Who decides which manuscripts should be published? From a purely technical standpoint, the current state of publishing is that a manuscript must first be picked up by an agent, then that agent must find a publisher to pick it up. It’s a double gated system. The manuscript must be decided upon at each gate in order to advance on to being published. But, that’s all changing, isn’t it.
It used to be so much harder to go the self published route. Anybody could write a book, and take it to a printer. But, getting any sort of distribution was extremely difficult. The author would have to take up the car salesman mantra and knock on every door of every bookstore they could reach in hopes that one or two of them might agree to find a bit of shelf space in the store for the authors book. Now, it can be as simple as a bit of formatting and a few button clicks, and you’ve managed to upload your book onto the shelves of one of the largest bookstores in the world. Shelf space is cheaper now. Without the limits of a physical shelf, a bookstore can hold an unlimited number of digital books. As a result, the barrier to entry has lowered. Self publishing is, suddenly, very easy to do.
I, personally, am still on the fence. I’m attracted to the lack of barrier that the self-publishing route has. But, I’m also attracted to the gates of the agent/publishing house route. Gates mean exclusivity. If you can get through those gates, you join a limited group of people. But, if you sell enough books, does it matter which route you went? Not really.
I noticed a post by someone over at Bookends, LLC‘s blog. It went like this:
Just because friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book doesn’t mean it’s a book that should be published.
As I read it, a part of me reached for my pitchfork. My hackles went up. And I clicked through to see how badly they’d been skewered in the comments. And, it turns out, they weren’t. A majority of the comments are positive. There’s a few that took up the other side though. And it’s those I agree with most. Who are they to decide whether “it’s a book that should be published” or not? Did I miss the memo that announced them as supreme deciders of publish-ability?
Yes, agents and publishers know a great deal more about the market that you or I do. Yes, some of them are very, very good at their jobs. But, I also think back to how many stories we’ve all heard about the manuscript that got rejected 30 or 40 times before someone took it and then it hit the bestseller list. The real truth is that not everyone likes what everyone else does. Thank goodness, or there wouldn’t be any market for certain authors. I’ve personally read (or tried to read) two books this year alone that I thought were absolutely terrible. These weren’t random books I picked out of the bargain bin on the Kindle store. These were bestsellers. Classics by some peoples standards. I didn’t even finish one of them. I thought they were that bad. If I had been the agent that either had come to, or the publisher, I would have rejected them.
If agents and publishers can miss good books, and put bad books through, what right do they have determining which manuscripts go forward?
If your friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book, write it. That’s first. Just write it. Then, take it and get an editor to look it over. Get some beta readers to read it through. Edit it. Send it to an editor again. Once you’re darn well sure it’s ready to go, decide whether you want to go through the traditional publishing route or not. Send it to an agent, or not. But, send it somewhere.
I said I was on the fence earlier in this post. But, I’m leaning towards the self publishing side more and more each day. Who decides whether a book is any good or not? In the end, it’s the readers. And, if the readers are the ones who decide, why are we wasting our time trying to get through gates instead of putting out the best book we can and letting the readers decide.