Is the writing/book industry rigged?
I can't shake the feeling that creative industries writing included are corrupt and not really a meritocracy at all.
They rely heavily on what is popular and produce, sell, and distribute based on that. They also take zero risks but will throw money at something they believe will make them money no matter how trite it is. So you want something unique, new, or maybe a breath of fresh air, well too bad. You get sequels and reboots. Those sell. If they have a certain genre or sub-genre they that is selling. They will publish and reprint something that is very much like the popular thing.
So yeah, they will pander to the lowest common denominator and spew the same things over and over again until they killed it. They just want to make money and while it's understandable that they do, however they take it too far and saturated the market. They stifle creativity where people feel they have to produce certain things to even get looked at. And they make an environment where consumers only want certain things because that's all they see. It's all about money.
I try to think of "good" series as a combination of Sturgeon's Law and Survivor Bias.
"90% of everything is crap," and "only the good works get remembered."
We have hundreds of different TV channels with thousands of different shows. How many do you actually watch? How many of those shows get canceled after a season or two, never to be mentioned again? How many of those are reruns of the "good" shows that people are willing to come back to? Statistically, not many.
It's not evil or mean or whatever, it's just being driven. It does show how important it is to keep hold of the nay-sayer on the team, because his/her feedback will keep you straight. For my novel, now I know better, I'd rather have someone telling me where I'm going wrong rather than generic positive feedback.
though the positive feedback makes me feel good so keep it coming y'all
While there are are many publishers who only accept agent submissions, The root process is vetting. Agent only publishers included. Agents are themselves a vetting filter, as they wont accept works they feel are sub-par or unsalable, which largely means unreadable. Agents are also knowledgeable about which lit publishing houses like to deal with, and what they like to see, and don't waste the house's time with stuff they rarely ever publish. They put the right material before the right eyes. Most publishers have pools of co-op students, called associates, who read through submissions, and "cull the crop". The work as passes is submitted to editorial assistants, who further sift the better work, as matches the publications themes, and pass these to the editors desks.
The work chosen at this level is usually then reviewed by the house staff, including sales agents, so on. The statistics of the process say the slush pool is cut by 99 percent or better in this process. There is usually a set number of titles per year a publisher feels comfortable paying to publish, for monetary and other reasons, such as expected shelf space available to them. That number is met from what the board feels to be the best bets of this group. The authors are offered contracts, editorial and advertising, art, PR staff are assigned to the project book, and the publication cycle begins. There would be several additional concerns at the highest level of this process, such as the authors ability to carry forward, work with staff, so on, so other features besides the work itself are germane.
There are fast tracks for assured profit makers, such as brand name authors, Public figures with good name recognition, so on. Overall, the goal of the publisher is to sell books. So not every well writ book gets published, but few badly presented books get published. Occasionally, a multi-book contract might lead to quality issues due to the force of contract, and books not up to standard may find their way to bookshelves, as the publishers hands can become tied.
Occasionally the 'star system' based on name recognition may backfire, and poorer quality work can end on shelves where notoriety may sell fewer volumes that the publisher needs to make a profit. But overall, considering the average house may receive and have to at least partially process several thousand submissions a month, it works pretty well from the readers viewpoint. From the authors perspective, it is partially unfair. The general statistic for a good book; it might require 20 to100 submissions from an author to receive reasonable consideration. This is a rule of thumb and varies from instance to instance.
I'm not sure that "rigged" is the word I would choose to describe the publishing industry. It implies that a person or persons are or did actively work to impede "you" or others from getting published.
The fact of the matter is, publishers need to make money. They need to make profit, after they've paid their editors, their in-house writers, their ghost writers if applicable, their marketing department, the marketing campaigns, the artists (in house or not), the rent for the offices, the utilities, legal fees from consistent legal battles over IP infringement and multi-media deal-making, and you, the author. There needs to be money left, after all of that is accounted for, from the sale of books like yours.
Already published writers have a track record of sales and are more likely to be published again as a result.
People with large following on social media can also be worth consideration to a publisher, as people with fans means some part of that audience will buy the book. The bigger the audience, the more sales one can expect from something that influencer publishes.
When you consider just how many people are writing books, compared to how many publishers there are, and how many books can conceivably be vetted, edited, proofed, and published within a given year, yes - the odds are stacked against you if you are not an extant published author, or an influencer of some kind with a large, established following.
But odds being stacked against you is not the same as rigged - at least not the way I understand the word. That said, it's still a good topic for discussion!
Some publishers open themselves up to unsolicited and agent-less manuscript submissions either ongoing, or for a limited time each year. The chances of making it through the pile of thousands (or more) of submissions they receive during that time is very low, for the reasons above if your manuscript would otherwise pass their bar for grammar, editing, trending genres and themes, etc.
Likewise, while publishers will accept more manuscripts from industry agents, the chances of getting an agent who is going to fight tooth and nail for your novel is also quite low, given just how many people are writing them and submitting to them. They work on commission. They get hundreds+ of emails a week from prospective authors, and their time is money. They're going to pick the ones they feel confident they can earn money off of.
I intend to self publish some of my offline works, probably some time next year. However two years ago I did start the search for an agent for one of my stories. I've heard from many authors I've spoken with/interviewed to expect 2-5 years of searching for an agent, and then more time before they succeed at finding a publisher. The good news is, this is time I can continue refining the work.
While I entertain the pipe dream because daydreaming is fun, I do not hold any certain expectation that I will ever be self-employed as an author with anything like the kind of income I would prefer to have as I live out my life. As such, I remain employed full-time, and write as a hobby, looking forward to the day I finally become self-published, and crossing my fingers each time I send my newly revised manuscript to a batch of agents that I'll also become traditionally published.
While some authors hit it big, statistically it is so highly improbably that I ever will, that I'd rather daydream about more plausible outcomes. Yes, there are the JK Rowlings, Stephen Kings, and Patrick Rothfuss' of the world. But there are thousands upon thousands more, who do not see that kind of success despite being published. Not because anything is rigged, but because the numbers simply don't allow a success rate that we all dream of having.
To loop this back around to the Star Wars example, some of this logic still applies - mostly, that it needs to make money (which, Solo's poor financial return initially aside, it has!)
What I finally had to come to accept about the prequels (which...I hated. Oh man...), and then continued to apply to the sequels (of which I actually enjoyed 7 and 9), is that they were not made for me. I'm older, now. I was not the target audience when the prequels were released, so I am definitely not the target audience of the sequels.
At the end of the day, they made money. We all have our emotional response to them, but I'm seeing a younger generation think the sequels are awesome. That's also a generation that gets a little bored with the original trilogy, because it's "so slow". Okay, fair. The original trilogy was made for me, and I loved it - I guess the sequels were made for today's youth, and I'm the guy screaming at them to get off my lawn.
That doesn't mean skill doesn't succeed. But it does mean that skill is often not sufficient, or in some cases, not even necessary.
Basically, the more gatekeeping bottlenecks you have, the more likely you are to have an inefficient meritocracy. For example, if hiring or promotion decisions are made by a single individual, if some reviewer/critic/editor has the vast majority of the power, and so on.
THE GOOD SIDE is that new tech has made it possible to go directly to the public. Think of Youtube versus Hollywood. With a direct-to-audience model, the thousands (millions) of individuals get to vote with their dollars or time. Now, you have a million little "bottlenecks", which makes the whole process a more efficient meritocracy. The cost is that good art that's not popular it its time (Van Gogh) won't make it with this million-man model. The maximum reward is usually less, too, but more people can access the rewards, so it kind of balances out.
Self-publishing is closer to this kind of democratic mass voting model. But you can still end up with little cliques, drama, unfair shenanigans, and, yes, bottlenecks, as segments of the industry mature. I still think the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
Splattenburgers: Try turning this to your advantage, in a good way. A positive way to look at it is that friends working together have a better chance of succeeding.
We're all nothing-schmucks here. We don't have any special connections. No famous author is going to give us the time of day.
But maybe some of us can help each other out along they way until we succeed together, however we define success. It might not work, but the odds of working have to be way better when you have some connections, i.e. buddies. I'm doing this all by myself, which I know gives me bad odds of succeeding. I have to figure out how to change that, too. The hard part is finding people who are on the same wavelength, have similar goals, at the same stage, and so on.
Even something as simple as a review swap is kind of like this, on a tiny scale.
Seriously though its unfair to compare "apples" with "oranges" if someone has had a published work made into a film then you should learn what made it so good.
More time spent learning why its good rather then knocking someone off some pedestal will help you improve.
Be careful not to fall into the trap of I must do things a certain way.
Example used george lucas is the perfect one as did you know it was not originally all easy sailing for star wars it ran into funding problems.
Some of its stars even thought it was doomed and took a payment upfront rather then percentage payment (Carrie fischer /Princess leia.)
The statement by purlcray about goodsides is also very true : you can find films that have been made for very little earning big values using mediums like youtube or going indie film / self published or placed for sale in places like kindle ,amazon or even netflicks.
However for every "Big WIN" you will not hear about those epic fails that spend all the cash they have and wind up with something nobody wants or asked for.
Time however could be on your side if your willing to place the effort into your project and trust the right people then maybe if you get lucky your story could net you cash , fame or hamburgers depending on what you seek and the luck of the day, burger flipping skills of the people you trust.
Don't be afraid of failing unless your losing more then just a little time.
Networking is made up of much more then just one size fits all if one door closes try another.
Alistair MacLean had so many rejections that self publish was the only route to fame.
Crusixblade Wrote: All I can say is? Books aren't the modern art scene, so it's at least not a massive money laundering operation.I wouldn't say that.
There's a LOT of books that you see thousands of copies of on bargain book store's shelves.
It's how some politicians get tens of millions for their books as an advance, it ends up on the NYT Best Seller List, but yet, who the fuck is buying them? The stack at the book store never gets smaller. They take up shelves at Wal-mart, then eventually end up in a landfill.
The autobiography and 'opinion' books are a money laundering scheme for sure. It was even exposed as such a few years ago.
splattenburgers Wrote: I often can't help but feel this is so. And not just the writing industry but just all creative industries in general. Look at the Star Wars sequel trilogy for example. How the eff does something this important and that which has hundreds of millions of dollars on the line get written so poorly?Because $. J.J. Abrams might always make horrible scripts and horrible movies, but they bring in money. In that way, all industries are rigged towards profit over quality.
I can't shake the feeling that creative industries writing included are corrupt and not really a meritocracy at all.
Thedude3445 Wrote: The bizarre fictitious narrative of some evil domineering George Lucas who oppressed the freedom fighters and fed the masses poison makes its way even into this forum thread.What?
It's mostly that the writing industry is still held by a very small group of very very old people who operate under an unrealistic view of the world. If you don't appeal to their unrealistic views, you're kind of screwed. It's a shame, but that's just how it is at the moment. I can imagine there's gonna be a pretty big shake up very soon, because this incompetence can only last so long.
Ralts Wrote: It's how some politicians get tens of millions for their books as an advance, it ends up on the NYT Best Seller List, but yet, who the fuck is buying them? The stack at the book store never gets smaller. They take up shelves at Wal-mart, then eventually end up in a landfill.A few politicians have actually been caught using taxpayer money to boost the sales of their books and get them onto the NYT Best Seller List.
I won't discuss it any further than that cuz I don't wanna invoke the "no politics" rule. I quite like it here.
There's no denying that established authors can get away with more than new names. Publishing is a for-profit industry and publishers know that it's often the name alone that sells a book. Selling a book is what they're here to do. That being said, the quality control for non-established authors isn't unfair. It's rigorous, but it's probably the standard that everyone should be held to.
The type of story you're trying to sell, however -- that can be a doozy. Sometimes rejection isn't on the basis of quality at all, but rather the market has told the publisher that buyers want more supernatural romance (they always want more romance) and less, say, grimdark fantasy. The nature of capitalism, and the fact that self-publishing generators like amazon have scraped away considerable profits from publishing houses, means that they're less keen to take a chance on new names with stories antithetical to market trends than ever.
It's unfortunate, but that's how it is right now. Not really a conspiracy.
I was asked about it in my intro thread back in January, so I invite you to read through some of what I said there. There's some additional information there (and I was a little more polite about it, but I'm grumpy today because of illness and have no qualms about telling the Big Four to get off my lawn), but most of it has already been covered by Lackstoties, Oskatat, F. A. Hyatt, and Drew Walker above. Drew Walker gave a very good breakdown of publishers as a whole, too.
On the subject of bubbles and creative quality, I want to add something. My job as an editor is to support the author. That doesn't mean being a yes-man, but ultimately any change I suggest must improve the work given to me, not replace it with something I like better. A publisher has greater freedom, but even there it's only about accepting or rejecting. The publisher has very little power, outside work-for-hire, to change the author's own words beyond "Do this or we won't publish you." For example, my mother wrote a romance thriller (yes, a romance thriller; it involved the Cold War and then-current headlines, even though it was a romance first) that one publisher loved, but wouldn't publish it unless she put in a door-stays-open sex scene. My mother didn't want to do that and walked away. The publisher couldn't simply insert the scene themselves, and she wasn't willing to do that because it would have ruined the flow of the book.
The movie industry is a different beast, because it's not just one writer and that writer doesn't have nearly as much control as in novel publications. It's not just apples to oranges; it's lugnuts to croissants. Just because we the audience consume the entertainment in a similar fashion doesn't mean the entertainment is produced the same way each time, much less universally.
Let's also look at submitting to the Big Four from their perspective. It is harder and harder to get noticed by them because of the way that they've consolidated the industry. A merger of two companies does not mean one company with the resources and personnel of both original entities. It means one company with more resources and personnel than either of the two originals -- nothing more. Over time, as a company grows larger, you run into a problem with personnel. This problem is called middle management. In order to do the same job as both original companies, you almost always need the same number of people; but once you merge them, it is harder to keep track and uphold standards. This means more middle management is needed. This also requires more upper managers to oversee the middle managers. The larger you get, the more difficult it is to keep smooth communication and standards. This is the primary reason why publishers will keep different brands as separate imprints rather than rolling everything under one roof. It's literally more efficient that way.
Ultimately, there are fewer eyeballs on the subject, and the more they produce the less attention they can give to individual authors and their novels. That's even without factoring in the ever-larger group of potential new authors out there, writing and dreaming. Thus, they depend ever more on agents whom the publishers personally know, which means ever more management is needed and the process basically doesn't change for the average would-be author. Slush piles are basically dead as far as major industry is concerned. (For some genres, only mostly dead. For SF&F, all the way dead, not even partially alive, and Miracle Max still wants his MLT, thank you very much.)
Fortunately, we are not bound by the dictates and limitations, imposed or otherwise, of the Big Four -- unless we let them. That doesn't mean fighting against a grand conspiracy, just against inertia. Even new authors born in the 21st century still frequently judge success by getting published through a big New York City house. The gigantic mergers have left a vacuum for publishing, and advances in technology and social acceptance of ebooks has resulted in a boom of self-publication and small indie houses. It's easier than ever, not harder, to get published. The major obstacle is just letting yourself (much less Aunt Gertrude, who'll tell you you're not a real author every Thanksgiving) believe that yes, it counts.
The definition of success hasn't changed. It's still about selling your story. It's up to you to master the process and not get weighed down by a publishing model that barely acknowledges that anything has changed in the industry since 1946.