I’ve just finished preparing a proposal for a novel. Using the guidelines provided by an agent I created a ten page document (along with 3 chapters) to “sell” the book. Things have come a long way since I first submitted a novel fifteen years ago. Back then agents and editors wanted a cover letter and the first few chapters. What’s changed?
The publishing industry is evolving. A decade ago you could still occasionally query a publisher directly with a submission for fiction. Now it’s almost impossible. Publishers only want to look at submissions from agents. So, the monkey is on their back. To keep their relationship and reputation right with publishers, agents want to make sure the books they suggest are targeted, well written and from a writer who means business.
Thus, the proposal for a novel is now similar to that of a non-fiction book. (For many years, the standard for submitting a non-fiction book has been the proposal document consisting of lots of marketing information. )
I went through the hoops and prepared the 10 page sales document for the agent. But I’m troubled. I know that most publishers are now part of big conglomerates – and they watch the bottom line like a hawk. Because of that, they want to be extra careful where they put their resources. But we know from Hollywood that the creation of clone products (which corporations’ find safe) is not a great stimulus for creativity.
There is a great story about Walt Disney. When his short film about the Three Little Pigs became popular, people clamored “Give us more pigs.” He refused to make a “follow up” film. When Snow White was a hit he didn’t do a sequel – he did Pinocchio instead. When other animators reused film in scenes (such as a chase scene) Walt insisted that no portion of his films be repeated. This kind of insistence on newness and creativity could only have been demanded by a person with Walt’s power. (Notice that Disney now does sequels of even mediocre successes.)
What does this mean to the writer? Is creativity out the window? Perhaps not. First of all, you can still find avenues of creativity in the safe projects corporations want to do – if you are creative about it. Secondly, there are other ways to “publish” now – although typically not very lucrative. Some blogs ago I wrote about the cell phone novel in Japan – millions of novels written (mostly by teens) on cell phones and uploaded to the Internet. Some were good enough to make it into print – and became best sellers.
Perhaps that’s where creativity will come from in the next generation of fiction – eBooks. Some will rise to the top and be successful enough that the big corporations will publish them – and if they are a new genre or introduce some innovative way to tell a story – then it will open up the mainstream for something new. Who knows…