Friday, 19 August 2011

On Being Published

Sales of hardbacks, which is apparently the most lucrative category of books, are down by 23%, though some authors are doing better than ever due to increased sales in ebooks and clever use of interactive websites.


What does all this mean for the unsigned author?   How will the downturn in sales effect the number of new publishing contracts?  

I've been thinking about what it actually means to be published.  It's fair to say that every writer dreams of having their work read by thousands if not millions of people.  I'm no different.  As much as I enjoy the creative process of writing and editing subsequent drafts, I also want my work to be read - and hopefully enjoyed.   And some of my short stories, one extract from Tamsin, some poetry and non-fiction have been published over the years.  But I want more; of course I do.

There is the undeniable kudos of having had someone else consider your writing worthy of spending their hard cash to publish and market it.  Suddenly you're a "real" writer, not just an enthusiast hammering away on a computer keyboard in pursuit of art for art's sake.  Fellow members of writers' circles begin asking how you found the magic ticket.  And you'll tell them, in all truth, that there is only this:   Write well, keep writing, network, send out your best writing, get used to rejections. 

Being published does not mean your writing is necessarily any better than that of someone who hasn't been published.  It just means the editor who read it liked it and thought it was the right piece for their current project. 

It could also be said that nearly all writers - as with actors, dancers, fine art painters and other creative types - also need to have another job.  Most people don't want to hear that.  They are too busy imagining that they'll get a book or two published then retire to some glossy paradise and spend the rest of their days writing in the sun.  Such people imagine that getting published is the key to a life of wine and roses.  Sometimes this actually happens, or seems to, and therefore logically it might happen for you too. 

But for every big name writer, there is an ever-growing torrent of traditionally published writers whose work languishes in the sidelines.  Add to this the issue of new authors' sales not meeting overly-optimistic advances, which can result in a book being unfairly deemed a flop.  If you think landing a first publishing deal is tough, try landing one with the stigma of a failure to your name. 

Will being published change your life?  There is an insightful essay written by Duncan Murrell, who was an editor for Algonquin Books for five years before going freelance, which casts an insider's view on what it really means to bag that contract:-

So, what does being published mean to you?

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