Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The novelist's lament, Chapter One

Okay, now I understand ...

Yeah, like most great discoveries, it has taken some time but I finally figured it out. The only requirement for someone to become a literary agent or even a publisher is total ignorance.

Haven't we all heard ... those who can do, those who can't teach. Well, those who can't write good crime novels become publishers. Or agents. Why? So they can reject the work of others, of those who can.

Now let's be clear on this. I have been able to get a number of my stories published. Actually I'm well past the point of getting tickled when I see someone check out one of my books from the library.

There are a number of high points in being a writer. One is in creating the characters and bringing them to life. Those folk can then do all the things the writer never was able to. With crime, for example, I can kill those that need killing. All I have to do is give my protagonist reason for doing it. And then, of course, it's up to me to figure out a way for him to get away with it. But that's part of the fun, too.

Coming up with the characters, giving them problems to solve, getting them into dire danger and then saving them, and all the time writing the story so the readers will enjoy it. Great fun!

And, looking back, I have given talks on writing fiction and how to get things published. So you could say I have taught. But I haven't stooped so low as to become a publisher. Or an agent. So very low.

Well, thinking back to my favorite lecture, I have to admit to having addressed the joys of writing and the chances of getting everything, or anything, accepted. As I recall it goes something like:

Fiction in print is relatively popular, but only relatively. For every reader you might attract, TV or films or recordings attract thousands of consumers. You will work for months or years to create a product that is theoretically eternal, but in practice has a shelf life of a few weeks. Most of your readers will, two months after reading your work, be unable to recall anything about the story (including your name) — maybe not even whether they liked it or not. To add pain to this, know you will reach more readers with a punchy, witty letter to the editor of a big city daily than you're likely to reach with your novel. And the pay won’t be that much less!

Now here is something for anyone hoping to get a literary agent to look at their work. These numbers are from a US based literary agent …

20,800 (Estimated number of queries read and responded to)
54 (Number of full manuscripts requested and read)
8 (Number of new clients taken on this year)
21 (Number of books sold this year—not counting subsidiary rights stuff)
6 (Number of projects currently under submission)

So, taking all that into account, I guess I'll build a bridge and get over it ... get past having a damn good story knocked back and get on with the next one.
Damn fool publishers, anyhow.

Thank you for letting me blow off steam ... I have to go hang out the wash, now.

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