For those who aren’t writers and still in the lovely rosy world of ‘you write a book, find an agent and get published, surely?’ this is an eye-opener on the new world of writing.
Book-publishing has changed enormously. Many publishers are now only interested in the kind of books that you’ll find in Asda, Sainsburys and other big department stores, because this is where the money is. Most of the reading public now apparently want the quick fix: mainly crime and romance, not too long, easily digestible and – instantly forgettable. At least in my opinion.
Of course every writer wants to publish their books so, every month, with sinking heart, I take what looks the most interesting to read on the supermarket shelves and add it to my shopping. It’s important to keep up with market trends I reason. Two weeks after I’ve finished one of these books I cannot remember anything about it and that’s not just age! It’s like fast food, sloppy, just about digestible, but it leaves you unsatisfied. As I said: forgettable.
In contrast, there are books I’ve read from Rose Tremain, Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Atwood and many more that I still remember with detail and pleasure many years later. The difference? These are labelled literary fiction and, yes, this kind of fiction is still published but, for a publisher it is always a risk to break away from the established ‘greats’ in this genre. If you are a literary writer, as I am, you are far less likely to be taken on than if you can turn out a crime book every year.
Which brings me to rejections. Here is where the real rant begins: agents. Few publishers take you on without an agent. It seems to me that agents have lifted themselves onto pedestals where many behave like Olympians. These kind of agents, of which there are far too many, will put on their websites that if you [the writer] haven’t heard back in six months you can assume they are not interested in your book. WHAT???
Yes, I know agents are busy. I know they are flooded with submissions all the time BUT how long would it take to have ready-at-hand a standard e-mail saying ‘Thank you for your submission. I am sorry but we are not able to represent you at this time.’? All they would need to do is to press the button with the standard rejection, or ask a secretary to do so, and the writer, who has spent months, if not years, preparing their book, is not left looking at their e-mails every day, several times a day, full of hope, for MONTHS. It is a system, all too prevalent, designed it seems to tell authors they are not the important ones, their creativity and effort does not matter, compared with the agent’s own importance.
Of course not all agents are like this, but it is hard to find those that are not. Everything I write tends to be literary and most of these other agents dare not take on more than perhaps one in a year, because they are less sellable than the aforementioned crime and romance. And every agency has to make money out of their authors, of course. I understand that.
So why am I hard on myself? Why not turn to the two genres? Because I’m not interested. We are who we are and we write what we write. I wouldn’t be true to myself if I tried to subsume the stories that are in my head to manufacture something more immediately popular. Hey ho.
I dread the next stage. Hades, Loneliest of the Gods is near completion and sometime early next year I shall be beginning the merry-go-round of sending to agents once more. I love writing, I enjoy the editing and pruning process too but everything after that is horrific to the point of sleepless nights and fingernails bitten to the quick.