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Best or Worst? Yes.

photo by Karen Roe [1]
photo by Karen Roe
A Tale of Two Cities famously begins: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Today, that’s true of publishing.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s the worst, unrelentingly: that’s largely what has been reported in the mainstream media. The Big Six, already a small group of powerful publishers who control most of what hits the bookstore shelves in this country, has become, through mergers, only the Big Five. And for these publishers, you can’t even appeal directly to them to get your book published — you need a literary agent, and competition for agents is so fierce that people spend months, even years, working toward securing one. Speaking of bookstores, there’s only one major bookstore chain left in the whole country, and thousands of books a year vie for shelf space, meaning that even if you get a book placed there, if it doesn’t quickly become a bestseller, it won’t stay long.

Today’s book world is a tough world with lots of rules, official and unofficial (never call an agent on the phone!) It may seem hopeless.

But! Today is also the best of times. Why?

photo by Karen Roe [2]
photo by Karen Roe

So whether these days are good days or bad days for writers seeking publication, and whether we live in the best or worst of times, here’s the key: we don’t get to choose what times we live in. We’re in the here and the now. Whatever challenges or advantages today’s publishing world offers beyond the past, we’ll need to address the bad and make the most of the good. And the internet — which is an incredible tool for both good and bad — makes it easy to connect with other writers, which may just be the best news of all.

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About Jael McHenry [3]

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter [4] (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com [5] or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.