Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Interesting Results, Wrong Conclusion

I think I'm the only author in the known universe who doesn't follow Nathan Bransford, so I'm slow on the draw with this one.

Last month Nathan held a contest on his blog. He gave out 50 query letters to 300 regular citizens, and he asked them to pick the best ones. Hidden in that pile were 3 query letters that ended up getting their authors book deals. If each person got 5 guesses, could any of the 300 folks pick out the 3?

As it turned out, only 2 people picked all three. I find this interesting, but what I find even more interesting are Nathan's two conclusions. I think he misses one point, but nails the other one.

First Nathan seems to be saying, "See? This is why being an agent is so hard. You didn't pick the right ones, but we agents can. Being an agent is harder than it looks. We don't look to see if a query has met all The Rules (insert angels singing), we look deeper into the soul of the work." I find this interesting because Nathan's blog, every agent's blog, and every publisher's web site is FILLED with advice on how to follow The Rules (insert angels singing). And every last one of them will tell you that if you fail to jump through their, I mean, follow The Rules (insert...oh, you get the point), then your manuscript is tossed into the fire.

I don't buy it.

Second, he goes on to say, "The other main element I'd take from this challenge is how subjective this business really is. What resonates with you might not resonate with someone else."

This is where he nails it. It may resonate with somebody else. In fact, it may resonate with a lot of somebody elses. And those people might just be paying customers. And they might really enjoy that book. But because it didn't resonate with the agent, they will never get that chance.

Does anybody else see what is wrong with this? Not the conclusion, but this simple fact? A few days ago I posted a link to an article that named 30 authors who were rejected multiple times before they finally got published. J. K. Rowling, Steven King, Ayn Rand, and Anne Frank were among those rejected. I think it's time we asked the obvious question. Should agents and publishers still be looked at as the gatekeepers to what we read? Sure there is a lot of garbage out there, and they do a lot of sifting. But how many really good books never get into our hands because somebody started their query letter with a rhetorical question? Or misspelled an agent's name? Or went really off the deep end and used...I don't know...Helvetica sans-serif!

New technology has allowed musicians, artists, photographers, and directors get their art straight to the public. Why not authors? Why don't we have a YouTube or a Flickr that gets us directly in touch with our fans? We know the model works. We've seen it work for other crafts.

When will we finally step up and say it's our turn?


Josi said...

It seems to me that there is just so many books out there and so much noise about them that unless you can compete with that you, well, can't compete. People have been self-publishing for years, and now and then they build a great audience and do really well--but most of the time they don't. In the process a 'stigma' has been created against self-published books; most people assume that if someone paid to be published, that means no one else thought it deserved their hard earned money. So, how do we as authors rise not only above the publishing industry, but the stigma of not using the publishing industry's money. I'm all for it, but it seems like people have been trying it for yeas and most of the time it doesn't work. Them's my thoughts :-)

Matthew Buckley said...

Yes, while I don't know the answer, I do know that self-publishing is NOT the answer.

Self-publishing has become more and more easier to do with services like Lulu. However, I think the problem that faces us is not a publishing problem, but a distribution problem. I can self-publish an incredible book, but if they sit in my basement nobody is the better for it.

Luckily the internet is a distribution tool with no rival, so if a few problems are ironed out, I'm sure we can make the model work for us.

Kristi Stevens said...

Who says Self publishing is not the way to go? What about How Jeff Smith changed the self publishing model.

It can work. I have a friend who sells 75,000 book copies at a time. All self published. She doesn't seem to be suffering without the traditional marketing department.
Self publishing works as long as you're willing to do the work.

Amber Argyle-Smith said...

Let me know if you figure out how.

Lori J (UrgentCookie) said...

You can do anything you set your mind to... ;0)

Cami Checketts said...

Great post. It seems like numerous e-book companies are trying this very thing. The problem? They don't screen very well and get a bad rap for themselves. Talk to Kevin Krogh sometime. He went over the publishers' heads and is very happy about it.
The biggest problems I see - you need a lot of time and a lot of money to succeed without a major publisher's backing. I have neither so I'll keep groveling for an agent!