"real readers" my ass

I would like to know your thoughts on the following: it often seems that agents and publisher are out of touch with what the readers really want. When an unpublished book has received praise from many people who are “typical” readers (people who read commercial fiction regularly, don’t belong to the author’s family tree, and whose jobs are unrelated to the publishing industry), how do you explain that agents, or editors, can look at that same book and say: “Pass.”?

Ahh...the basic divergence between what people say they like and what their buying patterns show. Marketers have all sorts of sneaky ways to find out what people will buy versus what they say they like. (Case in point: a book I'm going to talk about soon TEN PERCENT OF NOTHING. I liked it just fine but I wasn't willing to shell out $27 for it)

It's akin to the research that shows 90% of people in a survey say they wash their hands after using a public restroom...whereas hidden cameras indicate the number is closer to 75%.

In 1964 about 65% of people surveyed said they'd voted for Jack Kennedy in 1960. We know that the margin of victory was a razor thin percentage around 50%.

So, what people tell you they like, and what they are willing to part with their hard earned pictures of Ol Hickory can be two entirely different things. Agents and editors have their eyes GLUED to Bookscan which shows which ISBNs go over the cash register. Bookscan covers between 60-75% of the market (it doesn't include WalMart for example).

And where are you finding people praising unpublished books? On your website? Let me hoist the flag of “wide enough statistical pool for accurate sampling” before we make any assumptions about publishing’s shortsightedness based on your sampling.

One good example would be the first Harry Potter book, rejected by so many publishers. "so many"...about 10 I think. And she got an agent very quickly--two queries. See
JK Rowling

But I could also mention authors like John Grisham,

15 queries, 3 yeses from agents.
See MS State article on John Grisham

Dr. Seuss, Jack London, or Mary Higgins Clark who struggled to get published.

these guys are all decades before my time and irrelevant to anyone wanting to be published in 2006.

You've missed the obvious ones: E. Lynn Harris, M. Scott Peck, Jack Canfield and the Chicken Soup boys.

Feel free (as if you needed my approval) to be snarky with my theory, with the publishing world, or both.

I have no idea what any of these writers submitted to agents or publishers. For all I know they revised madly every time they queried. I don't think editors and agents have a exclusive on "what's good" and they certainly miss some stuff. But generally editors and agents ARE readers and more important we know what SELLS. Yes we get surprised, no we don't have crystal balls, but I am pretty confident I've got good work on my roster and a lot of crap in my slush pile.

And if it takes 20 or 200 queries to get the one yes you need, so what. You only need one. If you want it to be easy, you need a different line of work. Mattress dancing perhaps.


Brady Westwater said...

Rowling link is dead

Miss Snark said...

oh those stray bits of code, they gum up the works every time. I extracted a stray EM and now it should work.
Thanks for the heads up.

Ira Rosofsky said...

OK, to be scientific about this, would you say that the number of agents/publishers it takes to say yes is inversely proportional to sales?

Miss Snark said...

Inversely? You mean the fewer that want it, the more it sells? ...uh..no.

Canfield and the Chicken soup lads, Peck, Harris and their ilk are anomolies. People use them as examples but they are not the norm. They are like Lotto jackpot winners. Everyone else thinks it will happen to them if they just keep buying tickets.

(Not to say these guys were JUST lucky. ALL of them, and I knew them all personally worked their ASSES off to promote their books. Success was for them the product of hard work. Like the saying "the harder I work, the luckier I get")

Bill Peschel said...

Might be worth adding that Dr. Seuss didn't come out of nowhere. He was a longtime magazine illustrator (he drew the magazine ads for "Quick, Henry, the Flit!"). So, by the time he sold "Mulberry Street," he was already an accomplished artist, branching into a new field, not a novice trying to sell his first work.

Ira Rosofsky said...

By inversely proportional, I meant the more you have to query or submit before you get a yes, the fewer the sales. That's my question.

Another Author said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you Miss Snark. When I first started writing, I wrote crap (I didn't know it at the time!) I queried dozens (ok, nearly 100) agents and was soundly rejected (there is a God) . . . as I wrote more, I "got it" and when I knew I had a book that would sell (and I think writers do "know" this intuitively), I only queried a handful of top agents and had a 50% request rate for full. Landed a top agent. Sold almost immediately.

I am not so egotistical to think that the first few books I wrote were mistakenly, erroneously rejected by the literary establishment who doesn't know a good book when they see one, comments from my best friend and mother not withstanding. The fact is, I'm so glad those early books were rejected because I kept improving and getting better and now I have a multi-book contract with a major NY house.