It’s not easy being a would be author. First off you have all the time and effort you have to put into creating your work, which you do for free in your spare time since the publishing industry is only interested in finished novels (if you’re writing fiction that is). And then when you want to try and get it published you come up against the great machine that is the publishing industry itself which, like pretty much every other industry in the world, has been designed to protect the people investing the money, producing the highest yield for the least amount of risk.
Now I’m not saying it’s unfair. It is what it is, and so mote it be. But! it does result in the same old overly pessimistic advice being given to authors who are starting out, and after a while this can be a little wearing.
I recently read this blog post, How To Turn Your Blog Into A Book, which lead me to this one, How To Get Your Book Published, an excellent post which pretty much encapsulates the viewpoint of the industry in general.
Now I’m no industry insider. I haven’t got an agent, had a book published, or anything like that. But this is a subject I have studied since I was eight and first dreamed of becoming an author, so I flatter myself I know a little something on the subject. And yes, whilst in general the advice is sound, and well meaning, it is also very general indeed, and studiously ignores the exceptions that prove the rule.
Yes the – write and re-write, get help, find an agent, approach them in the right way, don’t be precious, keep trying – approach is a good one, but it’s all too easy to become discouraged when faced with such an arduous, and limited, journey.
The advice is understandably cautious, and maybe hopes to stop people wasting their time pursuing a career that might never happen, but it is also a bit of a downer. Like the news it focuses on the negative side of things, and offers very little encouragement. It reminds me of things like the Dragon’s Den, which people might watch and think “My idea would never make a good business”, just because it doesn’t fit into the very narrow criteria of what this small group of people will invest in.
You can equate it to the music industry, for example, where all eyes are concentrated on pop music and all advice is given on how to make it big in that one genre. Yes, the advice given is ‘the truth’, but also there are many other types of music out there, and many other ways to become successful, and those stories are equally as true as the ‘tried and tested’.
* The book The Horse Whisperer attracted a lot of interest and even got a six figure deal when the author took just the first 100 pages to the Frankfurt Book Fair and showed them to Robert Redford (who subsequently agreed to do the movie).
* L. Frank Baum had to invest his own money in publishing The Wizard Of Oz just to get it off the ground.
* Recently Fifty Shades Of Grey, a piece of New Moon saga fan fiction, became a number one bestseller and the subject of a Hollywood bidding war despite being a self published e-book.
* And finally, JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was turned down by 12 publishers before finally finding a home at Bloomsbury (and even they advised her to get a day job as she’d “…never make any money in children’s fiction.”
Now I’m not suggesting you pin your hopes on something like this happening to you, or that you rush out and start self-publishing right away, just remember how general ‘general’ advice really is, and how there’s still room in this world for something new and dramatic to happen.
Don’t get weighed down by other people’s pessimism. Deal with their well meaning and knowledgeable advice the same way you deal with both compliments and criticism; with a warm smile and a polite “Thank you very much.”
As ever, these are just my thoughts on the subject, garnered through many years of trying and failing. Like so many others before me I’ve sat for hours in the coffee shop trying to come up with ideas. I’ve spent my nights writing, and my weekends editing. I’ve written to publishers and cold called agents, read the trade magazines and spoken to people ‘in the know’ at events, all just to find a way to get me started in the industry. And y’know what, after all that effort the best advice I ever got was in a standard rejection letter sent to me by an agent years ago.
Would that I could remember it word for word, but it went something like this:
“It is a myth that there are hundreds of great, unpublished works out there. 99% of them are rubbish. So if you have something that’s really good, keep at it. Eventually you will get published.”
This was proven to me when, about a week later, another agent accidentally returned to me two other would be authors’ submissions along with my own. I couldn’t resist, I had to read them. They were terrible. The ideas were bad, the description poor, the grammar awful. I hate to admit it, but it gave me hope.
Of course you have to make sure that you’re not one of that 99%, but as long as you work at it, take advice, be self critical, but above all don’t lose hope, there’s no reason why one day you can’t become a published author too.
And if it never happens then for God’s sake make sure you enjoy yourself along the way, because there’s no point chasing after your dreams if you’re going to be miserable about it. That really would be a waste of time.