While agents and publishers accept book proposals because they contain a number of specific things they like, most book proposals are turned down because of a general reason.
For example, refer to the “Who We Are,” section of this website. Each agent has a set of filters we use to focus our efforts. The filters reflect our strengths and/or personal preferences. Outside of these, we decline.
Publishers also have standards for book proposals they don’t consider. If something appears outside of their stated filters, it won’t even be read and considered regardless of the author’s ability, platform, or anything else. It simply isn’t the type of book they want to publish.
I don’t know what the actual percentage is, but my guess is a high percentage of decisions by agents and publishers are based on general principles, rather than on the details of a specific proposal. For instance:
“I represented a book like this before, and it didn’t sell.”
“We published a book like this before, and it didn’t sell.”
“We already have a book like this.”
Generalities govern more than agents and publishers.
In general, Christian books sell less than non-Christian books. It makes sense, since the majority of people in the world are not Christians.
Overall, women buy and read more Christian books than men, so books written for women sell better than those for men.
In general, publishing decisions are made by people who have a profound interest in books, love well-written projects, and are relatively difficult to please.
In general, publishers generate a substantial majority of their revenue from a relatively small number of projects they publish. You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule? In publishing, it is probably closer to 80/5, where 80% of publisher revenues come from 5% of their products.
In general, few books succeed in a dramatic way. According to Bookstat, 2.6 million different books sold online in 2020; and only 268 of them sold more than 100,000 copies, which is .01% or one for every 10,000 books.
In general, books sell more in their first year and decline in sales afterward.
In general, traditionally published books sell better than author-published books.
The life of an author is governed by a series of generalities as well.
In general, those who work harder and longer to develop their writing will see more success than an author who doesn’t work at it as diligently.
In general, those who work to develop a platform to promote their books do better than those who do not.
In general, a small percentage of authors become financially successful writing books.
I am fighting the temptation to focus on the exceptions to the “rules” and generalities that seem to govern so much of book publishing.
Sure, there are writers who come from nowhere and succeed. Their first book hits the top, and it’s a wild ride from there. But when you consider the thousands upon thousands of books published every year in the US Christian publishing industry, focusing on the three or six or ten that defied the odds isn’t something on which to build a stable career or company.
Maybe consider exceptions as an example of serendipities that pop up everywhere in the life of a Christian, allowed by God to remind all of us He is still there and active. Generally speaking, of course.
In general, the sonnet’s not
a much sought-after form of art,
but it is the best I’ve got
that can reach a specific heart.
In general, my words will fade,
and fall unnoticed on the way,
but I earn my passing grade
with “This really touched my soul today.”
In general, I cannot think
of myself as born to write,
but is this cup from which I drink
in these still watches of the night
of verse that runs from heart to hand
that which God has formed, and planned?
Great insights, Dan. Hope you are well.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Good things to remember as we chat with publishing pros at conferences this summer. Thank you, Dan.
Generally discouraging, but excites my determination.
Thank you. the 80/5 cleared a few things up, but important things. I realize that in our time, profitability has sunk to a low never before seen, but wow! As always, yours in Christ. Walk in beauty
S. H. Grant
I am relatively new to Steve Laube and the website. I am unpublished writer in book form but have a book I have written over years of hard work and prayerful study that am trying to publish, and among others, I have submitted it to Steve and begun following his site. I must be honest, when I have time to read the blog post and ‘lessons’, I come away with mixed feelings as both and author and a Christian fan of Christian writing. On this particular blog entry, as in others, I ask; what are you(we) trying to do? Is this meant to be positive? Are we hopeful and helpful and raising up or making the aspiring author better or more inspired. Does anyone really come in so arrogant overly self confident as to think publishing and earning a living as a writer is easy or guaranteed. Before you answer Yes often, I ask you, by always defending against this, even if you see these examples of those naive or foolish enough to thinks this way, it seems the cautionary tale is perhaps an overworked and slightly jaded agent/publisher is a an old a quickly tiring theme. Can you not, simply dump the submittal and spare us who are trying to learn and follow our raw talents to something worth reading without what feels like only slightly pulled punches? I just walked into your store to chat and maybe barter for a trade— something I have you might want for a fair price, or a chance to use your storefront to hawk my wares and a percentage of my sales or I walk away with (I think) little skin off your nose. I get it, don’t get my hopes up. I get it odds are long. Can I just say after a career fighting the forces of evil head on, God doesn’t care about the long odds. He cares about us and our faithfulness. To all the young and impressionable writers that are perhaps reading and quite frankly disheartened, as I seem to be when reading this words (Again!), I can say only this. I have walked the valley of the shadow of death and God said fear no evil. If God is leading you to write then write. Even If it is only published on your home computer, on your eyelids when you lie down at night, reflected on the windscreen of the old car as you travel life’s highways lost in thought; You also write on your Father’s heart as you follow the path home to Him. Perhaps ‘they’ will never publish it, I don’t know, but God does, and in the end, that’s the only agent or publisher whose opinion I truly value.
Thanks for the note. I suppose there’s a fine line between communicating the need to enter into something with eyes wide open, aware how things work, and what to expect, and discouraging someone.
I think the more you read past (and future) articles from all of us here, you will get a much more rounded idea of the true heart of this agency and this part of book publishing.
A realistic perspective is a good starting point, but so would optimism and sense of mission.
Stick with it.
Samuel H. Grant
Copy all, BTW, just got the dreaded note in the mail of rejection from Steve. Prayerfully hoping I can press on without you and make you come to regret it.
Jan Rogers Wimberley
I do like the reality of your post. But I may still submit something to you Dan!
Thank you. This article was very helpful to me.
Not all news is good news or even “feel good” news.
I’ve jokingly been called the “Harbinger of Grim Reality.” But I say it is always accompanied by a tincture of hope.
Debut authors CAN get published in fiction and non-fiction. Happens every year.
We have over 50 posts in our blog archives tagged as “inspirational.”
Here’s one if you that is what you are looking for today: