Advice for the publisher-lorn

Some survey I read recently estimated that over 80% of Americans would like to write a book some day. This is astounding, given how many will actually do so, and how many of those will actually see the light of day. I suppose that everyone has the most basic tools, which is language and a pen or PC. I recently attended two events which caused me ponder the aspirant writer conundrum (in whose multitudes I mingled until recently). The first was Alison Lowrie and Tracey MacDonald’s Suitcase Under the Bed workshop, basically a day of guidance and advice for aspirant authors on how to get published.  I was one of the presenters, and I talked about the strange and elusive concoction of luck, talent and contacts which might conspire to help you along. You can get published with only one of these, but having all three creates exponential leverage. More on this later.

Then I went to Lauren Beukes’ launch of The Shining Girls at Exclusive Books in Melrose Arch. She added hard work to this list. Indeed, writing even the most unpublishable of books requires many hours of speculative and unremunerated labour behind a keyboard, often in a state of anxiety and insecurity.

So – dispensing with luck first. Nothing much to be said here. It either smiles or doesn’t.

Talent –  two kinds here. First there is the requirement of a writing talent, or at least competence. Without that you don’t get off the starting blocks. And it can be burnished, contrary to popular belief, by reading and reading and reading. A friend of mine quit his job to become a novelist. When I asked what he read, he responded – very little. We know where this story is going to end.

There is another kind of talent, I suppose. The ability to spot a market that no one else has seen. The more explosive the demand, the less important the quality of the writing. 50 Shades of Grey. QED.

Then there is the precious gemstone of all human activity – contacts, and this is the rub. If you have none, you can get some.  Cajole, nag, push, beg, grovel, charm and flatter. In face and online. They can be acquired. You want your stuff to get read by someone of influence, and you have to get that first paragraph in front of them. It takes acts of the worst sort of indignity, self-abnegation and cringe-worthy brown-nosing sometimes, but hey. The alternative is quiet anonymity.

And no one who has a story to tell seeks that.

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