Thursday, May 20, 2010
TENURE VS. FRESH TALENT
TENURE VS. FRESH TALENT
In reading a recent article on teachers and tenure, my mind wandered to the situation all new authors experience. Publishers stick to their seasoned authors to make the lion's share of their profits, and new authors wind up unable to break into the system.
The tenure system was developed several decades ago to protect teachers from arbitrary, discriminatory dismissal. While people have evolved past those types of behaviors, the law still exists, making it difficult to remove tenured teachers who don't perform. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/05/03/31mcguinn.h29.html
How often do we read well-known authors and shake our heads at how their work has eroded since their first or second exciting release? Many of us even feel we can write better than some of those names, and can't help but feel that this "tenure" status isn't fair. In essence, this "tenure" status holds us back.
Every literary journal originated to give an outlet for good writers. What's sad is that there are so many journals. All feel that they give voice to a select group of emerging authors. If we created a publishing company or journal every time a group of authors felt the need for exposure, we'd each have our own
literary review. Kind of ruins the level of quality.
Who am I to judge quality, you ask? Frankly, if we are flooded with publishing outlets, they lose meaning. Becoming published starts to mean nothing once everyone can do it. It's like publishing your work on a blog in hopes of being discovered. Anyone can create a blog. I know of few agents or publishers who surf the web for random blogs of quality.
Same goes for publishers. If we self-publish to avoid the rejection of traditional publishing, what have we accomplished? Unless we have a strong voice and marvelous platform, we spend money to publish and still accomplish little. Yes, there is a small minority of writers who are savvy enough to build that platform, self-publish, and make a living. But the odds of you doing that are the same as getting traditionally published.
Back to the original comparison of tenure versus fresh talent.
Tenured authors climbed their way to the top. Name recognition means more than the quality of the writing. Fans are loyal. It's hard to shove those guys and gals aside and get your foot in the door. So what can you do?
1. Write hard and make a name for yourself. Polish your work, enter contests, publish in periodicals until a traditional publisher loves your effort. Just keep doing it, doing it well, and sticking to the task until your cream rises to the top.
2. Self-publish and sell a zillion books, garnering name recognition. Not a hundred books, not a thousand books, but more like five-figure sales.
Pick your route, warm up those writing and selling muscles, and keep working until you succeed. Eventually a publisher will part the tenured crowd, take your hand, and give you a chance. Then it's up to you to prove you are worth keeping.
Then I received this note from a reader, a former publisher's sales rep. Great follow-up.
Thanks for your recent Editor's Thoughts, "Tenure VS. Fresh Talent." Both these options definitely need to be discussed, again and again, by all emerging authors, although I do believe that there is a greater possibility for publication, fame and fortune if authors follow your advice in route No. 1. It can't be stressed enough, though, that all authors must write well in order to be published, and that there is no magic pill available to avoid the hard work.
However, as a former publishers' sales rep, I must point out that it's the "tenured," and successful, authors on any publishers' list who make it possible for the publisher to afford to take a chance on publishing that fresh "talent." There are no gate-keepers who are bent on keeping out emerging writers, but rather it's the publishers' bottom lines that dictate who, besides established authors, they will sign. In fact, every editor at the publishing houses I worked with were constantly looking for fresh talent they could "discover." Their problem was that very little quality writing was being submitted to them. So, as you say, making a name for yourself and attracting attention to your writing is very necessary.
Alberta Books Canada