Over the past decade it has become increasingly difficult for potential authors to get their work published. If you do not have an agent you cannot get your work considered by publishers. Agents are only likely to represent people who fit a profile, one major part of which is ‘celebrity’. Talent no longer matters much. If you are obscure or older than forty, you are very unlikely to find an agent to plead your cause with the major publishing houses. We live in a time where the publishing houses are not interested in nurturing potential talent. They want an instant financial hit. Many will say that it has always been thus, and many examples can be found of books which were rejected by dozens of publishers before going on to be classics or best sellers. These days there are fewer, bigger publishers and they seem to be run by bean counters rather than people of judgement and patience. Because of takeovers, failures and amalgamations there are fewer targets for authors to aim at and the ones that are available seem to build obstacles to prevent outsiders getting in.
The reaction to this situation is the rise of the micro-publisher. This is not about vanity publishing or even self-publishing. These are small publishers struggling to promote perfectly good commercial fiction, well designed and well written. It is possible to produce books for very little money by using a print on demand service from a company such as Lightning Source. Bought one at a time these books are quite expensive, but the publisher can order them in small batches at a commercially viable price, but then has to distribute them.
There are fewer bookshops than there were even last year. Other than Waterstones there is no national chain. If you cannot get your books displayed by Waterstones you end up trying to persuade local bookshops to sell the books as by a sort of novelty, like locally made sausages. It is impossible to sell commercially viable numbers of books this way. The costs in petrol alone outweigh any profit from sales. As to the buying process within Waterstones, I cannot comment.
Sales have fallen in bookshops due combined pressure from other outlets, such as supermarkets, and due to online sales from Amazon and Play Books. Supermarkets will only handle already best-selling authors and ghost –written nonsense from the aforementioned ‘celebrities’.
I heard a great story from the green room of a daytime television programme. One guest was Katie Price. She was asked by another guest why she was appearing. The answer came that she (Katie Price), was promoting her autobiography. ‘Yeah,’ she said, ‘I’m looking forward to reading it.’
The only sure way out for the author is to become a celebrity in their own right, devoting all their time and energy into self-promotion rather than writing. And even then you need to get lucky.