You know how some people on their day off think about fun things to do with the family? Well, I was thinking the other day about the likelihood of a debut author landing a book contract with a major publisher--one of the Big Five, to be exact. Not that it hasn't been done before. But ... well, not very often.
So, how likely is a debut author to get published by a major publisher? Not very. As in NEARLY NEVER. And I'm not talking about someone whose work is poorly executed, badly edited, and rife with typos and other errors, which is a no-brainer. I'm talking about first-rate writers with a solid understanding of their craft who have produced a top-quality first book. The chances in that case? Still, next to none. Yes, the marketplace is just that competitive and glutted.
Notice that this question doesn't even begin to broach the subject of marketability, which has become such a critical player in today's publishing industry that, unless an author can guarantee solid sales right out of the box, most conventional publishers won't give him or her a wink and a nod. I see Pulitzer- and Nobel-quality books passed upon every day just because the publisher can't envision dollar signs as the book rolls off the press. And, if you're thinking that you should secure the services of a literary agent to do all the grunt work for you, ridiculous! Legitimate agents live off the percentage of sales they make on behalf of their clients. No sales, no livelihood. No livelihood, no agent. If you don't believe me, just try securing literary agency representation, yourself. Next suggestion, please.
Well, then, what's a newbie author to do? Is that your question, Bunkie? Well, you could give up without a fight, and that's probably best if you're thin-skinned. Otherwise, grit your teeth and bear it. Send out pitches, and keep sending them out until you either land a major publisher or die of hardening of the arteries.
OR lower your sights a little and pitch your work to a publisher other than one of the Big Five. By building a following with books published by any conventional publisher, you'll be taking one step closer to literary nirvana. Maybe.
Regardless, be prepared for the long haul … and a grueling, emotionally draining road trip. Along the way, make sure you don't take the easy way out by coughing up predictable, formulaic junk. Keep learning, studying, and practicing writing … and then learning, studying, and practicing writing some more. Take a part-time job with an established publication as an assistant editor. Enroll in a respected creative writing workshop. Take some college courses. Write feature articles for local newspapers and magazines. Dabble a bit in news reportage. While there's no guarantee that doing any of this will give you the inside track when it comes to publishing your first book, it certainly can't hurt.
Finally, in the end, remember that the early bird catches the worm. Which has absolutely nothing to do with this subject or the blog I just scribbled out, but it's as close as I can come to a putting an exclamation point on this response.
D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere.