So how hard is it to get a Western novel published nowadays? According to C. Courtney Joyner who spoke at OutWest Boutique and Cultural Center yesterday, it ranges somewhere between not completely impossible but requiring a lot of tenacity and more than a little ingenuity. In other words, it's difficult and maddening, but not impossible.
And, as Court emphasized, it's really important to pay attention to what's going on in the market right now and to not rely on the traditional avenues for leads and for manuscript submissions. Sources like The Writer's Market and Hermann's Guide are still useful, but it's imperative to keep your ear to the virtual ground, namely, for leads via blogs and web sites. As a VERY interesting aside, Court also mentioned that in current sales of Western fiction, 40% are anthologies.
And sometimes it takes looking in places that, for many Western writers might seem counter-intuitive. Court's journey down the western publishing trail is a good example. While he has extensive experience as a screenwriter, mainly in the horror genre, Court hit a brick wall when it came to publishing Western fiction. In one of his early marketing moves, he decided to join the Western Writers of America, but even then he couldn't join right away because one of their requirements for membership is to be a published Western writer. But, as it was, a non-fiction article Court wrote became his way in the WWA door. There, Court connected with editor Gary Goldstein, who helped Court find a home for some of his short fiction with publishers such as Pinnacle and Citadel. One of his stories, "The Two-Bit Kill," is in the anthology LAW OF THE GUN, which is now out in mass market paperback.
But it wasn't until Court became acquainted with Black Horse Westerns, an imprint of Hale Publishing in London, that he found an avenue that would publish his Western novel. His short story, "Bloodhound" was included in the anthology A FISTFUL OF LEGENDS, which led to his first BHW novel, TRACKING THE DEVIL, which should be released in late 2011.
So, ironically, this writer of Westerns had to go across the pond to get his first publishing contract for a traditional Western. But this is not unusual. Many fine Western writers, namely Matt Mayo and Howard Hopkins, found homes for their Westerns with Black Horse.
These types of non-traditional avenues are becoming more and more important, especially with the demise of Leisure Westerns, which for some time held a huge chunk of the traditional Western mass market paperback market. For those of you who aren't familiar with the what's been going on at Leisure, Leisure has now pulled out of the mass market paperback field and is focusing solely on e-books and trade paperbacks. As an aside, Court's friend Shane filled us in that, in the past week, Dorchester Publishing (the corporation under which Leisure resides) has imploded on its other mass market paperback genres, namely horror and romance. To make a long sordid story short, it appears that almost all of the Dorchester authors have left the building, many of them not having been paid since 2009.
What does all this mean for those of us who want to get published in the Western genre? Some of this many of you already know: you need to keep your eye out for online submission announcements and don't rule out contests. Those short story contests, like the one Rope and Wire just held, can be a ticket to getting your short story in a traditional book some day. Definitely keep looking at traditional publishers like Pinnacle and Citadel, but be aware that you may have to eventually go overseas to try something like Black Horse or to self-publish. If you do self-publish, by all means hire an editor to review your manuscript and to proof it, because nothing will tarnish a writer's reputation like a book full of typos.
Self-publishing still has something of a stigma attached to it, but not nearly as much as it used to. Many a self-publishing author has been able to carve out a niche for themselves with going that route, because it's becoming more and more apparent that it's not the imprint that your book appears that makes the difference: it is how much marketing you are willing to do on your own.
Marketing matters, whether or not you get published with a "Big House" (good luck with that) or whether you go to one of the smaller or foreign publishers, or whether you print it off an old xerox you've got in your garage. It's up to you nowadays to market your book. Even the big publishers have limited budgets and really rely on their authors to do most of the work when it comes to publicity. Book tours, while not unheard of, are a thing of the past for most of us. Elmer Kelton filled up the trunk of his car and drove across the country, peddling his books, and that was his and his wife's way of spending their vacation. Nowadays, you can still do that if you want to spend that much money for gas. But you can also use the Internet in very creative ways when it comes to marketing. You've got blogs, web sites, and social media to find ways to push your title.
You can get published. It is infinitely much harder nowadays due to the economy and many publishers who are still somewhat reluctant to publish Westerns. But it's not impossible. Some things I guess never change: you'll still need tenacity and a thick skin. Now it also helps to be willing to look for opportunities where you wouldn't normally look.
Some Websites and Publishers mentioned by Court in his talk:
Keep looking at websites, such as the Western Fiction Review for news on newly published work. (I personally love this blog, which is well known in the as one of the finest blogs around for reviewing western fiction, if not THE finest blog. Plus Steve Myall is a great guy).
(Another place that I recommend: Sandra Seaman's My Little Corner. This blog focuses more on crime fiction, but occasionally Sandra has information on leads for Westerns.)
Western On-line Forums he recommends: Western Fictioneers @ Yahoo Groups, and Black Horse Westerns @ Yahoo Groups.
Western Writers of America: www.westernwriters.org
Western Fictioneers: www.westernfictioneers.com
Kensington Books (Pinnacle): kensingtonbooks.com
Robert Hale Publishers (Black Horse Westerns): www.halebooks.com
Create Space: www.createspace.com
Five Star Publishers
C. Courtney Joyner's website: www.ccourtneyjoyner.com