Thursday, August 03, 2006

1% inspiration, 98% perspiration, 1% luck

The latest edition of Writing Queensland has left me feeling a little exasperated.

In the letters section Chris Pearce writes...

"I have a finished, polished manuscript, a favourable professional reader's report and some excellent unsolicited comments from 18 general readers ... five of whom couldn't put it down and the other 13 really enjoyed it."

He then goes on to say that he has sent it to 35-40 agents and publishers in the past two years, and no-one is interested.

Pearce has nailed down the problem - far more people writing manuscripts, far fewing being published - but there is still an air of frustration about the letter.

So too with GS Manson, who talks of "a culture of arrogance and rudeness" among literary agents.

(I did get quite a laugh from Manson's assessment of what is being published: "bourgeois twits have a year in Provence, quirky travel books by ex-journos that say nothing much about anything except themselves, heart-rending but colourful family histories over three generations or whatever, 57 varieties of serial killer...").

Then the opening of a feature by Tiana Templeman (Absolutely Faking It)...

"Ever had a daydream which goes something like this? You start writing your first book, send a couple of chapters off to a major publishing house and they call you straight back with an offer to publish. It certainly sounds familiar to me - except for one major difference. My daydream became reality and - with some hard work, a few tips and tricks and just a little bit of luck - it can for you too!"

Yes, it can. And if I buy a ticket in the lottery this weekend, with a bit of luck, I could win. I could, but it's highly unlikely.

As Rhonda Whitton points out in her feature, at any one time there are 5,000 unsolicited manuscripts sitting on the desks of Australian publishers. Of these, maybe four or five will ever be published!

She goes on to suggest would-be novelists cut their teeth on a non-fiction manuscript, because non-fiction is big at the moment. I think this is akin to telling someone who has no interest in romance fiction to try writing a romance manuscript. There is a lot of hard work involved in getting a manuscript to a publishable standard, and in less you have real passion about what you're writing, there's no point.

There seems to be a perception that if you jump through all the hoops, you'll get published. I think this is an unrealistic expectation.

A lot of would-be novelists are looking for that magic bullet, and you're probably expecting me to say there isn't one. But there is - luck. Having the right manuscript in front of the right person at the right time.

Yes, you make your own luck. You polish your work to as high a standard as possible and you put it out there. But I still think you need a dash of serendipity.

I'm not saying we should all give up, I just think aspiring writers, myself included, need to be realistic about our goals.

I think there also needs to be a bit of honesty from the industry that is feeding off the hopes and dreams of would-be novelists.

Manuscript assessors, workshops, writing groups all play a role, but even if you do everything right, the odds are still stacked well and truly against you.


the doc said...

Glad to see my assessment of bookshop shelves hit the spot for someone. I also think the plethora of workshops and jumped-up encounter groups are pretty much just providing a an extra crust for starving writers, and if you can write, you don't need to be told how to by someone who was 'in' to the extent they managed to get published.
Someone else paid for an 'assessment'of one on my MS's and the woman opined that she was unable to determine what decade the story was set in due to the apparent paucity of mise en scene or some bullshit. Seeing as how the battle of Stalingrad was mentioned three lines into page ONE, I wondered how someone with such a lack of basic historical knowledge can earn a living criticising other people's hard work. It's a club, and those who aren't members pay the dues.

rino said...

Luck and timing are certainly of the essence. Hype and knowing how to create the right excitement at the publisher's end helps too. But I think in the end it's all pretty similar to looking for work: timing and the right contacts and managing the latter in some way that'll put you in good stead. For instance (gratuitous retro-plug here) at one of the seminars held at the Writer's Festival, Meet the Publishers, the publishers in question made it clear that simply being at the seminar and listening and asking Qs was in a way a first contact with them, ice broken etc, that if you send something direct to them with an opener like Saw you at said festival, then you' ve already got their familiarity on side. And anticipating publishing trends/movements would help too. I don't think the market for lit. fiction is hot at any time, but seasons vary.
Either that or blog.
Or get letters published in WQ!
rino (unpublished as at 2/10/06)