Sunday, 11 October 2009

There are two types of writers... today I am going to write about the published, the unpublished, and the huge divide that exists between them.

The writers I mix with, and they are mostly the ones who read my blog, are unpublished. Some of them have an agent, some don't; some are on their first book, and others have written three or four. Many of their books are works in progress, and a few are so brilliant I can't believe publishers aren't fighting over them. As we keep being told, times are hard in publishing, budgets are being cut and it's more difficult than ever to break into print. Small wonder, then, that those who do manage to cross the great divide become a little smug.

'I got published because I wrote a damn good book and sent it out with a first-class query letter,' a new about-to-be-published writer will say, flushed with pride and success. The implication being that, if your book was good enough, it too would get a deal.

I wish this were true. While there are, of course, many dire novels in the slush pile, some of today's best novels will never sit on a bookshop shelf, because their authors lack the thick-skinned persistence required to endure the pain of rejection after rejection. They start thinking the agents are right about their book. They give up.

Let me tell you about Patricia J Delois, who wrote a novel called Bufflehead Sisters. She sent it out to two agents who rejected it. Discouraged, she gave up. A friend told her about YouWriteOn, and she joined. Her book became YWO Book of the Year, and was self-published by YWO. Astonishingly (or not - she's a good writer) she sold over a thousand copies. And was picked up by Penguin. She says herself she had 'dumb luck'. Without YWO she would not have been published.

If I ever cross that great divide, I vow not to be smug; to remember that better writers than I languish unpublished; and that I have been very, very lucky.


  1. Hi Lexi,

    Sadly, I think you are right. Luck has a huge amount to play in life, not just in writing. I recently re-watched Alain de Boton's 'Status Anxiety' and I feel that by hanging around with writers in writing groups I more and more feel like I ought to be published too, one of these days.

    For now, I thank my lucky stars (or whatever) that I was born into a wealthy country, own a computer, have access to more than enough food and the internet and that I was taught to read and write as a kid.

    I try... TRY to remember all this when I'm working on my writing, knowing that in all likelihood it will not be published, even if I can sweat my way up to being very good. I try to focus on enjoying the moment of writing, knowing that it is a huge privilege to be able to afford the time.

    A small voice tells me that being published, even in a big way, ain't all that. A short of mine has recently been published in an anthology and, strangely, I felt nothing much at all when I got the email of acceptance. I thought I would be elated if I ever learnt my story was accepted by a publisher.

    You know what I thought? I thought "Oh, now I have to think about marketing...!"

    I think you're one of those writers who should be published, by the way. If you don't manage it within the next ten years, I think perhaps digital publishing will provide you with the opportunity to become better-known.


  2. Very true, Stace; too many of us have a sense of thwarted entitlement which serves only to make us discontented.

    And of course, if we are not enjoying writing, then why do it? Jasper Fforde finished five novels before, after 76 rejections over ten years, he hit the shelves and became a successful author.

    The tantalizing thing is not knowing whether one will make it or not. Thanks for your kind words - and aren't we lucky to have the opportunity of POD and e-publishing, should conventional routes fail us? I'm working on mastering Adobe Photoshop in case I end up designing my own covers...

    Hope for the best and plan for the worst :o)

  3. Oooh, photoshop is so fun isn't it! I doubt you'll ever feel you've mastered it - I have a friend who works with it all day and she says she hardly scratches the surface. I love mucking around with it too.

    The great thing about self publishing, I guess, is that you can do everything exactly as you want to!

  4. Yes, I get that feeling about Adobe Photoshop. The instructions give me a headache - that's if I can find the right bit, as I don't know what everything's called.

    But I feel I'm on top of lettering now, and I love all the fine tuning you can do to it. Also I've worked out how to import fonts. There are some good free fonts on the internet.