As a writer who’s wanted to be published since before I hit puberty, and still looking for the Holy Grail of writing – the Three Book Contract – now I’m in my fifties, I have to confess to getting somewhat churlish when I hear some young bright thing’s first novel has been taken up by a trade publisher. There’s that twist in the gut and the sense of nausea, and the surge of panic that I only otherwise get when someone else hits on my significant other. It’s jealousy, of course. I admit it.
Well, serves me right for not submitting to enough agents, but I was never good at dealing with rejection. Getting over that is still a work in progress.
My next reaction is a deeper sense of panic – that if too many new authors get all the contracts, there won’t be any left for me. I’ll be left behind, forever in the slush pile, and my efforts, my loves, my dreams will be forever hitting an agent’s trash box.
Perhaps it’s a learned response. My first (and looking back rather embarrassing) efforts at novel writing came at a time when getting represented, winning a contract, getting a book on the shelves and that glorious, shiny advance was the only path to authorhood. There was a rigid structure to how the publishing industry operated – mainstream publishers were on the throne, and agents were gatekeepers to the throne room.
Over the last decade that has changed, and fairly radically. With the advent of digital books, many publishing houses (and sadly, bookshops) are in decline and agencies are falling by the wayside, while the likes of me – poor, wannabe writers – are able to sit at their own desk and publish their own books without all the waiting and (mostly) inevitable rejection to contend with.
Anyone can publish their book? Surely that means… millions of other writers are out there, publishing their own stuff, just like me. That means there must be (tots it up) lots and lots of other books out there competing with mine! Cue the jealousy again, because all those other self-published writers are surely more capable and readable than me. Those readers who could be consuming my books will almost certainly be reading their stuff instead. And there are only a finite number of readers. Right?
Well, true enough. But when I think about it more clearly, how many books does one reader get through in, say, a year? An avid reader might get through dozens, while writers (even the quickest) can only push out a decent offering once every one or two years. Realisically, there are more than enough readers to keep a writer going, and if they’re any good at writing, and good at their marketing, they might even make a living out of it.
All that jealousy stuff. I really need to get over it.