Many of you may know I've been shopping around for a book publisher. I've written earlier about the difficulties in finding a publisher willing to even look at a previously unpublished author, especially one without representation. Judging by their reactions, one would think the market is flooded with books – there just isn't the audience for all that's being produced.
The reality is that the costs involved in publishing a book these days are so prohibitive that publishers aren't willing to take a risk on anything even slightly different from the mainstream. But publishers have no one to blame but themselves for their increased costs.
First there's the ridiculous amount of money they give authors in advances, to the tune of millions of dollars. Then there’s the money they have to spend on publicity in the hopes of selling enough books to recoup huge advances. If they're very lucky they might get a small percentage from a film if the book makes it to the big screen, but that can sometimes be years after publication.
They compound these expenses by not doing due diligence on their authors as well as they could. It's costly when you end up with thousands of copies of a book that was plagiarized word-for-word from a previously published work.
Let’s hear from your agent
In the fall of 2005 notices appeared on the submission guidelines web pages of almost every major publisher in North America and Britain. "We are no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts unless through a reputable agent." It was almost word for word on all the web pages, no matter which publisher. It was as though they had held a meeting and decided they would all run the same announcement on the same day.
They blamed it on being inundated by so many bad unsolicited manuscripts from bloggers, who thought the world wanted to hear their life stories. Having read some of the dreck passing for writing on people's blogs, I admit that at first I could see some veracity in this claim. But recently I've had second thoughts about that assertion and have started wondering if there isn’t more to it than they've been claiming.
First of all, there is the amazing coincidence of all those publishers from Orion in England to Random House in the United States deciding simultaneously to stop accepting manuscripts directly from authors. Is this a deliberate and coordinated move to scale back publishing across the board?
If I were cynical I would say that it almost sounds like the heads of each of the major publishing houses and their flunkies got together at some previously arranged neutral site. Like a group of Mafia Dons, who would just as soon kill each other as talk. Forced to deal with a common enemy, they gathered to protect their turfs.
Promises were made and vows were exchanged, and the next day the announcement appears on all the websites. America's, and some of Britain's, publishers are no longer open for new business unless accompanied by a recommendation from an agent they know on a first-name basis. Even then, if the book won't play on Oprah, the chances of it being published are slim.
What amazes me is how they seem to have forgotten, or even worse not noticed, the potential audience beyond the confines of our continent and the British Isles. American companies could perhaps be excused on grounds of ignorance, but for the Brits to forget about India and the rest of the Commonwealth nations (the countries that were formerly colonies of England) is just silly. They were the ones who forced the English language down their throats in the first place.
Passage to India
India has probably one of the largest, educated English-speaking populations in the world right now. Its economy is booming, and more and more of her people have the money to spend on books and other forms of leisure. How hard would it be for an imprint to reach an agreement with an Indian press and start delivering titles for publication?
But with the exception of Penguin India, no one seems to be doing very much to take specific advantage of the market. Even Penguin treats India like another foreign country and gives preference to American publications. What this means is that while Penguin can dump as many American-published titles as it wants onto the Indian market, it only exports a few Indian-published titles to the States.
While this does provide a market for whatever is being published in the States, it does nothing to properly develop the Indian market. Penguin needs to remind itself that if it wants the world to know more than the names of one or two authors from India it needs to start treating India with the respect it deserves.
That means that her authors should be given the same treatment as their American counterparts and not be limited in the number of titles they are allowed to export to the American market. The best way to develop a solid audience base is to ensure that the authors of the home country are able to thrive. Keeping their names in the public eye as much as possible is a reminder that Indian writers are just as important as American or British.
If American publishers would open their eyes to the fact that English is spoken in more then a few countries around the world ,they might find their sales figures rising. Sign on a couple of Indian authors and publish them simultaneously in India and the United States. It might take awhile for sales to develop in the United States, but that will be compensated by sales in India.
At the encouragement of a friend of mine in India I sent my manuscript to Penguin India for consideration; I haven't heard anything from them yet, but that doesn't bother me. When they publish the book I expect that it will be available in Canada because that's where I'm from, as well as sold as India, but I doubt it will be for sale in the United States.
It used to be that without the American market your book couldn't really sell enough to make you much money. But times have changed, and America is not the only large English speaking market anymore. American publishers need to remember that – if they want their business to continue to grow. Otherwise they could find themselves being left behind and no longer as important as they think they are.