It’s easier to say “no”

27 August, 2011

In preparation for my upcoming week as one of a team of publishing “experts” at Rancho La Puerta, I chatted with an editor colleague about the state of the industry.   The editor had just come from a writer’s conference. He told me: “I used to introduce myself as an acquisition editor. But now, I say instead: I’m a guy who says ‘no’ 1,000 times a year.” The editor received 5 submissions a day on average.  He calculated that the tally for the year was a little over 1,000, and of those submissions, the percentage he acquired to meet his quota of 20 books a year was a little over 1%.  Let’s take into account here, too, that many (though not all) of these submissions are coming from agents, many of them trusted sources who themselves filter at about the same rate as the editor.  This, people, is why it is so hard to get published!  If you are a writer who has gathered rejection after rejection, it may be because there is something seriously wrong or unmarketable about your proposed book.  But it also may be simply that the chances are so slim that your book will make it through the various levels it must to be acquired by a traditional house.  This is because so many books that are acquired fail miserably–fail to meet their target distribution and sales. Given this, and the pressure that editors are under, it is a miracle that any book sees the light of day.

The good news is that there are many, many options today, from traditional publishing (I’m still a believer that there is something miraculous that a great publisher can do for you) to small presses, niche publishers and self-publishing.  So take heart in knowing that if your book really is wonderful, there will be a way to bring it to market if you are willing to keep your options open and be entrepreneurial. And more and more, agents are helping authors navigate the myriad pathways to publication.

In the meantime, wish me luck catching a flight out of Newark as hurricane Irene rapidly approaches!

–Joelle Delbourgo