Monday, March 09, 2009

Is Anyone Even Out There Reading?

Question of the day: Recently on the Dystel & Goderich blog there was a post that bemoaned the fact that agents are having a difficult time getting editors to read their submissions. I'm wondering if other agents are finding this also. Excerpt from DG blog: "Has EVERYBODY stopped reading? This last week a senior editor at a major publishing house received a proposal from us and rather than read it at all, she simply looked up other books in the category and decided that since they hadn’t sold, it wasn’t even worth reading one word of this author’s work. In another, rather shocking instance, a publisher of a very good house turned down material I had submitted saying that the fiction market was extremely difficult these days. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the note – the material I had submitted clearly stated that it was a memoir."

Well, I'm not an agent, but I do chat with my agent regularly, and from what I can tell, it's not that people have stopped reading, it's that acquiring has certainly slowed down, and thus, unless an editor really believes that what he/she is about to take a look at is really going to be worth her time, she's not going to devote said time to it.

One thing that is definitely happening right now, given slow book sales and the whole gloom and doom economy is that fewer books are getting bought and those books that ARE getting bought are selling for a whole lot less than they would have a year ago. I definitely even saw this when we sold The Happiest Days of My Life. Yeah, I got a very nice-sized advance, and trust me, I'm not complaining, but numerous parties involved noted that in a different environment, it would have been an even nicer-sized advance. But again, I'm not complaining. I'm happy to have had a healthy offer and a guarantee of a published book than nothing else, and yeah, these days, plenty of authors who would otherwise have a shot aren't getting them.

So are editors reading less? I'm sure. Because they're buying less. That's the real root of the problem here. Sort of like how in better times, I'd immediately open shopping emails (i.e, J. Crew) in my inbox just to see if there might be something that catches my eye. Now? I rarely bother because I'm not going to spend the money on something that I really don't need.

That said, I'm sorry that you got that "fiction" rejection for your memoir. That does feel sloppy and dismissive, but regardless, it's a "no" all the same, and I'd just try to forget about it. I don't know, maybe it's better to hold off on submissions until things are on the upswing? What do you guys think?


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Two years ago, I had an agent tell me that books about rock stars don't sell. Period. That was the whole entire problem with my project.

This isn't a new thing going on. It's just new that people are talking about it and acknowledging it.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the follow up. I posted this question--but to be clear it was an AGENT from Dystel that made the comments I quoted... beginning with "has everybody stopped reading?" and everything that follows that.

I wondered if other agents are coming up against this, which you pretty much answered but I wanted to clarify.


JCK said...

I can understand the publishing houses looking at less books during these difficult times, yet from a consumer's point of view I also think there is a hunger right now for reading good fiction and memoirs for pure escapism.

Anonymous said...

I firmly believe that books are still going to sell (to the public), and that agents and publishers will become more optimistic as they see this happening. Vacations and luxury items, no -- books, yes. It's the cheapest form of entertainment around, by the hour, and reading is also a mini-vacation. If I had something ready to submit, I might ask my agent to wait a couple of months, but not too much longer. What I would do is use that time to get extra reads, and put the manuscript away for a few weeks and come to it with a fresh editing eye, and gear up marketing tools like websites/blogs, and THEN submit. Make the submission as strong as possible, in other words. But I see deals happening every day on PM -- even debuts.

Anonymous said...

If you hold off on submitting, are you doing your client a favor?

Because obviously some people are still buying, or the deals wouldn't be showing up in PM. And those that aren't buying this week (or this month) will begin to buy next month, otherwise they aren't in publishing anyway. To stay in the game, you have to fill the pipeline.

I would think that if a manuscript didnt' sell Month A to Editors !, 2 3, that same manuscript could be submitted in Month B to Editors 4, 5, 6 who were sitting out the game in Month B.

Agents, please enlighten....

Anonymous said...

Tempted to give up completely, crawl under a small rock and die quietly.......there again I think the phrase 'it's the economy stupid!' may be a better match.

Anonymous said...

Coming from a computer development background, I've learned that when there's a bug in the program to check EVERYTHING because the problem might lie where you least expect it.

One question I've been thinking about lately is that, has anyone every thought that maybe reading in America is down because agents and editors aren't publishing what America wants to read?

In tough times, people tend to travel less, sure, but other entertainment expenses seem to hold steady or pick up. Certainly, movies and music don't seem to be suffering.

Just a thought...maybe the tastes of agents and editors are more, say, cultured, than the typical American. Sort of like, the movies that the Academy tends to award are usually (though not always) the movies the general public doesn't want to see.