The Things I Have Learned About the Literary Market

Picture taken from this site.

What could be done by aspiring authors, trying to get their work published in a traditional way (I mean: without paying for it)?

I intend to write here primarily on the issue of unagented submissions, but my reflections would have also some validity in the case of search for an agent.

There are three key points: hard work, persistence, and caution.

Hard work 

The ultimate goal is a well readable, elegant, interesting text (not only for the one who wrote it), without errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, style, and plot – anyway, this would be an ideal situation.

Polishing a text by an author is most fruitful when efforts are quite proportional to the results. Nevertheless, this is often the case only at the beginning, but at some point, efficiency starts to diminish. The author won`t be able to see many of his/her errors. That`s why beta readers` feedback (at least two of them) is essential before submitting.


The chances of signing a publishing agreement are only about 1/500, when traditional publishers are considered separately. And this step is just the beginning. Great commercial success of an already published book (I mean at least 1 million copies sold) is far less probable for aspiring authors. Statistically, it would be only slightly more likely than to be killed by a meteorite. Fortunately (or not), this business is not a lottery.

Many people believe that (1) if an author has a good text, she or he would find a traditional publisher, sooner or later. When this sentence is treated like a dogma, it could be detrimental to many beginning authors.

Usually (1) is true, but sometimes books are very controversial or are targeted at a tiny group of readers, so authors give up their battle and/or seek alternative ways.

Even if (1) were always true, it would not mean that all books of authors who self-published or published with a vanity press, are without worth. Nevertheless, many people are eager to draw this unfair conclusion.


Publishers are primarily business persons, they need something they could sell well. A publisher would be ready to invest time, work, and money in professional editing, proofreading, and marketing only when she or he expects that a book might become successful. The problem is that the relation between quality of a text and the market value of it, is rather vague.

It would be far easier to publish a book for example about unusual sexual practices of famous actors than about two ordinary people simply talking while sitting on the sofa, but the better is a text, the greater are chances of publishing it in a traditional way.

Publishers could make a profit either on authors or on readers.

Bearing this in mind, I avoid people:

from the first group, because they are simply often scam artists, and usually do not care for quality and distribution of their “products”; they merely take advantage of the fact that many authors are enthiusiastic enough about their own works to pay publisher`s fee;

having unprofessional websites, and/or poor, ugly book covers, because it is an important warning; this means often that the quality of work is not especially important to a publisher;

making promises of success, for they usually play on authors` emotions, trying to allure possible clients by the testimonials, and photos of happy authors; this is the author who acts here as a petitioner, not a publisher, because reliable publishers have many more good proposals than possibilities to realize them, besides, they would not promise anything in regarding to sales, especially to a beginning author – far less even before seeing the text;

informing that some of their authors have to pay in order to have their works published, while others (the best) are published in a traditional way, because in practice in almost all cases it means that authors would be charged a fee; these are just vanity presses in disguise;

declaring that they divide the costs between a publisher and an author (so-called subsidy publishers), because in almost all cases an author would pay all the (usually inflated) costs;

informing that they publish books by mostly new, unrecognized authors, because it`s virtually impossible to make a living from it. They are also usually vanity presses in disguise.

Sometimes publishers promise that they do not charge a fee, nonetheless, they expect authors to buy their own books. This is also a kind of vanity press, often hard to detect at first.

And when hard work, persistence, and caution is not enough to become a published author by a reputable company, it`s high time to seriously consider the bitter possibility that the author doesn`t have writing talent. This wouldn`t be a tragedy at all.

I`m looking for a Publisher: an Important Update

Picture taken from the blog: boy with a hat.

I described my situation in one of the previous posts.

My novel, A World Likely to Happen, is being edited by Michael J. McFadden, an American author (he published the books: Dissecting Antismokers` Brains, and TobakkoNacht. The Antismoking Endgame). Here are the covers.

I would sincerely like to thank Paulina Trudzik for her amazing translation job and Michael who is doing astonishing work as a native editor.

As we are heading towards the end, I would like to write down some reflections on the art of translation:

The method for preparing the final version when the translator`s native language is the same as the author`s, and then the text is edited by a skilled native speaker, works very well in this case.

I think, there is no such thing as the only right translation (especially of a book), it could be rather the very large set of the equally or almost equally good versions.

This thesis might seem somewhat controversial, but I think that in many fragments some other words and expressions could be used with just the same good effect.

I had a possibility to participate in the whole process of translation and edition, so I do consider the English text rather the other version of my novel than just a translation, especially in case when essential changes were made, i.a. in the prologue. I would not give the priority neither to the Polish text nor to the English one.

I`m Looking for a Publisher

My American publisher will cease to operate in the present form, so I have to find another editor for my novel:  A World Likely to Happen. I`ve got my copyright back.

The main goal of this work is the popularization of philosophy and history of philosophy. Its genre would be close to science fantasy. Sometimes the novel is compared with the Sophie`s World, but I think, this is an exaggeration, for the plot of my text is essentially different from that of J. Gaardner`s book.

Philip and Julia, the main characters of my novel – they are both 20-year-old – travel back in time, and discuss with chosen great philosophers: St. Augustine, R. Descartes, Adi Shankara, and with an adherent of R. Dawkins.

The work is rather short (about 49 700 words). It has been translated by Paulina Trudzik. I have closely cooperated with the translator, so I consider the text rather as the English version of my novel than just a translation.

The book was published in Polish, entitled Jeden z możliwych światów (Attyka, Warszawa 2013). It received several good, even enthusiastic reviews. I have also a nice review in one of the Polish academic journals “Analecta. Studies and Materials for the History of Science” (2014).

MDolecki okładka

Above: the cover of the Polish edition

with the painting of Zbigniew Beksiński (front) and of Magdalena Scholle (back).

More detailed information about the book and reviews (with links) are given above, in the section Novel.

Some Irritating Phrases in Texts

Painting taken from this site.

 I just list a few phrases which irritate me a lot:

“To be oneself”. Weak and already very worn out plagiarism from Parmenides of Elea, who stated something along the lines of: being is, and non-being is not; thus he has become the unsurpasable master of deduction in the all history of philosophy, since he deduced all his metaphysical system from this very sentence. Even more annoys me this construction: “The most important think (in life) is to be oneself”. One can behave naturally or imitate someone`s words and behaviour, and that`s the real point here.

“I personally believe…”. What could be more personal than beliefs?

“My humble self” (literally translated from Polish: “my humble person”). What on earth a speaker or writer wish to say by that? Anyway, he/she is obviously not humble enough to remain silent, that`s for sure.

“…, she/he said philosophically”. So how? Wise? Difficult? Or perhaps self-righteously? Unfortunately, for many people a philosopher is a synonym of an annoying person who is especially fond of picking holes in what somebody has said or written.

“Use your common sense”. It would be pretty hard to find many other phrases which are as vaguely defined as common sense. Descartes once wrote in the opening of his Discourse on the Method : “Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; for every one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already possess.” The source of this quote. The French thinker brilliantly spoke out the ancient wisdom that no one is eager to admit that he/she could be more feeble-minded than others.

An excessive use of suspension points. The writer is the one who creates a text, it`s not up to his/her readers.

By the way, I wonder if it would be possible to call this one sign an entire novel: ” … “. The shortest known novel might consist of just one sentence. This is probably The Dinosaur (El dinosaurio) by Augusto Monterroso:

“When he woke up, the dinosaur was still here” period.

For further reading about this writer see, for instance, here.

I encourage to give other examples of irritating words.

And a reflection in the end: I have to admit, it must be also annoying when people – me too – complain about the words he/she finds irritating, but they often use a lot of others, which might also be seen by many people as vexatious, pompous and pretentious.

Polishing a Text: When to Stop?

Many people would admit that any given text, written in a natural language, might be further edited, polished, and refined, therefore this process could be, theoretically, endless (the possible little inferno for aspiring writers).

But when is it really reasonable for an author to stop?

I woudn`t like to sound teachy, since I`m writing here mostly about my experience.

I will try to take an unusual, “chemical” approach to this issue, concerning different types of texts, i.a. literary and also scientific (this – perhaps – to a lesser extent).

I think, the answer is rather simple: the right moment to stop with the editing process is when the number of new errors being made (also understood as clunky style and plot in some fragments) is comparable to the number of previously existing errors being deleted, that is when some kind of equilibrium has already been established – quite similarly to those chemical reactions which tend to run at the same velocity in the forward and backward directions.

Nevertheless, this idea is not so easy to apply in practice: the author who has come close to this very point, is usually so fixated on his/her editorial work, that it`s really hard for her/him to assess, how many errors he/she has already wiped out, and how many new mistakes have recently appeared in the content.

When I`m unable to see mistakes, I assume that the mentioned state of equilibrium is not far at all, and I usually send my text to at least one beta reader, then I put it away for two weeks or more (when possible), in order to read it just once or twice before submitting.

Polishing a text is most fruitful in the situation when efforts are, more or less, proportional to the results, that`s obvious. But this is often the case only at the beginning, and from a certain point, the more time you spend on rewriting, the less visible results you usually obtain.

This effect is quite similar to many others known from everyday life. For instance, a fountain pen which costs 200 dollars, would be probably of considerably better quality than one gained for 20 bucks. I expect, in turn, a model which costs 2000 dollars, to be just slightly better as a writing device than a pen for 200, and so on… That`s why it would be extravagant to spend a fortune on a pen when the author just needs one for a pleasant, smooth writing experience.

The efforts (e.g. money or work) invested into gaining something that could vary in quality, are in most cases proportional only to some degree to results expected.

Ultimately, it is up to authors to decide when the likely improvement in outcome would be rather miniscule in comparison with their further workload.

Proofreading: Monika Bajer: link to official site.