Will Book Publishing Become More Regionalized?

Over at The Gods are Bored, there’s a guest post from Margot Berwin talking about her debut novel. It sounds really interesting. But we are not talking about books! No, we are talking about publishing.  Ha ha ha.

Anyway, she has some suggestions about how to get published:

1.      Get published in smaller venues first. I went right for the big novel but I might have gotten published sooner if I’d had some smaller pieces out there. Getting published in journals or magazines, literary or otherwise, online or off, lets editors and agents know that you have an audience and that someone else believed in you enough to publish you. They love this.
2.      I really hate this one but it works. If at all possible, get an MFA. While it’s true that no one can teach you to write, editors use this degree as a weeding out process. They’ll say they don’t, but they do. They get so many manuscripts; they have to separate them out in some way, and having an agent plus an MFA and a few published short stories, really helps. On another note, people in MFA programs become very close. They share information. Three people in my class of twelve have the same agent and two are being published at Random House. It’s a place for serious networking that actually works.
3.      Go to readings. Read your work at readings. Network at readings. Being on the shy side, I never read out-loud. I was the only person in my class who skipped the reading portion of the MFA graduation. When I finally got published and Random House called me to tell me they were sending me on an 18-city book tour, I acted excited and then immediately got a prescription for beta-blockers. It was terrifying and I wish I’d practiced all along. And besides, I met my agent at a reading for Amy Hempel and he’s since signed two of my MFA classmates.

I want to walk a tricky rope here because I want to say that I believe that what Berwin is saying is true. I also want to say that, if it is true, it’s really depressing. About the only thing available to all writers, regardless of local, is the first one. You can, indeed, submit your writing places.

But getting an MFA? In this economy? With book publishing being where it is? That’s a lot of debt to acquire without a guarantee of a job or a book contract (even if it does make a book contract much more likely). And what about people who can’t just pick up their lives and move to a place that offers MFAs? How do they get access to networks and such?

Or going to readings? What if you don’t live in a place that has book readings?

I mean, in some ways, a good chunk of her advice can be summed up in “live in New York City.” Which, again, is fine and is probably true.

But it makes me wonder, as publishing shakes out how it will, will it become more regionalized? I mean, it’s funny, if you think about it. If you or I write a book about Nashville, that’s considered regional and not having a very big market, of interest to people only in Nashville and the surrounding areas. But if someone writes a book set in New York City, it is 75% of the time not considered a regional book (though it is interesting to think about the lines that demarcate a “regional” NYC book from one that isn’t. Outside the scope of my point, but I’m trying hard to not get distracted by it.), but a book that has wide appeal.

It makes sense. No one lives in a place and constantly thinks “oh, how quaint and unique!” Even if you do think those things at first, eventually, it just becomes the place you live. And the experiences you have there start to feel like universal experiences. So, of course, you think about books about the place you live as being kind of universal.

I think these things are understandable. But as we break down into a more boutique world, I wonder if we’ll see the rise of more regional publishing.

I don’t know. Just something I wonder about. If folks perceive that their stories about places other than NYC are going to be at a disadvantage with NYC publishers, will they look for other options? Will they make other options?

I don’t know. But I’m watching.

12 thoughts on “Will Book Publishing Become More Regionalized?

  1. So I’m looking at the NY times best seller lists for hardcover fiction, paperback trade fiction, and mass market paperback fiction, and I see books set in Scandinavia, Georgia, Mexico, Ethiopia, Florida, all over the place, but no NY-centric bias. Then I figured, no, you meant literary fiction. So I checked out the National Book Awards finalists for last year. Siberia, Punjab — no noticeable NY locale bias there, either. Pulitzer Prize fiction finalists? Nope.

    So, ya know. I think networking is probably a whole lot easier in NYC or Iowas City (or other places where there’s a nationally known writers workshop like that) than in Nashville. But I don’t see American fiction generally needing to take New York as a subject, or even as a briefly glimpsed location.

  2. I’m going to have to spam that, especially since it’s a wordpress.com blog and WordPress.com is great about coming down on spammers with both feet once they learn about them (which they will once I report it).

    But whoa that made me laugh. Your comment wasn’t even up for an hour before someone stole it and tried to get hits with it.

    It’s like plagiarizing for profit!

  3. I find more and more as I read “Advice For Getting Yourself Published” from different authors* that about 80% of them boil down to “Do What I Did!”

    A lot of times that isn’t so bad, when “what I did” was something fairly accessible, like ‘read a lot’ or ‘write everyday’ or ‘become part of a writers’ group’.

    But when WID is stuff like “Go To Princeton” and “Have a parent with a connection in publishing” [both Jennifer Weiner] “Get discovered writing book reviews on Amazon” [Eric Wilson] “Publish your first book with a smaller literary press where you have friends” [River Jordan] it becomes more and more obvious that getting published really boils down to three things: a halfway decent manuscript, a bit of luck, and a lot of determination.

    Nashville is a very good city to make writing connections, provided you want to write about Christian -themed stories.

    We’ve got several very good writers’ groups here, many of which i’m too shy or disabled to attend. But we don’t have “readings” unless you count Reading To Other Authors. Which I suppose you might, if you are talking about making connections.

    I do think, though, that regionalised publishing and niche publishing is going to become bigger. It’s sort of like what happened to Medicine in the 20th Century. It will get both bigger and smaller. There will be more access to it as more specialists (smaller niche houses) open up practice but you won’t get full service from one publisher anymore. Publishers will stop making house calls as it were. :) You can already see the death of the housecall publsher–yes, I’m stretching this analogy–in the way that they’ve pulled back from editing and other formerly basic publisher duties.

    Every house that seems to be having marginal success is either a small house with a very specific market, such as Southern Fiction or an imprint of a larger house that deals in very specialised genre fiction or sensationalised non-fiction.

    *these have replaced “I lost 100 pounds!!!” stories for me as motivational/make yourself feel like crap reading

  4. Coble, I do think it is about working hard and being lucky. We wish there was some prescripitive thing you could to that would assure success–just follow steps A through F and you will find fame and fortune!

    But it’s not like that.

  5. B won the internets today with that 11:50 post.

    Also, Every house that seems to be having marginal success is either a small house with a very specific market, such as Southern Fiction or an imprint of a larger house that deals in very specialised genre fiction or sensationalised non-fiction is a good reminder that there are ways other than regionally to create niches. I hate nichefication, actually, but it just may save publishing until we can start having a general conversation again.

  6. I think “We wish there was some prescripitive thing you could to that would assure success–just follow steps A through F and you will find fame and fortune!” applies to any discipline. Unfortunately, usually “But it’s not like that.” is applicable as well.

  7. Dolphin, of course there’s a list of things to do:
    1) write book
    2) ?? figure something out
    3) fame and fortune!

  8. When you are still stuck on 1, even though–oddly enough–you have plenty of interest from agents and publishing houses and good contacts at both it’s kind of odd.

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