This post by Tejas Desai originally appeared on Publishing Perspectives on 6/26/14.
Much bluster has been made recently in the media regarding the Amazon-Hachette dispute, with multimillionaire authors, agents and self-published writers, among others, weighing in. Most have condemned Amazon for its bullying tactics in negotiations with publishers while self-published authors like Barry Eisler and J. A. Konrath have defended it for democratizing the field. Much of the rhetoric has involved terms like “sales figures” “copies sold” “promotional fees” and “marketing development.” Very little of the conversation has been about the more important issue of the current state of narrative and where literature is headed.
I published both my books, The Brotherhood (2012) and Good Americans (2013), through my own company The New Wei, after being frustrated with the traditional industry and the type of literature it was producing. I found most literary books I read to be bland in content and only passable in style. They often seemed to have some non-fiction market angle that hoped to sell the book and justified the authors getting teaching jobs and never publishing future books. Yet all of these books were acclaimed by major critics, newspapers, magazines, publications and writers, which caused me to question their impartiality, or at least their taste.
As someone who worked at a literary agency for years, I already knew how random publication tended to be and how difficult it was to sell a book. Most books never sold and those that did rarely earned out their advances. The contract terms were absurdly tilted toward the publishers and authors didn’t have much say in presentation or marketing. Most authors never got agents, and it had little to do with quality. Usually, it was just luck. Still I continued to have some faith in the industry even as I left it, became a professional librarian, received a MFA, wrote and rewrote my works. And while I received initial interest from several agents, I never got one. Even the independent publishers rejected it. All their stated reasons were different.