The odds are pretty slim, and not just because they’re on the verge of going out of business:
“I market books for a living, so I can tell you an unpleasant truth: the order for any book, from any account, starts at zero,” [Andrew Wheeler, a marketing manager at Wiley] warns. “The publisher’s sales rep walks in the door with tipsheets and covers, past sales figures and promotional plans, to convince that bookseller’s buyer to buy that book… Sometimes, that buyer is not convinced, and the order stays at zero.”
The distribution system in publishing is arguably broken, partly a result of the industry’s major players’ short-term thinking, and partly because the overwhelming number of books being published these days is more than the system can support.
(Writer’s Digest publishes an aptly titled book: Some Writers Deserve to Starve! Think about it.)
And contrary to seemingly popular belief, just because pretty much anyone can get a book listed on Amazon, it doesn’t mean potential readers will know it’s there or buy it if they stumble across it for the exact reason Wheeler notes above: it’s probably not receiving any notable marketing support beyond being tucked in the middle of that season’s catalog.
So if bookshelf space is tightening, and traditional publishers are unable to effectively market all of the books they publish — and even most of the ones that do get some marketing support will still need to be vigorously handsold by their authors to have any hopes of breaking through — self-publishing increasingly becomes a more viable option, especially for poets and niche non-fiction, but perhaps even for genre fiction authors.
And regardless of the route one takes — traditional or self-publishing — the importance of building a marketing plan for your book, and before that, establishing a platform for yourself should now be seen as going hand-in-hand with the actual writing of a book.
ETA: 26th Story, a must-read blog, has an insightful Q&A with agent Larry Kirshbaum who comments on the glut of books being published and offers a smart strategy for dealing with it:
I’d like to see less titles published by the large publishers. The smaller publishers have financial and capacity restraints which tend to keep their lists within the realm of what they can successfully market. The larger publishers, having greater resources (and also larger infrastructures) seem to believe that the larger their lists, the more chances they’ll have for scoring big successes. Unfortunately, even when you have multiple imprints, size no longer works in their favor. (Large publishers tend to have smaller editorial and marketing entities but their sales functions are often centralized.) With our retailers being much more cautious (and not just during the present crisis), too often we see titles that get little display and virtually no promotion dollars. And of course the avalanche of titles is producing huge piles of returns from unsold copies. I would like to see publishers doing more marginal titles electronically — with creative Internet promotion — as their test market, then go to print if there’s a sufficient response. This is not just a matter of ecology (e.g. avoiding waste), it’s promoting the idea that every book that is published physically will get significant attention by the publisher, the retailer and hopefully the consumer. In the long run, authors who do get published will be better served by more attention to the details of marketing their books.
The electronic testing of a book is something an individual author can do just as easily, if not more so, than a publisher these days, and is a smart way to gauge the market for your work before pitching it to a traditional publisher or investing your own money into publishing it yourself.