Friday, February 27, 2009

To give up, or not to give up

Given that some people are saying we’re about to head into a major global depression (perhaps as early as next year), where does that leave the publishing industry in a small market like Australia where publishing opportunities have always been few and far between (unless you’re Tim Winton or Barry Maitland)?

I’ve laboured over my novel for 5 years with the aim of getting published. I love this book, it’s my original baby, and I finally feel like I understand what would make the novel attractive to the market, so I’m re-writing the whole thing from scratch. But should I bother? The book is already good in its own right (or at least the people at Varuna think so). I have 3 other novels in varying stages of completion. Should I aim for publishing, or simply complete my other books for my own sake because the dream of getting published is slipping ever further away with rapidly diminishing opportunities both here and overseas?

You haven't told me which genre your novel is - and the type of novel it is affects how I answer this question. So I'll do the best I can.

First things first: if you've been labouring for five years, it's time to put that novel in the bottom drawer for a while. If you haven't had any luck getting published, despite industry support (viz, Varuna) , then you should possibly see this as your 'practice' novel and take what you've learnt into the next three novels. A lot of first novels are practice novels. A lot of successful authors don't get their first novels published. In other words, and to be zen about it: let go of your attachment to your first novel. It will always be your first, it will always be your baby, but for whatever reason it hasn't been published and you should move on.

Second things second: yes, the state of the world economy is affecting publishing. Australia is doing okay, but the US publishers have laid people off and combined imprints and whatever else they feel they need to do, and so there will be less books published - mostly, I suspect, less novels in particular - and there will be some flow-on effect to the local subsidiaries of the large publishers. The Australian independents may well hold steady, as they don't tend to take the large risks that the bigger companies do and thus are less exposed to the vagaries of the market. Of course, it's possible that I don't know what I'm talking about.

Third things third: I expect there will be less literary fiction published in Australia, for the simple reason that less and less people buy it. It's the eternal problem: writers (usually writers) bemoan the lack of opportunities to publish literary fiction, but I often suspect they're not buying much of it themselves. If you want to see it published, you have to buy it. It's just like bemoaning the closure of your local bakery because you liked the idea of having it there 'just in case' but you never, ever bought anything from it. Surprise! It's gone out of business. Well, publishing is a business.

So: good genre fiction will continue to get published because people buy it and they'll want the escapism. There will be crime, romance, thriller, women's contemporary and so on. You'll probably see less chick lit - complaining about not having a boyfriend or only going to the Whitsundays instead of Greece is going to seem very 2005 when a lot of people have lost their homes and livelihoods. But there may be more 'racy' chick lit - sex is still free for most of us. Fantasy and sci fi probably won't change either, but there aren't many publishers for that in Australia anyway.

And to answer your last question, about whether you should aim for publishing or complete the books for their own sake: never write just to get published. If that's the only reason you're writing, then stop. Because then your heart isn't in it, only your brain, and you really need a lot of heart to run that particular marathon. If you love writing, keep writing; but if you're only writing because you just want to get published, it will show in your writing.

1 comment:

tyswan said...

Thanks for answering my questions (btw, my writing is somewhere in the literary/mainstream/spec-fic divide).

I write because I love it. I even enjoy the challenge of trying to get published and still maintain my artistic integrity. The question was mostly about where to devote my energies, and I guess you've answered that. I'm happy to overhaul my first novel to make it more publishable, but won't bother if there's little or no chance of getting published.

I do buy litfic, but sadly I can't afford to buy new books very often, So it's mostly secondhand (which doesn't help the publishers, I know).

Thanks again.