Thursday, January 04, 2007

Practice Doesn't Make Perfect

Today Grumpy Old Bookman has an interesting post on the publishing difficulties faced by new writers nowadays. There has been some dispute on the web about whether good new writers do indeed face particular difficulties, but GOB makes a convincing case. He is referring to genre writers, and in particular thriller writers, but it seems to me that his points could be made across the board.

GOB points out that Jack Higgins had written several competent but unsensational books before he made it with The Eagle Has Landed - similarly with Ken Follett. Present-day publishers, he says, are no longer prepared to allow writers to grow in this way, but seek an instant hit from the off. Nowadays any new writer whose first book does not promise to be an instant hit will be unlikely to get a foot in publishing. The comments are interesting, too: there's an instance of a previously published SF writer who can't get back on the ladder because, as GOB says, publishers want younger writers who will 'look really cool on Richard and Judy's sofa'.

GOB applauds the use of Lulu.com as a way around this problem (he reviews Ron Morgans' thriller Kill Chase which has been published this way). And it is of course this ethos which several new independents have been launched to counter. Then there's Macmillan New Writing, established specifically to allow new writers to develop without the pressure of earning back an advance. If the one example of MNW which I've read is anything to go by, Roger Morris's Taking Comfort (reviewed here), it's not just competent practice pieces that are being picked up this way, but literary gems.

5 comments:

kf gallagher said...

As a writer of literary fiction, I would say there's a flipside to this issue, in that being a genre writer relieves the editors and publishers of their main problem with most writing, which is how to sell it. I know of two friends who began writing non-genre fiction and whose individual submissions got the attention of editors who asked for more in that genre. Well, they hadn't intended to write in a genre, but continuing in that thread (at the urging of editors) made their work publishable and profitable. My experience talking with editors from Chronicle Books in SF and elsewhere has been that mostly, editors want to know how to think about a manuscript, almost above all.

Elizabeth Baines said...

This is an interesting point. In other words, GOB's comments apply more aptly to 'non-genre' writers than 'genre' writers. I think your point about publishers needing to know how to think about books in order to know how to sell them is acute, and especially interesting.

Since I wrote this post the comments on GOB's have have extended into a very thought-provoking debate

Maria Aragon said...

Here in the States, if your work doesn't fit neatly in the publishers' genre slot, then you're still screwed. I'm incapably of conforming to 'the tyranny of genre' and so thank heavens for Lulu.com, or I would still be battling off constant bouts of despair with every rejection notice, especially the ones that would come after receiving requests for the book or sample chapters. Money really does factor in whether one gets published. If they cannot smell money coming off you and your work, they want nothing to do with you.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Well, I think it's the same in the UK, Maria.

Maria Aragon said...

I suspected as much. Sucks, doesn't it?