Friday, December 02, 2011

So What Do You Think of Self-Published Authors?

So, I'm curious then where you stand on authors who self-published (orig, not backlist) but are doing well? Not those pulling Amanda Hockings, but well. Do you see a way how agents could help them to do even better? Can an agent come in after the fact and open new arenas for them? Or is well not enough? Just curious. 

The short answer is that even the Chia Pet sells millions every year.  (This year, I'm getting Chia Obama!  Okay, seriously, is that not just a bit disrespectful and even borderline racist that there is a Chia Obama?)  How many crappy TV shows have stayed on the air season after season?  Germans really like David Hasselhoff's singing???!

Okay, that's a bit snarky.  I'm sure there are many excellent self-published novels.  Alas, over the years, none of the ones that have been sent to me have been that great.  I did take one on for representation in 1994 or so, the title of which I have completely forgotten.  It didn't sell.

I remember reading a review of Amanda Hocking's works.  It was not favorable.  Then again, I know plenty of editors laughed at David Gernert when he was an editor at Doubleday and paid, I think, $250,000 to acquire THE FIRM.  Now he's Grisham's agent and laughing all the way to the bank.  Plenty of editors have told me over lunch that they would not have acquired THE DA VINCI CODE, because they didn't think it was that good a book.

Now I enjoyed THE FIRM and found it to be a perfect "popcorn read."  Very good pacing.  But I thought it was written at an eighth-grade reading level.  I couldn't finish THE DA VINCI CODE, because I grew up reading Hardy Boys novels and then I moved onto more complex fiction.  THE DA VINCI CODE, bestseller that it is, is not complex fiction and is, I feel, not much more than a Hardy Boys novel.  I'm not even sure it's at an eighth-grade reading level.

So what's my point?  Well, the market is the final decider, though it's a shame that what that often means is that works with lower common denominators succeed better than more complicated works of fiction.

Now, could an agent help those self-published novelists do better?  Perhaps, but it depends on a few factors.  For example, is the book truly well-written and not just selling?  Because people who acquire books for foreign publishers or for movies or for audio tend to be "book people," meaning they may turn up their noses at anything that's just selling but isn't also well-written.  I have shopped books by at least one New York Times bestselling author and editors turned them down because they didn't like the story or didn't find the jokes funny.  C'mon!  The guy sells.  Put aside your personal opinion and make the house some money!

But if an author self-published and said to me, "I worked with Beth Lieberman or Ed Stackler [or another quality freelance editor I know], and then I had the book professionally copyedited by a copyeditor who has edited over one hundred novels for Random House, and I had it professionally proofread after conversion to ensure it was clean, and I've sold thousands of eBooks and really want a deal with a 'real' publisher,'" I'd certainly be interested.  But if the author just wrote it, self-published it, and didn't go through a true editorial process, I would have less interest.  Strong sales might be enough to get me to look, but in the end the person has to be a good writer, in my opinion, or I won't take him or her on.



Robert Italia said...

Interesting that you discussed THE DA VINCI CODE. I think Mr. Brown succeeded in touching the nerve of a very large audience who normally wouldn't have stormed the bookstores had he not challenged their beliefs. That's not to say his challenge was legit. But he did cause quite a stir by taking his novel beyond the typical thriller realm, where his other novels dwell. What do you think, Mr. Zack? Should novelists actually try to "say" something? Or should they stick to just telling a good story (with good writing, of course)? I'm also curious to know if you think Stephenie Meyer can write, and what made TWILIGHT a success. That low common denominator factor?

Andrew Zack said...

Mr. Italia:

I haven't read Stephanie Meyer, so I can't say what makes her work. As for Brown, I once heard that he read Al Zuckerman's book on writing thrillers and then followed it with great care in writing THE DA VINCI CODE. Clearly something worked, but I can no more say what that was than any publisher can predict a bestseller.


Robert Italia said...

Mr. Zack,

If you analyze the thousands of Goodreads reviews on the Amazon site for these two titles, it's interesting to note how the positive ones tend to be emotional and simplistic, while the negative ones are more sophisticated (which may support your "denomination" comment). But there's no denying that Mr. Brown and Ms. Meyer have found their audience (and good for them). So how does an agent know he or she has the next CODE or TWILIGHT? Maybe that doesn't really matter. I suspect that it takes more than just something you think will sell big. You have to take a special interest in the project as well, and if "big" happens, great. This agent/author relationship is more like a marriage, isn't it? (No need for a reply. Just a follow-up comment on my part. But it is amazing how accessible some agents have become [applause].)

Joseph Baran said...

In publishing just as in any other industry, the bottom line that the book sales generate dictates everything. Authors are safe with publishing houses as long as their books sell. But in reality the public’s interest and acceptance, regardless how well or poorly the book is written, is something that NO ONE can really predict.

Back in September Jenny Bent in her blog encouraged unpublished writers to self-publish as a way to tell the world, as she put it, just how great their novel is. That’s a great way to test the marketing waters for the writer and with no financial risks to the publishers who have nothing to lose and everything to gain should the unknown author prove successful.

Everyone wants to be winning, even the unpublished writer who turns to self-publishing whether out of his shear desire to be heard or out of his shear frustration of being endlessly rejected. With the acceptance of self-publishing on the rise, there will be successful self-published authors who will give up on being traditionally published as to them the bottom line will matter too. Their success will reflect their sales which in turn will reflect their internet following that will eradicate “the paper print fame” of the old.

Perhaps in the future traditional publishing will lose the ground altogether and the role of an agent will mainly deal with foreign and movie rights. Nonetheless, there is one common denominator that traditional publishing and self-publishing do have in common. That is the audience. Without it both will fail. Which is why, as I was recently advised, have stopped querying my first novel, have stopped writing the second one and now only concentrate on setting up my social media platform so people would come to know my name by the time my novel hits the market.

Joseph Baran
Clifton, NJ

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