To say that the world of publishing has changed radically over the last few years would be an understatement worthy of a Monty Python sketch
That’s particularly true when it comes to fiction.
Take a friend of mine, Payne Harrison, for example. I first met him at a book signing after he’d sold his first novel, a thriller called “Storming Intrepid,” to Crown for a nice, tidy sum after mailing the manuscript in to one of their editors totally blind.
Then he sold the movie rights for an even tidier sum, and would up with a genuine New York Times bestseller.
Flash forward a few years to 2004, when I finally scored my first sale for a sci-fi thriller called “Hammerjack,” for which my agent cunningly secured two bids, both from major publishers, and got me a nice advance.
Sadly, those days are no more.
The odds of you scoring big advance money as a first-timer are slim and none (with the occasional exception, much to the chagrin of we mere mortals). Moreover, the publishing landscape has changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable.
First Time’s the Charm
When “Hammerjack” first hit the bookstores, self-publishing was expensive and a gamble. On-demand publishing didn’t even exist. And eBooks were in their infancy, what with Kindles and iPads still a ways off on the horizon.
With so much disruption going on at the same time, the big houses merged, international conglomerates took more control, Amazon became a publisher in addition to being a bookseller, and many editors found themselves out of a job or going the freelance route. So sure, you can still get discovered as a new writer—but if it happens, it almost always happens on the cheap.
Which brings us to the other big change in publishing: namely, the advancement of woke culture.
Like Hollywood, the people who run that industry lean pretty hard to the left, which can put a damper on what’s considered marketable. The controversy that publishers eagerly courted not so long ago now makes certain subjects untouchable—which, as I discovered the hard way, had had a serious impact on a genre I’ve loved for decades: the political thriller.
When I finished the first draft of my latest book, “Candidate Z,” I anxiously sent it off to my agent with high hopes. It was my first full-length novel in several years, and dealt with a Silicon Valley tech billionaire who is running for president while a mysterious cabal of Washington insiders tries to derail his candidacy—even if it means killing him.
Given the political climate in the country, I thought it made for a pretty hot story—and with a subplot involving a beautiful Chinese spy, it even turned out to be prescient (Fang Fang, anyone?).
So you can imagine my shock and disappointment when my agent demurred, telling me that while she liked the book and that I had done a great job writing it, the story just wasn’t something she could sell in this market.
The New Abnormal
Packing in my disappointment, I couldn’t help but wonder how the market had reached this point. After all, Tom Clancy had turned political thrillers into an industry.
What about the likes of Nelson DeMille, Ken Follett, John le Carré and dozens of other authors who had gotten famous (not to mention rich) off the genre? Besides that, while I set “Candidate Z” in the world of politics, I took great care to make certain that the story wasn’t overly political.
I didn’t want to bore the reader with polemical lectures, opting instead to allow everyone to make up their own minds about the characters and the issues presented in the story. Had the country really become so politicized that there was no more room left in fiction for politics?
I didn’t believe that for a moment.
Accordingly, I ended up putting “Candidate Z” on Amazon myself—which admittedly felt a little strange at first, after having gone the traditional route for three other books.
I had to edit it myself (which, thankfully, I’ve had a lot of practice doing), taking suggestions from friends about the story and how to tighten it up. I designed a cover, which I hired a talented artist to render. Heck, I even wrote the blurb on the back jacket myself, doing my darndest to not sound like some cheesy trailer from a straight-to-video thriller.
The Benefits of DIY Publishing
All in all, it turned out to be a pretty amazing experience—and an educational one. When you have to be your own agent, editor, graphic designer and publicist, you learn a few things along the way.
The result has been fun. “Candidate Z” hasn’t been a runaway bestseller—but, to my gratification, it’s getting some pretty steady reading on Kindle Unlimited. If that sounds like your kind of thing, perhaps you would consider spending a little time in the world I created.
You’ll find it familiar, not so different from our own—which may even scare you a little, as you realize the conspiracy is much more than a theory. It’s happening right here, right now. . .even if we haven’t realized it yet.
Marc D. Giller is an information systems analyst and the author of the high-tech thrillers “Hammerjack,” “Prodigal” and “Candidate Z,” plus the STAR TREK novella “Revenant,” which appears in the anthology “Seven Deadly Sins.”