(Micro-Publishing III) The Problem of Numbers
Posted by Peter Kazmaier
The traditional publishing industry continues to be under pressure. In November HarperCollins Canada indicated they were closing their warehouse in Toronto and 120 positions would be lost. Simon & Schuster Canada also indicated that two of their top people were being let go. Given the erosion of people and resources in traditional publishing how is a neophyte author to respond?
M. C. A. Hogarth in a recent blog pointed out one of the difficulties confronting new authors trying to break into the publishing field using traditional publishers is the disparity between the number of excellent manuscripts and the number of publishing slots available to a publisher.
Hogarth’s post was summarized neatly by Z. Rider on Goodreads:
Let’s be harsh and say that of those 10,000 [manuscripts], only 10% are worth publishing. That’s 1000 books, and you [the publisher] only have 45 slots. How on earth do you choose? Out of self-preservation, you decide only to receive manuscripts from agents, figuring they’ll comb through the top 10%. They do, and they present you with 100. You still only have 45 slots. Now how do you choose?… At the end of the day, there were 1000 books worth publishing, and 45 got through the door.
As the traditional publishing industry continues to be pressured into cost-cutting, editors have less and less incentive to take a chance on new authors. Furthermore, increasingly the available information dictates that many excellent manuscripts will be missed simply because of the sheer numbers of manuscripts that need to be read to find the gems.
I love the science in Science Fiction, but I feel much more at home in the moral landscape of Fantasy, so I write Science Fiction that has the feel of Fantasy. I wanted to check out a well-known SF/Fantasy publishing house to see how many titles they brought out in 2014. A search on Amazon indicated they published 122 new novels in 2014 (the latest offering was mid December). This number is quite consistent with Hogarth’s estimate of 100. Given the bias towards established authors, Hogarth’s estimate of 45 available slots for new authors is quite reasonable. It means a new author has almost no chance no matter how good his material might be.
I think Hogarth’s point is an excellent one and leads to a number of conclusions:
- Writing an excellent Fantasy or Science Fiction book is no guarantee that an SF/Fantasy publisher will even consider, much less read your manuscript.
- As the pressure on traditional publishers mounts, the situation will only get worse.
- The neophyte author can write query letters and never even have the manuscript evaluated because of the numbers in play.
- If you’re committed to being published by a traditional publisher, all of the time taken away from writing the next novel will only pay off if you eventually land a contract.
Thanks for reading. Have you had an experience with either Micro-Publishing, Self-Publishing, or Traditional Publishing that you’d like to share?
Peter Kazmaier is author of The Halcyon Dislocation, a colonization epic about a university transported to a parallel world.