The Main Premise of Star Wars – A Hard Sell to New York

I recently read a literary agent’s page wherein they commented on the sameness of the YA dystopia queries they were receiving. Specifically, this agent received a large number of manuscripts where the protagonist is an assassin protecting their family.

Of course, authors submitting manuscripts to agents are also mindful of the marketing whims of major publishing houses. The implication here is that over two dozen authors all came to a “realization” that a YA assassin protagonist protecting her family would be a good foundation for a solid story, and a “safe bet” to market to agents and the Big Five publishers.

My reply comment suggested that the best, most tense foundation for a story would actually be a teenage protagonist battling a dystopia controlled by her close family member(s). One of my “fan theories” about the Hunger Games trilogy is that President Snow may be Katniss Everdeen’s secret grandfather. He banishes his son to District 12 and later has him killed. In a case of perfect karma, that son’s daughter ends up being the leader of the rebellion against Snow’s regime.

I further commented that this specific plot might be a “hard sell” to the Big Five, as evidenced by the agent’s mass of querying authors taking a (literally) more family-friendly route.

The “hard sell” plot = A young protagonist ends up leading a large-scale rebellion against a regime controlled by a close family member their senior.

Q: Would such a plot work?

A: “Star Wars”

That’s right, the basic premise of the original Star Wars Trilogy is now something the pack of querying YA dystopia authors has ruled out, as being too hard to sell to the major New York publishing houses. 😈

The Rejection Window, Part II

Back in October 2011, I wrote “The Rejection Window“, a treatise about the big publishing industry’s future.

The rejection window is the length of time an author will keep submitting and revising their unpublished manuscript to agents and large traditional publishing houses.

What will define the future of the major publishing industry is the length of time for which the authors who do still submit manuscripts to agents and publishers will keep their rejection windows open.

The Big Five’s traditional position of strength, even as Amazon KDP and Smashwords were building their e-book empires, was that the major publishers got the first shot at the “quality” pre-published manuscripts. In other words, prospective authors submitted their queries to the major houses first, then they would pursue alternatives after the Big Five’s rejection of their work. I know this very well, for I was one of those authors. 😉

Of course, even back in 2011…

Some authors are already slamming the rejection window completely shut. They aren’t even bothering to submit their manuscripts to agents and publishers. These authors upload an eBook the moment it’s finished.

Their numbers now include many former Big Five mid-list authors (such as Joe Konrath) who are now making more money from e-books than they ever did when they wrote for the major publishing houses.
These romance writers ditched their publishers for ebooks — and made millions

(if only people gobbled up like sci-fi like they do romance… *sigh* 😉 )

2011:

The sea change I predict is: If the traditional industry rejects a first-time submission, they’ll never “sea” it again. 😉 In other words, if the publisher said “We love your story, but we want you to re-write one of your characters,” few if any authors would bother with such re-writing.

By then, the majority of authors will be likely to e-publish their manuscripts immediately after the major publishing industry’s first rejection. Revisions of manuscripts just to fit the ever-changing whims of agents and large traditional publishing houses will increasingly be seen as a waste of time and effort.

This one didn’t take five years to come true. Even the relative few authors left who won’t settle for anything “less” than being published on the Big Five will most likely start working on a new story they think will be more to the agents’ and publishers’ liking, rather than revising any existing stories. Any authors still patient enough to slog through the old-line process of querying agents before they do anything else, would also be willing to devote the keyboard hours necessary to charm their would-be masters with a story hewing as close to Big Five “formula” as possible.

Back here in the real world, the situation is now evolving beyond “the Big Five will never see the manuscript again”, to “they’ll never even see the author again.” Authors’ prose tends to improve along the lines of the “ten thousand hours of writing” rule. Years ago, if an author’s first “green” submission to the Big Five was mediocre, this was not an important factor. The author would take the rejection in stride, then query their newer and better works, until one of those works was of sufficient quality to pass muster. This archaic process was called “author development.” 😉

Now, the “newbie” author, whose first work has been rejected by the Big Five, is much more likely to head straight for the “greener” fields of Amazon KDP and Smashwords, taking all of their future works with them. Their better future works. Thus, the Big Five lose the author’s “dynamite” second or third novel, and the author is able to sell the e-books of their first work while they wile away their typing hours on the better work they had inside them all along..

Another big problem the Big Five now has, that I did not foresee in 2011, is of their own making: The narrowing of categories that they will even consider for publication. I recently read an interview with a Big Five editor where he spelled out what categories were being considered by his company, and those that were not. The shocker was that over two-thirds of the titles issued by my publisher, PDMI Publishing, LLC, are in categories his large company was no longer accepting submissions in! PDMI is, of course, reveling in the opportunities presenting themselves, now that entire categories of books are essentially being handed to them on a silver platter. PDMI was even forced to cancel their most recent open submissions period, due to the overwhelming number of manuscripts awaiting review in the system. The irony of this situation is not lost on me. 😈 When the potential exists to build a fairly large publishing operation simply by publishing books in categories that the Big Five are rejecting, something in the major houses’ system is obviously broken.

And that “something” would be their formulas. So we now have a few authors still trying to hew to the Big Five’s formulas, even as top-selling e-books continuously disprove the validity of these same formulas. And, to be fair, could anyone in New York have predicted the commercial success of the Fifty Shades trilogy? The same series Random House turned to for a quick and easy cash grab, because none of their “formula” books were selling as much as Fifty Shades?

Now, I ask you, what happens if you are a pre-published author, and someone in the Big Five thinks you should change your book to suit their formulas? Think of Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey, who got their Big Five contracts precisely by proving they didn’t need them. Hocking and Howey would almost certainly still be “not-yet-published” if they had waited for the Big Five to accept them through the age-old traditional vetting system. Hocking and Howey didn’t meet the Big Five formulas, and (better yet!) they still don’t, contracts notwithstanding. 😈

2011:

The more this happens, the stronger the case will be for major traditional publishers to accept novels they would have rejected before. The old business model of waiting for the author to re-write a rejected manuscript over and over again will no longer work. This is when the wall of large traditional publishing house formulas will at first start to crack, then finally crumble under the increasing pressure of the marketplace’s realities. The large traditional publishing houses will have to evolve, or die alongside their old business models.

Hocking, Howey, E.L. James et al have backed the Big Five into a corner, and forced them to publish novels that would not have passed the traditional vetting system. In the case of Amanda Hocking, they were also forced to publish several works they had rejected previously. The Big Five still lack the intestinal fortitude and vision to break out of the “formula” pattern on their own, ensuring more cracks will permeate their walls. So far, they have only “evolved” when forced to, resorting to base tricks such as suckling on the revenue streams of Fifty Shades, just for a quick infusion of life support. The day will come, however, when the Big Five approach a best-selling author, and said author will want nothing to do with them, no matter how much money they offer.

Kristen Lamb: Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World