Traditional publishing doesn’t work anymore

From what I understand, traditional publishing (at least in genre fiction) used to go something like this:

  • Write
  • Submit short-stories to magazines
  • Get feedback
  • Build a name
  • Attract agent or publisher attention
  • Pick up a contract
  • Get published

More recently the process seems to be:

  • Build a name
  • Attract agent or publisher attention
  • Pick up a contract
  • Have several books ghost-written
  • Get published
  • Submit stories to magazines as a promotion

Now you’re expected to have a “name” at the outset. Perhaps you only gained your reputation through “reality” TV or some accidental news coverage, but that doesn’t seem to matter. You’re already known for something, so the publisher has far less promotion to do/there is far less promotion required on the part of the publisher. Call it lazy publishers syndrome perhaps.

The magazine world has changed dramatically too. Over the last few years we’ve seen many historic publications vanish entirely, while the surviving ones have suffered dramatic falls in distribution levels. Big names (such as Asimov’s and Analog) have seen circulation decline by as much as 30%.

In an environment like that the choice is pretty obvious. If you’re a magazine editor, what are you going to do? Publish a known quantity with a name you can splash on the cover to bring in sales or some unknown writer who won’t sell zip? It doesn’t even matter how good the unknown writer is – simple economics controls the decision.

That in itself would be enough to curtail almost all chances for unknown authors, but the position is worse than that. Yes, the number of possible opportunities has fallen but also the competition for the openings has risen dramatically too and not just from other unknown writers.

In a world that is ever more competitive, more “mainstream” published writer’s are looking to continually self-promote and keep themselves in the eye of the ever-voracious public. They do this by offering short stories, spin-offs and supplementary material on their blogs and yes, through magazines. As a result magazines have a wider choice of material than ever before, making it even harder for unknown writers to get that foot in the door.

We unknown authors have probably got about as much chance of hitting the lottery as we have of getting published as an unknown. We need to accept that the rules have changed and deal with it and the obvious answer is self-publishing and self-promotion.

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