stuff gets over-looked. But wasn't it always so? Is it possible that millions are transfixed by the X-Factor because it is a giant metaphor for life? Publishing is also exactly like life - everyone who goes into it has ambitions, most will be disappointed.

What to do about it? How do you beat the odds?

Well maybe, like Alexandra Burke, the secret lies in (a) having enough talent to start with (b) working ceaselessly at your craft and (c) coming back for another go every time you are knocked back, (she only won on her second time of appearing on the X-Factor).

Young talent is often knocked back and discouraged, but in the long-run persistence will always pay off - in publishing as in life.


Nicola Morgan said...

Great post, Andrew. I think it's also a lot like Dragons' Den - and the lesson from that is that authors also need to understand how the market works and why sometimes great writing alone won't find a publisher.

Re the talent vs persistence thing, and what's the necessary combination, I think that there are many different types of writing talent and sometimes authors haven't correctly analysed and matched their talent to the market they're trying to write for. Some writers might have a chance of great success in a different genre from the one they're battering their heads on. I think blind persistence isn't enough - needs some clever focus and awareness both of oneself and the various markets.

I know you're not a Twitterer but I've "tweeted" it so now you are...

Kate Lace said...

I totally agree. There are many people who think that because they can write a shopping list they can write a book and because they then stick 100,000 words together and write The End means that it ought to be published. I feel sorry for the vast majority who get disappointed - writing 100,000 words is a huge commitment, even if the outcome is dreadful. But having seen some of the submissions to the slush pile these people are, mostly, just as deluded about their chances as the hordes at the X factor auditions

Pauline Rowson said...

A really good post and I too have tweeted it. I have always written for a living (marketing, PR, business and motivational books)but dreamt of being a fiction author. It took me years to find my genre (crime) and writing style (detective, police procedural) and my market (entertaining read) before being published in the UK and USA. It took persistence and patience but most of all it took passion. I wrote, and I write, because I love it.

Unknown said...

I used to work in publishing but left to set up my own publishing house. I agree that the cream will rise to the top, and that persistence is crucial to success (J. K. Rowling was rejected many times before she was acquired by Bloomsbury).

However, one must also take into account that publishers focus on trends. It used to be 'chicklit' then 'mislit', currently it is 'vamplit' and 'celeblit'. Support for new writing is as low as it has ever been. It is not just a case of being published, it is also a matter of how much support you get throughout the publishing process and beyond.

From a business point of view, publishers have to put their money and clout behind ghost written celebrity autobiographies and novels because they have spent so much money to buy them. When that fad ends, I hope we see a return to nurturing new talent and investing the time and money to help authors build a career. That is the aim of my publishing house.

Nicola Morgan said...

Bobby - in that case you might be interested in my blog post today (sorry, Andrew - hope you don't mind my mentioning my own blog but you might be interested, too) in which I've interviewed a small publisher. The figures are terrifying.

Because you're right: publishers do follow trends, but you're not alone in fighting for quality. I take my hat off to you.