Ask Not What a Publisher Can Do For You

It’s an extraordinary realism for aspiring writers: many publishers and agents often seek authors who already possess a substantial following.

The search for publication can be akin to seeking that crucial first job — employers want experience, but how does one gain experience without a job? Traditionally, writers begin with shorter works, offering their skills for free, then progressing to paid assignments. With luck, perseverance, or a blend of both, they may eventually see longer works accepted, though not always or often with a major publisher. Many first publish with midstream or small press; indeed, it’s possible to manage successful careers with smaller publishers, and most writing credits improve a writer’s chances. Like with any job application, the writer builds a resume.

By saying publishers and agents seek writers with an audience, I’m not only referring to their preference for published authors. They have a keen interest in sales figures and, therefore, followership. Today, social media presence is an important and complex challenge. Writers often struggle to balance writing with networking, which, while occasionally enjoyable, can also be time-consuming, demoralising, and a tempting excuse for procrastination. Also, the effectiveness varies.

Accurate statistics to determine what works and what doesn’t are problematic. Success hinges on too many variables including but not limited to genre. A large following doesn’t always translate into sales, while some authors with modest audiences enjoy sturdy trading.

Publishers and agents naturally prefer writers with an existing readership. They desire assurance that taking on an author will lead to worthwhile sales. They’re increasingly interested in writers who can bring their own audience. Today’s publishers are asking not what they can do for the writer, but what the writer can do for them.

This shift partly explains the rise in self-publishing, and it has contributed to the perception that publishers prioritise writers based on what they can offer. But remember, this is not an absolute rule, and it’s important not to view the industry as heartless; we all share a love for the written word. Still, with this perspective, rejections become less shocking.

Sadly, these days some publishers do nothing, and writers will, at some point, need to ask the right questions. While tempting to sign the first hint of a contract, depending on the size of the publisher, it may be important to enquire about career prospects, potential sales, and marketing support. Understanding what questions to ask and when is more important than pressuring the publisher or asking obvious ones.

About Sharon

Writer of Dark and Light Fiction. Fact, fiction, poetry, short stories, articles and novels. Cross-genre, slipstream, non-traditional romance, gothic, horror, fantasy and more... Visit this diverse writer's site.
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