LitMatch: Research Literary Agents and Track Submissions

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

User Talkback: The Future of Publishing

In last month’s newsletter, I asked you, our users, to give us your take on the future of the publishing industry. You certainly didn’t disappoint! We received dozens of thoughtful, well-reasoned replies, and if your opinions are any indication, one thing is certain: the publishing industry will live on, regardless of what form it may take.

Thank you to everyone who replied. I’ve included a few of our favorite responses below. Feel free to add your own using the comment form. And if you're not receiving our newsletter, what are you waiting for? Sign up for free at

Chris Hawkins

“I don't think good stories will ever be a thing of the past. More than ever what we need is entertainment that isn't costly, like sitting down with a good novel. Call me optimistic, but it's still cheaper to read a good book than to go out to a movie that takes up 2 hours or go out to dinner. So there you have it!”

“The sheer numbers of new independent authors entering into the field, are bringing about dramatic changes in the way books are being produced, marketed and sold. The Agent/ Publisher strangle hold on the industry is slowly dying. The arrogance of the agents who will not consider even looking at a property of an author who has independently published is unbelievable. How ever they are creating a bottle neck in conventional publishing that obviously they don't even see. More and more really good authors are turning to POD and self publishing just to stay away from the greed games played by the Agent/ Publisher consortium”

“While e-books and web publishing have an audience, I believe that books devoid of technology (not withstanding the technology it took to make it a book) will be around for many years. As our world evolves into the technology age, many people spend their time at work on computers and much of their time at home on them as well. Having said that, people still want to pick up a good book now and then. Technology does not account for the time people spend waiting for whatever reason. A book tends to fill the waiting time. More books are sold by word of mouth rather than advertising. In turn, as we spend our time waiting, we want to share the stories we have been reading with others who are waiting with us. By doing this, we have promoted yet another book that would be lost on the internet. Most waiting places don't require technology to be available on a whim; books, however, are just that and are as portable as a laptop. Having said that, we need publishers to be able to with stand the onslaught of all the economy has to offer, good or bad. While we, as a public, expect certain cutbacks, we do not foresee books going by the wayside. As the price of movies rise, more people will turn back to books as a way of entertainment. Even in the Great Depression, Charlie Chaplin managed to keep his standards high and continued to make money. I know this by simply reading his autobiography. If it can be done during those times, we will continue to make it happen in today's economic downfalls. As writers, as readers, as a public in general, we need publishers and publishing companies to keep their standards high but in within reason and with the times as they change for the better."

“Like banking, book publishing is in a state of flux. The big conglomerates cannot continue their money burning activities with huge advances to big names. The rise of the internet, POD and the execrable quality of much of the conventionally produced material will ensure the contraction of the industry as it exists at present. The book store will take second place to internet downloads and dealers such as Amazon. I foresee the disappearance of the agent whose filtering activities have stalled as they are living in an outdated environment, unable or unwilling to monitor the flood of creativity. The biggest promoters of individual authors and niche interests will again be the internet - writers sites and 'word of mouth' on face book, blogs and such like. In ten years time the situation will be unrecognisable: large publishing houses will have disappeared to be replaced by small outfits which would be the equivalent of cottage industries run by authors themselves and producing POD.”

“I believe that The Reader, Kindle, Stanza, Smashwords etc. plus the poor economy is going to reduce the number and size of bookstores and libraries. Only seniors will continue to treasure paper books, the present generation being already immersed in instant content mode. Authonomy and clones has already begin to render the literary agent semi-unnecessary. The big picture? Look for more publishing houses to close because the reading device of choice is already loaded with 88,000 books that one can download for as little as $1.89. Next technology will make it impossible for downloaded books to be e-sent to one's friends, for free.”

“Those who predict the end of the publishing industry are obviously wrong. If at all the big publisher is close to extinction then the small publisher must of necessity fill the gap. Some new method will have to emerge to help people read. Man cannot live by the computer alone. Reading is too basic a need to give up.

If the markets in the West are dwindling, the markets in places like India will come up. Publisher s in the West should find more reasonable printing alternatives in other parts of the world. That must and will happen to keep the reader alive.”

“My thoughts... I believe, as in other recessions and during the great depression of 29, where the: cinema, stage, home entertainment, and the reading of anything printable, increased, this time will be no different. In fact, as the public is more literate than ever in history, to gain information or to escape reality for a while, reading will, and should increase. This makes the path much easy for those writers just entering the industry. Cinema, live shows, TV, newspapers, and books of all genre will flourish. Publishers and agents will grow much faster, as will e-books.”

“It looks bleak for traditional publishing if it continues as is. It's a Catch-22 where publishers won't look at anyone who doesn't have an agent, and agents won't look at anyone who hasn't been published. There are a few exceptions, so I'll relate my own experience. After finishing my novel (in the suspense/thriller genre), I hit the internet to find an agent. It looked promising since there were a thousand of them. After eliminating the scam artists, the ones who had died, retired, gone out of business, didn't handle fiction, didn't handle my genre, or weren't taking submissions, I was left with a more reasonable list of fifty who said they represented thrillers. I boiled my 360 page novel down to a paragraph, sent out queries, and waited. I got back fifty rejections, divided about evenly between saying that thrillers didn't "fit their list" (their web sites stated they handled thrillers, so what exactly is this "list"?) and the other half saying my query didn't "grab" them. In other words, boiling my novel down to a paragraph wasn't sufficient. It had to be boiled down to a sentence or two, and if that sentence didn't completely blow the agent away, forget it. To sum up, if an aspiring author can't impress a handful of people with a one-sentence description of an entire novel, he or she isn't getting published. The current system allows a small number of people to decide what makes it to the book shelves, with publishers and agents terrified to give anything a chance, lest it may not be a million-seller. Perhaps a better way would be to have a website where aspiring authors could submit a sample chapter or two, and the reading public could vote on which ones they liked best. The samples with the most votes could be promised at least a look by the publishers. It would still be a longshot, but better than a system that spends years rejecting John Grisham or Mario Puzo because they couldn't come up with an appropriate one-sentence "hook".”


La said...

The 'hook' - books are about devoting what could be several hours over several days - how can one distil the substance of a good story ( and it does need to be that) into one sentence to grab a reader's attention? I am concerned with low standard of writing evident in what publishers accept, when they accept at all; it demonstrates carelessness, and that is the most charitable way to describe the typos, poor editing, and, most of all, the willingness to let poor syntax pass. Publishing may survive, but it appears to be in the control of badly educated people. What a frightening prospect. NJM

northern said...


Thank you for monthly reading of innovating,enterprising,brave and fresh thoughts of those who contribute to the comments with
their futuristic and positive views.

I am a senior newcomer to recieve mail, and am on a learning path. The gain is to use familiar English vocabulary in various new ways, and to learn new vocabulary, while being able to put it into use, which is fantastic, because Englsih is my second language. My writing might never be published, but finally I am on the way to be able to socialise with literary vocabulary,
and that feels very, very good.

Mrs. K. Seppala

P.S. I'm not Fazercafe anymore, I forgot the password into the Blog, and had to create a new one, doing so, I changed the user name, too.

Anonymous said...

I cannot agree more about the Catch 22 in the industry. As a "new" writer with very few publishing credits, I can mirror both the experience and the frustration. I believe this is the reason so many people turn to
self-publishing. Even with having to grow a thick skin to handle the onslaught of rejections that come with the territory - the ultimate disappointments are a heavy load; one that makes it increasingly difficult to maintain a hopeful spirit. I feel strongly that alternative methods of reaching potential agents and publishers are sorely needed.