Career suicide

You want to be published by a big name publisher? Here’s how it works.

The likes of Penguin Random House are not going to talk to you. Send them your work, they will ignore it. They will only talk to agents. Why? Well, any agent will tell you why.

A good agent is going to get a bag full of submissions every day. Just imagine what Random House would get if they were open to authors directly! The agent does not read the submissions. They go into the ‘slush pile’.

The slush pile readers will then sort through the submissions and will pass the good ones on to the agent for consideration. The agent will sort through the filtered submissions and pick maybe one or two to answer.

Now, those slush pile readers have a big mound of stuff to get through. They are actively looking for a reason to ditch every one they pick up. That’s not malicious. They might have a hundred, and the agent wants five or less. They have to sort out the dross quickly. Is the cover letter slapdash, is the first page full of spelling errors and bad grammar, is it a tedious opening? You could go in the reject pile in the first three lines of your story.

You have to get past those overworked slush pile readers. Then you have to get the agent’s attention. Then, if the agent takes you on, they have to try to persuade a publisher to take you on. All this is hard to get through. You have to get through layers of filtration before you get to the big publishers. Even then, if the book flops, they won’t be interested in your next one.

So, getting into a big name publisher is hard. It’s worth it, you’d get a big marketing department, seriously professional editors and cover artists, all for free. But it is really, really hard to get in.

It’s also worth considering that agents and publishers are a fairly small industry. They mostly know each other. If you behave like a dick to one agent, your name will be mentioned over coffee and other agents will recognise it when you try submitting to them. Agents are busy people. They don’t have time to assuage egos or play politics or deal with dicks. They have so many submissions that having a name they can ditch at the first hurdle is really helpful to them. Don’t be that name.

Given that it is murderously difficult to get a foot in that door, who would be so stupid as to throw it all away over a tweet?

These four authors just did exactly that.

They think they are making a point but they are not big names. There won’t be a huge list of agencies begging them to sign up – and they have just marked themselves as ‘difficult to work with’. One of them has three novels published. Well… so do I. So does Mark Ellott. Three is not a big number. When you are at Neal Asher’s level of output then maybe you can afford to be a bit shirty at times (he never has been, as far as I know) but three novels? No, you are not a big earner for the publisher nor for the agent. You could have been if you hadn’t bailed over a hurty tweet.

These four authors were signed up to the same agent as J.K. Rowling. I quite like the films, never bothered with the books or merchandise. CStM is a big fan though. J.K. Rowling, loathe her or hate her, is a big name in the publishing world. Being with the same agent is a big win for any author whether they like her or not. It doesn’t, or shouldn’t matter what she thinks of trans people to the other authors.

Heck, I don’t like Stephen King’s ‘woke lefty’ attitude. I still read his books and I would love to be taken up by the same agency. Stories are not real, sometimes authors are not the wonderful people you want them to be, but this is your career here. Are you really going to throw it all away, after getting over those massive hurdles, just because you’re a bit miffed by what another author has said? Well, apparently so. I wouldn’t. These authors just cast themselves adrift over a tweet. Good luck getting another agent.

Heck, I don’t even want them at Leg Iron Books. I am not going to play political correctness, I am not bending my knees unless I drop something. I frankly don’t care about anyone’s sexuality or melanin quotient or whether they have all their limbs in the right order. Leg Iron Books is about writing. If the writing is good, it’s in. If the story is good but the writing needs a bit of work, still it’s in. So far I have enough submissions to keep me busy but not enough to need slush pile readers to filter them.

I am only interested in the writing. I do not care if the author writes while candles burn at an altar to Satan. I don’t care if they have posters of Hitler in their kitchen or Che Guevara in their bedroom. Not my business. Only the story matters. Naturally, I will not publish either white supremacy nor black supremacy nor any colour supremacy nonsense. I will not publish anything that deliberately sets out to incite hate or division.

But… if someone sends in a ghost story they wrote while cross-dressed and listening to Stalin speeches and the story is a good one, the author’s personal preferences are not my concern.

Would I publish an overtly religious book? Sure, but there are religious publishers far bigger than me who would take it on and it would do better with them. The same is true for an overtly gay or gushily romantic novel. They sell really well but there are much bigger publishers specialising in those books. So if you were to send me a story in those genres I won’t reject it (unless it’s a crap story) but I might recommend you try the bigger boys first. They aren’t all tied to agents like the top presses.

The point of Leg Iron Books is to get new authors into print. To give them something they can put on a CV when applying to an agent. To get them noticed by the big names. It’s never going to develop into a rival for Penguin Random House. It’s a starting point. If a big publisher ever wanted to buy out an author contract I am not ever going to say ‘no’.

I don’t care what authors do in their private lives. I am not going to police their social media and I will not be impressed if other authors do that to them either. I am not going to install any kind of ‘diversity programme’ and I am not interested in re-education of any kind. I have a PhD. There is no more education I need.

An author walking out on an agent is of no consequence whatsoever. There are a hundred in the queue behind every single one of them. Every day. It is not only a pointless gesture, it is an incredibly stupid one. These four have just trashed their hard-won careers for no benefit at all. Nobody will even remember them, the agency will take on four new authors and those four ‘woke’ ones will disappear into obscurity. J.K. Rowling continues unaffected.

Still, if you are an author looking for an agent, this one has suddenly acquired four vacancies.

8 thoughts on “Career suicide

  1. No wonder the Guardian is going bust, I tried really hard to read the entire article but could not wade through all the turgid, unoriginal, repetitive tripe, gave up at ” I am gay so I know about….” yeah like I don’t.
    I can’t see Tyson Fury following their brave and bold example.

    Thanks for the link to your bookstore, I tried to find it the other day but couldn’t.

    Publishing does seem a very difficult industry to get into. I was in Video Distribution many years ago, piece of piss compared to that. Go to Cannes, buy the video rights to some C movies UK/IRL, do bit of sales and marketing, get someone like CBS Distribution to do the donkey work, you pay them they don’t care if your film is rubbish, and away you go. It was a successful company but the directors kept taking the cash to make bad movies in California.

    Radio 2 news 6am. Lancashire Police are urgently trying to identify who flew a banner over Burnley FC which said “White lives matter” Police spokesbot said ‘this is really important because it flew over just as the players were Taking The Knee on honour . . ‘.
    Like you I have no interest in white supremacy but fail to see the difference between that and thousands of signs saying BLM.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Grauniad seems to regard these authors as heroes and well, that’s all fine and dandy. But they have now, after getting taken on by a high level agent, consigned themselves to obscurity. Over a tweet.

      It would take much more than a hurty tweet to make me pack in a hard-won career.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I picked up on this one and made a similar observation. There are plenty of talented authors looking for agents. it isn’t the agent who will be losing out here. These four thought they had the whip hand and found out that they don’t. Well done to Blair for holding out and refusing to bow down to pressure.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Who cares what they think , they weren’t has beens, they were never going to be’s, hence that’s why it was in The Guardian.
    How many ordinary people who read blogs like this for example , could name one book written by any of these nonentities , before or since, I know I couldn’t! J. K. Rowling, on the other hand I could , don’t like her politics but she is a good writer and I’ve heard of her!

    Liked by 2 people

    • She’s currently a very big name in the writing world. Being with the same agency is a boost to any author. Ditching it over a tweet is just stupid.

      As I said, I don’t agree at all with Stephen King’s politics and I’ve seen him tweet some crap, but if I were to get an offer from his agent I’d jump at it. You don’t even get to ever meet the other authors in an agency so who cares what they think?

      Liked by 2 people

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