Saturday, 8 January 2011

There is more to getting published

than writing something which is outstandingly good and following the rules with regard to pitch.
If you want to know about that go over and read Nicola Morgan's excellent blog. I do not disagree with her BUT....
I was talking to a publisher a couple of days ago. I have been pondering what he said since then. It was depressing to say the least. Now I will hasten to add that this particular publisher does not deal in children's books, only adult books. He may be wrong but it is still worth putting it up here and asking what other people think. If you read this then I would like to know.
I will say at the outset that I did not approach this man. I did not know him. I was introduced as the person "who writes to the papers". Right. He told me he "likes my letters". That is nice. The person who introduces me then says that I have also written a couple of books. He looks edgy - and I don't blame him. It is like asking a doctor to diagnose an illness at a party. You don't. I wriggled out of the conversation at that point.
Later however he came back to me to offer me some advice. The advice amounted to the fact that, while I might like to go on writing for the fun of it, I would need to face reality. "To be honest Cat you are too old. Publishers are looking for younger writers, much younger. They want writers with a writing life ahead of them. They want people who can provide them with multiple books, not just or maybe two ."
I was too stunned to say anything. It got worse.
"You could write an outstanding book but I doubt anyone will be interested. You need to be able to put in the other work as well. Authors have to be able to get out and do their own publicity. Adelaide is the wrong location for a start. You would need to be able to get out into retail venues and schools and do the book signings - and you couldn't do the book signings anyway. We can't just publish something and hope that it sells. It could be the next Ms Harry Potter and it won't get picked up unless you can do that sort of thing. Take my advice, give up the idea and just write to the papers instead."
He strolled off leaving me still speechless.
Now Nicola Morgan - and others - say that it is possible to be published if you write something that is outstandingly good and you pitch properly etc. Nowhere do they mention age or location as specific advantages or disadvantages. (I will ignore the comment about signing books. There is not much I can do about that.)
Obviously people living in Adelaide do get things published but are age and location a disadvantage? What do you think?


Kath said...

How dare anyone EVER tell you to stop writing?! That is just plain wrong, for starters.

I would hope that if you have a book, it wouldn't matter if it was the only one you ever wrote or got published, so long as that book was "outstandingly good", it should be in with as much of a chance of being published as an equally outstanding book by an author, who could potentially then go on to write many more books.

Anonymous said...

Ok so how old was this man? I would have liked to have named and shamed his age (cocky young sod or silly old fool). No one should put you down like that ever. Since when was writing about being hip and happening and sexy? Seriously if people could see how I write (in my pjs with spot cream dotted around my face surrounded by nappies) then no one would talk to me let alone publish me but they do! Grrr. Chin up chuck xx

Claire King said...

Fully agree with Kath. No-one can tell you to give up writing.

I don't mind comments such as 'just don't quit the day job' or 'would you be prepared to travel to signings to help create a marketing buzz?' but that sort of 'why bother' approach is unacceptable.

I'm no spring chicken and I live in the back of beyond in the mountains but will that stop me getting published? Not a bloody chance.

Nicola Morgan said...

He's talking out of his arse, Cat. I won't deny that it can sometimes be harder if you're older than late 50s (say) but not so much harder that you should stop trying. And location doesn't matter at all. That's plain stupid. Readers don't care where writers live, for goodness' sake.

No, sorry: it's the book that counts. Write a book that publishers will believe people want to read, that's all.

Listen: an agent doesn't need to know your age. My agent took me on without meeting me and without knowing a single thing about my personal life, including my age.

Anonymous said...

You mean all this guy publishes is from young, inexperienced writers who are practising for when they have some knowledge of the world to write about?

I would not go out of my way to get a newly purchased book signed unless I had already read, and loved, the book.

I have four books which have been signed by the author .... two of them by friends, one by the author who asked me if I would like it signed when she had a few spare moments before a lecture, and one childrens book when the author did a school visit. (The last one was for my kids, I swear!) They are all books I love, with or without a signature.

Judy B

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the commenters. Face reality. Living in Adelaide means you live in the arse end of the world. It's a dump. Nothing happens there. Coetzee may live there - for now - but he made his mark elsewhere first.
People might not care where an author lives but publishers do. You have to be available and able - you are neither. Mitch

Anonymous said...

I think age does matter a little - if they know. Don't tell them? What do you do if they ask?
Location does matter. I think Nicola Morgan is speaking from the viewpoint of where she lives - not from here in Australia. Isolation is an issue here. A book that might get published in the UK may not be published here because the author won't be available to do the school visits and talks and book signings etc which help to sell the book. It is not enough to have written the outstandingly good book. You have to be available to sell it.
Sorry to make your whiskers droop again Cat.
Bob C-S

Anonymous said...

Oh come on! Seriously? In an age where multimedia rules the world people are saying that because you live in a beautiful part of Australia you can't get published? Rubbish! If a book is a good enough do a video link to the schools. Take the family on a mini break to do the signings, fed ex (or your version) the books and sign them if you can't there. Make prepared DVD film presentations with beautiful imagery of the author reading the book should you not be able to get to a signing! These are all plausible and possible options. Just easy simple ideas that could help. Just because I'm in the UK doesn't make it any easier! But anywho like I said you've got a great support system so keep your chin up. You can always publish it yourself and do those ideas and prove everyone wrong! I love that feeling ;) xx

catdownunder said...

My whiskers are twitching again...I think my tail has risen...what I need now is my young readers to tell me they want to know what happens next (or something like that) and I might have the courage to try writing a pitch and...and.... we will see. I can try anyway...

Carey Allen said...

Take no notice.

My dad took up gliding at the age of 80. He learned from scratch and gained his solo pilot's licence. He loved it, he lived it and he packed it in where there was no other physical choice left.

Go have a look at Mari Strachan, who was first published aged 60 (and has produced a gem).

And the next time you see this bloke (if ever), tell him he might think he's shit hot but he's really only warm poo so go bother someone else.

Nicola Morgan said...

cat - I'm going to blog about this properly. I don't think it's as clear-cut as any of us is implying (myself probably included)and it requires more than i can say in a comment.

All i can say in a comment is that there are no absolutes, no certainties, no brick walls, as long as the writing is good enough. Bear with me while i find time to answer the issues properly. I do still consider that publisher wrong. You CAN get published at any age (the facts prove it) but there are some reasons why it gets harder. BUT, it's one of the professions where age is less a barrier than others.

Anonymous said...

Wow, stirring the pot Cat? Went and read Nicola Morgan's blog. Not sure I fully agree and, from her comments, think she might be reviewing matters a little. I should comment there but tell her that Adelaide is Adelaide and not Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane. Has she read any Thiele? If not you should introduce her to Sun on the Stubble at very least.
As for yours - for goodness' sake don't wait for the kids to read it. Get someone who knows about these things to look at it. I enjoyed it but you will just think I am biased.

Kate said...

Juliet Marillier, a Perth writer, got her first acceptance letter on her 50th birthday. She's been turning out brilliant books ever since, selling world-wide and no one has ever told her she's too old (I hope!).

This man was just one man. Ignore him!

Caroline said...

What an upsetting encounter. The publishing landscape is changing at such a pace that no publisher should be quite so dogmatic. As long as the book is good and finds a paying/reading audience, then your age, location and the like should be more of a selling point than a drawback. Look at Mary Wesley, she wasn't published until she was 71. Her book are great. And even if your book isn't a bestseller, it might make a brilliant TV series. And if you only have one book in you, who cares. One of my all time favourites is The Bone People by Keri Hulme (and if Adelaide is a backwater, what is New Zealand?).

catdownunder said...

Oh I think New Zealand and Adelaide have much in common

Sam said...

Sorry, I can't help but comment here. I completely agree with Kath et al, and don't feel anyone has the right to suggest anyone else stops writing.

I wonder how that publisher would approach a disabled writer unable, for one reason or another, to go "on the road" to promote their work? Speaking as one of those writers, this disturbs me.

Shauna said...

I came to this post via Nicola's blog and I agree with her comment that it isn't so much of a brick wall, more an icy slope. Which to me means it's all about perspective.

There is a lot talked about proximity to market by which I guess they mean Europe and America. And as much of how we live in a global village.

Living and writing in New Zealand I'm only too aware of each of these.

Age and distance might make a difference to some publishers, but a great saleable book has to be more important than these.

I buy books based on the writing of the author and not on where they live or how old they are. If they do make it to New Zealand I happily go along to see them, but I also visit their website and blogs, or look at videos they make. There are so many ways to advertise yourself and your books.

I had my first novel published in UK last year and there is nothing like that feeling.

Keep writing Cat, no one can tell you to give up. If it's your dream then keep working at it and prove him wrong.

Ann Elise Monte said...

It seems there is ageism at both ends of the spectrum--both very young writers and writers past retirement age. As the former, I try not to be offended by people who say things like virtualquilter's "young, inexperienced writers who are practising for when they have some knowledge of the world to write about" but I must admit I did bristle at that one. Age should always be second to writing a good book... and most everything else, to be honest.

And the assumption that "young" equates to "hip and happening and sexy" has me worried. I am no beauty queen. Is that going to be another hurdle I have to leap over? And I can't run hurdles for the life of me.

And as for location affecting one's options? Bah. I live in Victoria, about an hour's drive from Melbourne. My school is full of farm-kids. Location is the flimsiest possible hurdle to overcome in this business. So flimsy, in fact, that you could just kick it down rather than hop over it. (Okay, maybe I'm going too far with the metaphors here.)

Publishing has long been a domain where talent has eclipsed personal circumstance, location, age and looks. Are we heading towards a similar future to the music industry and its MTV? I sincerely hope not.

Ebony McKenna. said...

He must have been drunk. MUST HAVE!
Age and location mean nothing.

Book tours? Most lose money anyway. They're just about publicity and adding photos to your blog/webpage/facebook/twitter accounts.

Schools? Unless they pay appearance fees, they're not worth the 'publicity'. Plus, last time I checked, I heard Adelaide did have some. I'm from Melbourne, we have some schools here too, I'm told.

Book stores? More of a loser there too - they are also good for pr but not for sales. You might sell 100 books if you're really lucky but if you're only getting 50c a copy in royalties, that's only $50 for a couple of hours work.

Just as Nicola said, my agent didn't care how old I was either. I don't know if she's ever asked because she doesn't care. And she doesn't care that I'm here in Melbourne at the other end of the world while she's in the UK. Because I chat every week with readers and bloggers and reviewers and stores and all sorts via twitter, facebook and all the rest.

Gawd, what a total prat. I'm really sorry you had that encounter but it says WAY loads more about him than you.

Love and hugs of encouragement.
And don't you dare give up.

Phillipa said...

What an odd thing to say to someone. Writers from all around Australia are published - not just the eastern seaboard. Rural writers, and those of us in provincial cities and their fringes are published. Perhaps not in huge numbers but I don't think living in Adelaide is a barrier to either being published or promoting your book.

I live in Adelaide and in 2008 was selected for the QWC/Hachette Mss Development Program held in QLD. of the eight of us only three were from Brisbane. I was offered a contract with Hachette and have my second book coming out in May this year. Nobody asked me where I was from, ever. It just wasn't an issue.I have done a lot of promotion mainly through interviews over the telephone and book signings. I chose to do the book signings because I like to meet readers and booksellers. My publishers have never asked me to do a book signing. I am over forty five and no longer have perky tits and a a come hither smile, but I've scrubbed up okay in promotional photos and my publishers have never said, 'ewww, put a bag over your head, or better still, just stay at home.'

What matters to them is the quality of the manuscript and its commercial viability. Next up would be an ability to work to deadlines and to not have hissy fits over minor problems. Of course your contract says you have to be available to promote your book, but publishers are not ogres and they have armies of publicists and marketing bods to work out how best to promote a book. If you look like Tara Moss then maybe they'll use your image, but I must emphasise, as Nicola Morgan says, it is the quality of the manuscript that is of prime importance. A young writer can crash and burn after two books and an older one may take it all in their stride and have a career spanning twenty years - it's an individual thing, something that no one can predict.

Anonymous said...

He was feeling threatened at the thought of having to turn you down, so went on the attack immediately.

Also, don't forget the title of the first Stieg Larsson; Men Who Hate Women. There are plenty of them about.

Unknown said...

Well, it is like this, if you love to write, create, or anything else for that matter, then you should do that. Just because one guy does not want to take the time for you, does not mean you should worry about it. Christ! I've gotten hundreds of rejections on my novel, but that is the name of the game: Starve the Artist until he dies! I always say, "I write to become famous in death." For now, I am content eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while sipping tea and cheap wine, so long as I can create my art, I will continue to smile.