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I am a writer - late developer since I wasn't published until I was 50. I have now written 23 novels, numerous short stories and articles.

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Sunday, 20 June 2010
There is despondency in the air again. I began to wonder how best to cheer everyone up. Words of comfort are all very well but how much good they do I’m not sure. Specifics, I decided were what is needed. So, I asked a group of writers to give me some facts to share with my wounded writers smarting from criticism and rejection and, hopefully, make them feel better. The writers who responded were a good mix of mainstream, category, and e-publishing, which, I thought was better than having them all from one form of publishing. Since there had been a nasty spate of rejections which always knocks the confidence and makes some think of giving it all up, the first questions I asked was:  How long did it take for you to get published?
 The answers were interesting. Adding them all together and then dividing I got a rough average. Short stories took, on average, 4 months to be accepted. While novels take, on average, 4 years. But out of those numbers came some surprises. If you write category novels then the average became 9 years! And the strangest fact of all to emerge was that out of all those who responded there were two writers, one tried for 10 years before getting her 6th novel taken, and the other wrote for 17 years before her 8th book was accepted. Now that is perseverance and courage in abundance. But, and here is the interesting fact – they are the two most successful of those who answered. There’s a moral in there somewhere. And myself? I was rejected for four years.
 
Was your first book published the first one you had written?
 For a surprising 34% it was. The rest were such a mix of numbers. The highest being two who had to write eight before succeeding and one determined author who was accepted with her 15th novel.  
Did you have an agent when you were accepted? I next asked.
Only 14% had agents and they were all mainstream writers. Only one replied that she had met her agent at an RNA event, though I’m sure there are lots more. And two had not needed one, they said, since they had gone through the NWS. I had an agent who I met by chance.  
How many agents had they approached?
Several replied that there were so many they had forgotten, the worst was one patient author who had submitted to twelve. Imagine how soul destroying that must have been.  
How many publishers did you approach either agented or not?
Lots didn’t answer this question which made me curious. Was it because it was so many? They would have been in good company if this was the case. Only three submitted to one. Then the figures varied from 2 up to 8 publishing houses. I was confident I would beat this having been turned down a good 20 times. I was wrong, I lost to a writer with 41 publishing houses who did not want her.  
What differences had noticed in the world of publishing since they started.
 1. The demise of the independent book shop worried many. While this is sad I have often wondered about them. From my own experience most independents were a bit sniffy about mid-market fiction. I remember approaching one bookseller who informed me that he did not stock “rubbish.” That he only stocked quality. Am I sorry he went to the wall? Guess! Reps too are thin on the ground. Gone are the days of going round the bookshops with them, central buying is the order of the day. On the other hand, the huge discounts which the publishers give the large chains and supermarkets appears to be an own goal.
2. The next most noted was the need for self-promotion by authors. Gone it seems are the days of the author tours. The publicity department sending you a huge schedule of appointments with TV, Radio and press. (Only the mega sellers get such treatment these days.) Writers are a modest lot (of course there are exceptions but best not to go there!) and for them to promote themselves is virtually impossible. And so the chances of becoming well known get less.
3. There was a time when publishers took on writers with the understanding that they would build them, stay with them. A book that didn’t quite work did not mean being dropped. Patience and trust were the order of the day. Several of our writers pointed this out. It has all got more stressful, that’s for sure. With the arrival of EPOS there is no way to hide sales. Anyone in the business knows exactly what the figures are.
 4. There are less publishing houses as the conglomerates absorbed the smaller, said several. On the other hand there seems to me to be a lot of smaller houses sprouting up.
5. And then there is the rise of the internet which prompted the most debate.
A. We’ve the forming of writers groups. This latter has removed the feelings of isolation. There is now a vast network of contacts out there who are generous with their advice and help. Not to mention Twitter and Facebook.
B. Nearly everyone now has a website, a blog. Interaction with our readers is common. It is easier to keep in touch with fans.
C. And how much easier it is with the internet to do research. All that knowledge a mere click away.
D. The rise of e-publishing. This was always looked at almost as if it were a kissing cousin of vanity publishing but it becomes bigger by the day. What will be interesting to see is how the publishing of established mainstream authors with their large followings in e-format will affect those already published in this form. The competition will consequently become as fierce as conventional publishing is already.
E. The increase in the number of writers. I’m not sure if this is the case. When I started twenty seven years ago there were too many of us chasing the same dream. However, I have noticed that when there is a recession there is an increase in hopefuls.
F. The volume of sales on the internet was noted. But the necessity for writers to be savvy in dealing with the internet and all it encompasses was pointed out. Was there anything I had noticed? I agreed with all the above plus, it now seems harder to find an agent than a publisher. And it is impossible to ignore the fall in the advances given. Nearly every writer I know is earning less than they did ten years ago. It has always been a financially precarious occupation, I think it gets worse. However, what made me laugh was one author saying what had struck her most in the time she had been published was: “Publishers eating each other!” Reading this I wonder if it will help or depress further. Still knwoing how things really are can't be a bad thing, or can it?

14 comments:

  1. I didn't reply to your questions, Annie, though I should have, because my route to publication as a novelist wasn't quite normal! I'm encouraged by the fact that recently, writers we both know have been published for the first time, and at least one very new publisher seems to be doing very well by its authors. I won't name names - but you can clarify!

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  2. Like Lesley, I didn't reply either, because I fell into my first agent and thence first publisher by weird accident.

    I do think that publishers now expect authors to get out there and sell themselves, in a way that would have been inconceivable even 10 years ago, let alone fifty.

    Of course, Barbara Cartland was the Queen of the Soundbite - and travelled all over the world to promote her books well into her pensionable years. But Mary Stewart, the mega-seller of the 50s and 60s, only gave one interview that I can find, to Argosy magazine.

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  3. Annie, I'm sure lots of people (like me) didn't answer the publisher question because they were agented, so have no idea how many publishers the agent approached on their behalf. I've never approached a publisher directly.

    And I too met my agent at an RNA event. Actually that's something else that's changed - at my first ever RNA event I met 8 agents. At recent events they've been thin on the ground, so I don't know if I was lucky that first time, or if they've stopped coming in such numbers.

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  4. What a lot of information, Annie!

    But the line about twelve agent rejections made me laugh. I didn't respond with an exact figure because I truly have no idea how many agents have rejected me, but I'm absolutely certain it's more than twelve. 'Pretty much every agent in London' is a more precise response.

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  5. Brilliant and encouraging stuff Annie - as always.
    lx

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  6. Really interesting reading, Annie.

    I wonder how the statistics would have changed had those who've been looking for agents and publishers been responding. It feels as if the wait to be taken on by agents/publishers is now considerably longer than four years.

    Thank you for this fascinating research.

    Liz X

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  7. A fascinating post. Well done on gathering the info, Anita.

    It is not depressing, just a fact of modern, writing life I am going to have to get used to. :)

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  8. Thank you for this Annie. As a Not Finished The First Draft Of The First Attempt person, the message is loud and clear: Everyone responding to your survey has one thing in common: They got on with it!

    I need to stop searching the net for puppies, houses and gossip and flipping well crack on.

    Thank you!

    AJx

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  9. You said,'Reading this I wonder if it will help or depress further.' But I agree with your very last sentence. I'd far rather know the truth, however unpalatable.

    I've completed two books and am drafting the third as well as having a little fun writing my blog. In parallel, I'm approaching agents in what I think is a systematic way. I DO want to be published, but I love writing for its own sake which saves me from feeling too down when I get a form rejection letter.

    Talking to other not-yet-published writers, I get the impression that 30 rejections are not unusual. This is a scary thought, but I was told one such author went on to get a million dollar deal in Australia. Being Pollyanna-ish, I feel I will be published in the future, so I bash on.

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  10. This post is enlightening, encouraging and depressing. All those feelings in a few paragraphs on the experiences of other people.
    Thank you, this post will interest lots of yet-to-be-published (we need to find a shorter name) writers.
    Sarah xx

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  11. Your research fits right in with my own experience. I'd submitted my novel to around 30 agents, and got requests for partials and fulls, but no offers. Put it away for a few months, then sent it out to 3 publishers directly, and one offered me a contract. It was definitely easier to get a publisher than an agent.

    Great article!

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  12. It isn't depressing, but sort of brings us all together as writers because we're ALL going through the same thing in one stage or another.
    I've given up landing myself an agent, but I haven't given up writing. I self-pub now and I'm happier.

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  13. It isn't depressing, but sort of brings us all together as writers because we're ALL going through the same thing in one stage or another.
    I've given up landing myself an agent, but I haven't given up writing. I self-pub now and I'm happier.

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  14. Interesting stuff Annie and it just goes to show there are many routes to the same destination.....

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