Getting published: an impossible dream

May 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

I have read that the number of books being published about “creative writing/getting published” is increasing. Every would-be published writer needs to inform herself about getting her work published. But how many times does she have to be told the following:

Do not send a “fantasy” novel to an agent who only represents writers of non-fiction.

Do not send out dirty-looking sample chapters.

Do not make demands for a contract by return or advances of £10,000.00.

If your friend were going to a job interview would you tell him: “Whatever you do, don’t attend the interview in your pyjamas? Do brush your hair and your teeth . . .”

Ultimately the advice on how to be published seems to be: write a good enough story and you will be published. But it is unclear if you can do this alone. You might first of all consider drawing some attention to yourself by winning a competition or being a star pupil on a creative writing course. In this way you have shown talent but this talent is rather raw and requires some nurturing from tutors and agents before it is ready to be revealed to the public in the form of a book. Or you may be one of those writers whose potential is recognised by an agent and together you and he work on the manuscript for two years and only then do you dream of approaching a publisher. Even established writers may have their team of readers and helpers to assist in making their manuscript fit for publication. The “thanks” owed to these people may run from half a page to two of the published book.

How can the lone writer without this “team” be so arrogant as to think he could write a “publishable” novel? Is this writer delusional? After all, if a team of people just manages to produce a book that is “okay” how could a lone writer write anything other than “trash”?

We are familiar with published fiction that is not “good” by the standards of the genre to which it belongs. Are such books published because the writer has a following of readers who will tolerate one or two books that are below par?

We know those stories of people who send already published books, sometimes prize-winning ones, to agents and publishers in the guise of unsolicited manuscripts. The agents/publishers almost invariably decline the work. (The Booker-prize winning Holiday, I believe, was one test submission.) If an unpublished writer were to send a recent prize-winning novel to a literary editor for critiquing what would happen? Would the literary editor simply return the manuscript unmarked with the diagnosis: A prize-winning novel?

But, of course, we must remember that most novelists, except those moving from journalism to novel-writing, start out as unknown unpublished writers. They have to jump the hurdle of being “unknown”. And it is a hurdle that they successfully jump and clear, but not, perhaps, forever. Some novelists do not follow one success with another and are almost as badly, if not worse, off than the unknown writer. What is the greatest guarantee of success? Luck? Writing? A timely appeal to the public taste? Marketing?

Most books are published because it is thought they will be commercial successes. Yet I understand that only 10-20% of published books are profitable. And we unpublished writers are at the mercy of these experts whose predictions must rival those of economists for inaccuracy.

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