Feeling too happy? Read "What I'm really thinking - the failed novelist"

Teresa Edgerton

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Possibly in part of her mind she knows she will try getting published again at some time in the future, and she doesn't want to post any details that would identify her or burn any bridges.
 

Biskit

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I don't get why this article is getting so much traction
I think part of it is that it triggers one of two responses: oh poor diddums... (which seems to be the minority, or first reaction which then changes...) and what a muppet... (insert emojis for irritation, outrage, disbelief...)

Or, as Brian says, linkbait.
 

Biskit

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I had the impression they have financial woes - any time I follow a link to one of their pages, they are trying to drum up subscription customers, so I suspect cheap publicity tricks are part of their business these days, a few notches above pictures of naked women and headlines about how the dog ate my homework.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Well then, I suppose with everyone wanting to be a writer these days that such an article might attract a lot of attention.

But I have met (online) others like her, so I expect she is a real person saying what she really thinks.
 

Theophania Elliott

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I thought the Guardian was a major newspaper on your side of the ocean?

It is. Its politics are slightly to the right of Socialist Worker; it caters to the literati set. Every week or two, they publish an article about how ebooks are dying and Print Is Back because people what people really care about when they think 'book' is the smell of the paper and the crackle of the pages, not all those words that some bloke/woman wrote in it.

They also did an article about how Authors Can't Earn Enough Money To Live On (probably because of all those people who just buy books for the smell of the paper, I suppose, although even I - digital diehard that I am - acknowledge the siren call of beautiful Moleskine notebooks...). And another one from one of their journalists confessing that she bought books so they'd look impressive on her bookshelves and then felt guilty about not reading them.

So this article is about par for the course for them.

Of course, you should take anything I say about the Guardian with a pinch of salt. OK, a salt-cellar of salt. Or maybe a salt-mine of salt. I try not to read it, because every time I do, it pushes my politics a notch to the right. I much prefer reading the Times, which pushes my politics to the left. :)

Yes, they are in financial trouble - but then, so are a lot of the paper-based news media, so it's hardly their fault. I've had a paper newspaper subscription twice: once when I was much younger. Someone used to push it through my letterbox every morning - unfortunately, by that time, I'd already left for work and I read the free newspaper on the Metro. More recently, I had a subscription to the Times (for the law reports and the opportunity to snarl at the right-wing establishment... people...) but at least I used to read it on my tablet, so I did actually get to read it before putting the paper copy out for recycling.

But not any more. There's as much news as most people wish to consume free on the BBC website, plus specialist blogs and newsfeeds. Like many people, I don't need an actual newspaper. The world has moved away from a model in which being well-informed means having to pay for the information.

As for this woman in the article, I got a distinct sense of someone who thought she was better than everyone else. I found myself thinking of her as the sort of person who, if she can't be the star, doesn't want to take part at all. If she really, really wanted to write, she'd either keep going with attempting to get a publishing deal, or she'd self-pub. But neither of those - the deal after 1,387 rejections, or self-pubbing - provide the kind of star-quality validation she seems to want - the sort of successcalator on which she can glide gracefully past all the little people toiling away in the trenches.

If she is that kind of person, it's probably better that she gives up - it seems unlikely that she'd be happy with anything that wasn't a star-quality deal with huge sales and a prize or two to follow, instead of the tiny advance and relatively low sales she'd probably get as a debut literary fiction author.

At this point, here is a quote from the late, great, Diana Wynne Jones - or rather, a gnomic utterance of Ka'a Orto'o:

Settle for what you can get, but first ask for the world.

[From Tough Guide to Fantasyland]
 

Biskit

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I can't remember if it was a bbc article or a documentary, but there was some sort of survey asking teenagers/pre-teens what they wanted to be when they grew up. A disturbingly high proportion answered with variations on famous or pop star. I have a very vague lurking memory that there was something in it about an attitude that school/study/work was not needed because they knew they were going to enter and win Big Brother or equivalent.
 

The Bluestocking

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While I sympathise with the writer, I do think that lots of people don't approach writing in the same way that they would any other art. Nobody picks up a blob of clay and expects to be a great sculptor; nobody's first painting is genius*. You have to have a good knowledge of the mechanics of writing. I don't see why it should be any different for writing a novel, even if you do quite a lot of writing in your day job, one way or another.

I suspect it's because everyone thinks just because everyone is taught to write in school (as part of the 3 Rs and basic literacy) that everyone who can spell and string a sentence together can be a novelist (or any other creative writer who writes fiction that includes a hefty helping of storytelling).

This is unlike the other arts like music, dance, painting, sculpting, acting etc where it very quickly becomes apparent who has talent and who hasn't.

I'd say (and this is just my opinion) that the best authors are talented at writing or storytelling or both... and then there are people who who are talented in neither in the same way someone who is tone deaf wouldn't be able to sing. I didn't believe that talent is a factor (in fact, I was very much of the mindset that everyone can write) until I attended a creative writing class in college. We all did weekly workshops and everyone took turns to read their prepared work aloud... and there was one classmate who everyone immediately knewdid not have "it" (but nobody said anything).
 
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Stephen Palmer

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The Guardian is doing jolly well, they have a new "business model" (ugh!) and they've got tons of new subscribers paying a fiver per month, me included. The only other decent paper over here is the Independent.
 

Stephen Palmer

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* The only three exceptions I can think of to this are Shakespeare, Mozart and Da Vinci, but as they lived a long time ago, it's hard to be certain that Shakespeare and Da Vinci didn't have a few weaker early works that we don't know about. Mozart seems to have just been a genius from infancy.

Toby, you forgot to mention Paul McCartney!
 

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Just to throw a (not so) random idea into the pool... I do wonder if a lot of rejections are because the agents / publishers see there is the potential for significant improvement in the novel to be had no matter how good the submitted work is.
 

Toby Frost

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I'd say (and this is just my opinion) that the best authors are talented at writing or storytelling or both... and then there are people who who are talented in neither in the same way someone who is tone deaf wouldn't be able to sing. I didn't believe that talent is a factor (in fact, I was very much of the mindset that everyone can write) until I attended a creative writing class in college. We all did weekly workshops and everyone took turns to read their prepared work aloud... and there was one classmate who everyone immediately knew did not have "it" (but nobody said anything).

I think singing is a good comparison. I suspect that the great majority of people can be taught to sing to a limited but reasonably good level. A small percentage can sing really well, and an equally small group are tone deaf and will never be able to do it. I can think of a lot of writers whose writing is merely functional, and quite a few whose work is really not to my tastes, but only a couple who I would say were downright awful.

What bothers me somewhat is that, if you look at the careers of older writers (Wyndham, Orwell and Chandler spring to mind), you can see them improving from their earlier books and stories as their career progressed. Without the small-scale, pulpy market, and the emphasis on a few big names, it's harder for promising writers to write small books that will be noticed, not just for their contents but for their potential.
 

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I suspect that the great majority of people can be taught to sing to a limited but reasonably good level.
I have to disagree with this. The great majority of people can be taught music (and probably almost anything else) to an incredibly high level given good instruction and sufficient time/motivation. Yes, some people are natural geniuses and will find it easier to get there, but if you put in the time you will go very far indeed. My wife is a professional musician and has encountered a number of people who claim to be tone deaf, in every case she has met she's found that they aren't actually tone deaf (which apparently is incredibly rare), but they have been discouraged at an early age by some unpleasant authority figure, who told the child that they couldn't sing and never would. Which when you think about it is very sad. From the other extreme consider Laszlo Polgar, who raised his daughters to be chess prodigies essentially to prove his theorem that genius is something you make.

So then we're left wondering about the people we meet who are enthusiastic about their hobby, who put in plenty of time over years and yet never seem to get anywhere (I've met a few in my time too). We can write them off as untalented, but I think that's too easy. I think they're just "practicing wrong". It's not 10000 hours of practice to become an expert, it's 10,000(ish) hours of directed practice. Maybe they've had bad teachers, maybe they're a little arrogant, maybe they've been told they're bad and just given up a little, there's probably a thousand reasons.

Which is all to say that I agree with your first comment - no one should expect to pick up a pen and be a genius, but you may be right that people perceive great writers in that way, in a way that they don't perceive great sculptors. We've just got to put the effort in and improve.
 

Jo Zebedee

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My take on it. TL:DR - it's okay to give up, and it's okay not to want to be a writer. And that a lot of the responses I've seen on the internet (not here, necessarily - I haven't read the whole thread - but in lots of places I hang out) are not generous to the writer. I get that's partly because of the tone - but it's not a failure to say you've had enough of this game.

On giving up
 

Biskit

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I get that's partly because of the tone - but it's not a failure to say you've had enough of this game.
I think it was mostly the tone - the sense of entitlement and whining.

Yup.
I had plans for a career in research, got the PhD, got the job, got disillusioned, got face-to-face with financial reality and gave up. My dream job wasn't so I changed the dream.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I think it was mostly the tone - the sense of entitlement and whining.


It certainly was those two things that annoyed me about the article.

I've always felt (and said) that if people find that writing isn't for them they should stop writing and do something else they like better. When I see people telling people they don't even know "never give up" it seems very odd to me, giving a stranger career advice based on practically no knowledge of that person, just the the fact that, yeah, they wanted to write but it's not working out and they're unhappy about it. It's like they are projecting their own passion and commitment on this other individual who might not feel the same way at all, and who might be far happier doing something else entirely that they could feel passionate about and be successful at.

So I could be "generous," as you say, Jo, to the woman who wrote that article, if it weren't for the fact that she shows just the opposite spirit toward those who have succeeded where she did not. I am quite sure that if she had written her article in quite another spirit, instead of being told that she was a quitter she'd be getting tons of sympathy instead right now (plus all the usual encouragement to keep on going, which would be annoying if she doesn't want to keep on going, but at least she would be getting the sympathy which apparently she does want.)
 

Theophania Elliott

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I found myself wondering, "If you want to be a writer that much, and you've already written the book, and you think it's your masterpiece... why don't you self-publish?"

The choice isn't "trad-pub or die" any more; even if trad-pub is your first choice, you don't have to just keep racking up the rejection letters any longer. If you've got a story you want to share, you can. People still might not read it, but hey, you've published it. You're a real live author, and you're living the dream.

So she didn't have to give up on being a writer/author, even if she couldn't take more rejections (and to be fair, I can quite see how that would sap one's energy - I've never subscribed to the idea that it's necessary character-building for a writer to amass enough rejection letters to wallpaper a medium-sized room). Because let's face it, how many people realistically think that they're going to be able to give up the day job and earn a living as an author from their first book? Most people who aren't completely living in cloud-cuckoo-land, even if they want to be a full-time author, will bank on having to start with writing as an evening job first. So why not publish the masterpiece and see how it goes?

If you've made the decision that your masterpiece isn't ever going to get picked up by a traditional publisher (or else why not keep submitting it?) the whole 'no publisher will look at me if I self-publish' thing (whether it's true or not) doesn't matter if you've decided you've failed at the trad-pub route anyway.

Nowadays, being an author is easy. Classes of six-year-olds are managing to be authors. It's nearly impossible to fail at being an author, since all you have to do is cobble something together and put it up on Amazon. It's being a good author, a successful (rich?) author or a trad-pubbed author that's still hard - and those are different things entirely.

It sounded to me like she wasn't in love with writing, or sharing her stories, or simply being an author, but more in love with the perceived accolade of having her manuscript picked out of all the others as worthy of publication by a traditional publisher. Thus, anything that didn't involve that validation just wasn't going to give her what she wanted, so she quit. (And, of course, the more rejections precede that validation, the less the validation appears to be worth.)

So I felt sad for her too (as well as less charitable feelings) - if it was the validation and praise she craved, rather than the wonder of writing or the pleasure of sharing, then I think that even if she had managed to get a trad-pub deal, she would probably have found it an empty victory, like reaching the top of the mountain and finding that all you can see is... more mountains.
 

Jo Zebedee

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I found myself wondering, "If you want to be a writer that much, and you've already written the book, and you think it's your masterpiece... why don't you self-publish?"

The choice isn't "trad-pub or die" any more; even if trad-pub is your first choice, you don't have to just keep racking up the rejection letters any longer. If you've got a story you want to share, you can. People still might not read it, but hey, you've published it. You're a real live author, and you're living the dream.

So she didn't have to give up on being a writer/author, even if she couldn't take more rejections (and to be fair, I can quite see how that would sap one's energy - I've never subscribed to the idea that it's necessary character-building for a writer to amass enough rejection letters to wallpaper a medium-sized room). Because let's face it, how many people realistically think that they're going to be able to give up the day job and earn a living as an author from their first book? Most people who aren't completely living in cloud-cuckoo-land, even if they want to be a full-time author, will bank on having to start with writing as an evening job first. So why not publish the masterpiece and see how it goes?

If you've made the decision that your masterpiece isn't ever going to get picked up by a traditional publisher (or else why not keep submitting it?) the whole 'no publisher will look at me if I self-publish' thing (whether it's true or not) doesn't matter if you've decided you've failed at the trad-pub route anyway.

Nowadays, being an author is easy. Classes of six-year-olds are managing to be authors. It's nearly impossible to fail at being an author, since all you have to do is cobble something together and put it up on Amazon. It's being a good author, a successful (rich?) author or a trad-pubbed author that's still hard - and those are different things entirely.

It sounded to me like she wasn't in love with writing, or sharing her stories, or simply being an author, but more in love with the perceived accolade of having her manuscript picked out of all the others as worthy of publication by a traditional publisher. Thus, anything that didn't involve that validation just wasn't going to give her what she wanted, so she quit. (And, of course, the more rejections precede that validation, the less the validation appears to be worth.)

So I felt sad for her too (as well as less charitable feelings) - if it was the validation and praise she craved, rather than the wonder of writing or the pleasure of sharing, then I think that even if she had managed to get a trad-pub deal, she would probably have found it an empty victory, like reaching the top of the mountain and finding that all you can see is... more mountains.

I'm sort of writing a blog about this now - why not self publish? This was the territory I was in with Inish Carraig and I did self publish. And it is well loved by most readers. And I'm not sorry I did. But self publishing is not the happy ending of the book you had dreams for acheiving then anyway. Mostly it's a tale of lost books no matter how damn good they are - and it's becoming worse. There were 600000 kindle books a decade ago - now there are over 4 million. The days of great books being found amongst that are, perhaps, dwindling. And there is something very sad about getting great review after great review after great review and not making a dent in visibility. It might, for some, be easier not to release that soul-sucking genie.
 

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