Who Takes the Risk?
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We’ve had a lot of talk on this blog about publishers and bookstores wanting “more of the same” rather than unique and original books. It’s a tough topic, because in all media—television, movies, books—nobody ever knows what’s going to sell in the future. All we have to go on is what sold in the past. When we branch outside of a “sure thing” it’s always a risk. Sometimes it ends up to be a huge success, even paving the way for entire new genres or styles to emerge and become popular. More often, the risk doesn’t pay off financially. Still, that doesn’t stop publishers, TV producers and moviemakers from trying. There are always new things coming along, at the same time as there are always plenty of copycat sure things.
An important thing to remember is that, if you’ve got something that’s not cookie-cutter, it’s a risk to put it out there and see if people bite. Are you expecting others (publishers) to share that risk with you? Why should they? If you’re unproven, it might be unrealistic to expect a publisher to share the risk. Just like movie directors who want to make “art films” have to go independent and they don’t expect the major studios to share that risk with them… sometimes an author needs to go independent and self-publish first.
Some directors do so well with their artsy films that eventually they are directing huge blockbusters for major studios. Steven Soderbergh comes to mind. He started off in the ‘80s producing and directing little independent films. He became famous in 1989 with “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” and went on to win a few Oscars and direct major films like “Ocean’s Eleven.” But he started out independently, taking the risk on his own shoulders, and letting his work find its audience.
Similarly, William P. Young, author of The Shack, knew he had a unique book with an important message. But his book was just different enough that the big publishers found it too much of a risk. So he took the risk on himself and published it independently. Obviously, it paid off well for him, and his experience is not the rule, it’s an exception. But my point is that a book like this was risky; so the smart thing for the author to do was to take the risk on himself, rather than expecting others to share the risk, until such a time as it became clear it was no longer risky but instead a sure thing.
It’s important to remember that when you’re sending your manuscript out to agents and publishers, you’re saying to them: “Will you take a chance on me? Will you share the risk with me?” You’ve put in your time and effort (blood, sweat and tears… well, hopefully no blood). But you’re asking the publisher to spend tens of thousands of dollars on you. That’s a big risk. Take it into account and understand that there’s a lot on the line when a publisher makes the momentous decision to say “yes” to you and your book.
I hear a lot of authors bemoaning the publishing industry’s supposed lack of interest in original manuscripts. Each of these authors seems SURE that their own book is unique, amazing, totally new and different.. and that everyone will love it. If that’s you, and you aren’t finding any agents or editors interested, and you’re really so sure your book will sell, then consider taking the risk on your own shoulders. Publish your book yourself—there are so many easy ways to do it nowadays. And market it yourself, of course. No matter what happens, you’ll learn a lot from the experience. If you’re right about the value and appeal of your book, then you just might sell some copies, too.
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.