Monday, March 5, 2012

The real reason why it's so hard to get your Australian novel published

Whenever I'm amongst a group of writers who aren't clients - admittedly not that often, as such gatherings can end in tears (mine) - or even when I encounter individual writers in the wild, there are usually complaints about why it's so hard to get their novel published or to find an agent. 'Why don't agents take on debut novelists?' comes the plaintive cry, often followed by a variation on the theme of 'Evil publishers just don't support Australian writing'.

The question I always want to ask, but tend not to, is: 'When was the last time you bought an Australian novel*?' Because I know that the answer will most likely either be 'Five years ago' or 'Never', or they'll blink and look at me like I've asked if they think Tony Abbott looks good in his Lycra bike pants.**

Well, kids, wake up and smell the Vegemite toast: this is the reason why it's so hard to get your Australian novel published.

If every person who is writing an Australian novel (regardless of genre) would simply buy one Australian novel a year (regardless of genre), the sales figures would look a lot healthier, and publishers would think that there's a more robust market for it. (This being a capitalist economy, they're quite interested in the whole supply-and-demand caper.)

For example, if you're writing a crime novel, consider buying an Australian crime novel instead of Patricia Cornwell next time you're in a bookshop. Don't write an Australian crime novel, buy only US and UK crime novels and then complain that you can't get your Australian crime novel published. Why should the Australian publishing industry support you when you don't support it?

I am the first to admit that the Australian publishing industry (which includes agents) has perhaps let down the novel-reading Australian public in the past. There were a lot of heavy literary novels published as we tried to pin down a literary identity independent of our colonial overlords. We got children's fiction incredibly right, but a lot of the grown-ups' fiction suffered in comparison to what was coming in from overseas. These were the faltering missteps of a toddler culture. No longer.

I can tell you from the fiction submissions I see - most of which I have to reject, because the publishers are reluctant to take risks on new novels because they think no one will read them - that there is some terrific, robust storytelling happening out there, much of it in genre fiction. A lot of it is written by my very own talented clients (who, obviously, didn't get rejected). There are so many great Australian novels available. So I'm sure that there's one - at least one - that you, an Australian novelist who wants to get published, would like. And the best thing you could do for the industry that you would like to part of is buy that one book.

If you're one of those writers who regularly reads Australian novels, fantastic - we love you, you help keep our local fiction publishing alive. If you're not, please first consider why that is, and if it's simply that you don't have the habit of reading Australian novels - that you reflexively choose novels from elsewhere - try to change that habit one book at a time. You'll be glad you did when publishers realise that there is a bigger market for Australian fiction than they thought, and then they're more likely to look for new novelists, and then I and my agent colleagues will have more incentive not to reject so many of these submissions we receive.

Yes, I realise that many novels are very expensive. Believe me, it's not because some of us aren't trying to get the prices adjusted, especially for first novels. We know that the cost is prohibitive for some people. Which is why I'm only suggesting you buy one per year. It's an investment worth making - in your own publishing potential, if nothing else.

*I define 'Australian novel' as 'novel written by an Australian' not 'novel about Australia'.
**I know this because when I have asked the question, these have been the responses, although I added the Tony Abbott bit for embellishment.


Vicki said...

"If you're one of those writers who regularly reads Australian novels, fantastic - we love you, you help keep our local fiction publishing alive."


I love Australian crime fiction, but tend to only buy it if it’s available as an ebook. I’ve just bought Michael Robotham’s Bleed for Me, which I am very much looking forward to.

There an Amazon thread dedicated to Australian Kindle Users. (Warning: They’re not happy with the exorbitant prices some Australian publishers are charging.)


lib_idol said...

Also, if you can't afford to buy Australian novels, then borrow them from your public library! The greater the demand, the more copies your library will buy, and authors will still get paid through the Australian Public Lending Rights scheme.

Veronica Foale said...

Can I ask, where would you recommend people go to discover new (to them) Australian authors? Sometimes it's hard for the general public to know who they ought to be reading next.

Vicki said...

@Veronica: I think that’s part of the problem. Many of the Australian authors I read are either the well known ones (hence why I’m reading Michael Robotham) or have been recommended to me. Others I’ve just stumbled upon.

If you read crime fiction, there’s a good database of authors/books here: How up to date it is, though, I don’t know.

If you’re an ebook reader, you could try (from the number of books listed, I’d say they’re still building the database).

Vicki said...

Oops... forgot Fair Dinkum Crime for fans of Australian Crime Fiction:

"Fair Dinkum Crime is hosted by two Adelaide-based book bloggers, Kerrie and Bernadette, who are fans of Australian crime fiction. The site is a place for their reviews of Australian crime fiction to be highlighted and includes author interviews, news, award updates and anything else relevant to Australian crime fiction."

Veronica Foale said...

Thanks Vicki, I'll check out the ebook database.

I'd love to see a list of Aus Fantasy writers (I only really know Sara Douglass), or other genres too.

Failing that, I'll ask twitter.

Kate Forsyth said...

I read a lot of Australian writers - the ones I've read in the past month are Margo Lanagan (fantasy), Sulari Gentil (historical crime), and Anne Gracie (romance). There's a group on Goodreads dedicated to Australian authors which might help you too. As for Australian fantasy authors, can I recommend Alison Goodman, Alison Croggan, Lian Hearn, Kim Wilkins, Pamela Freeman, Garth Nix, Fiona McIntosh and me (Kate Forsyth)- there are so many amazing Australian authors out there - a few more off the top of my head - Tara Moss and Kathryn Fox(crime), Kate Morton (historical), Kimberley Freeman (family drama), Kerry Greenwood (author of the Miss Fisher mysteries) ... I could go on forever ....

K said...

Thanks for this great post, Agent Sydney!
For the readers who are asking about lists of books, here are a few:

In addition to Fair Dinkum and crimedownunder, which are excellent resources, has extensive lists, reviews, and highlights which authors are Australian.


Tehani Wessely said...

You could also look at awards lists from years gone by. The Prime Minister's Literary Awards, the state-based Premier's Awards, and other juried national awards such as the CBCA Book of the Year (Children & YA) and Aurealis Awards. Good starting point for quality!

Shannon Curtis said...

I'm a romance author, and I've sat at writers' conferences where Australian publishers have told us either romance doesn't sell (?!), or that they don't really know how to market romance to the Australian reader. I do buy Australian authors (and we have soooo many fantastic authors!), but these authors are largely published overseas, and its hard to get their books (at affordable prices!) here in Australia. I think pricing is a real issue, though. I'd love to support Australian bookstores and Australian publishing more, I buy them when I can, but they don't make it easy.

DeanfromAustralia said...

After a long period of being met with ambivalence by Australian Publishers for my Australian themed novel, I was picked up by a Canadian Publisher.

I haven't looked back.

Sad really...

MEWriter said...

I subscribe to emails from good bookstores such as Readings and hear about Australian authors and titles there. They seem to promote Australian authors and I have bought some of those titles either in print or as ebooks.

Helen V. said...

I buy more Australian writers - many of them women - than others. Since the beginning of the year I've bought and read these Australian books: Stormlord's Exile (Glenda Larke), all three books of the Second sons trilogy (Jennifer Fallon), Reign of Beasts (Tansy Rayner Roberts) and Sea Hearts (Margo Lanagan). There would normally be some male authors on the list as well but none I want to read have come out recently. I also buy a lot of small press books whenever I can. With Swancon coming up I'll be doing some buying there so I'll soon have a new pile to read.

Anonymous said...

I just looked on bedside tables and it is 50/50... sparrow, marieke hardy, ben law, peter temple, garner, micallef, brimingham, (i have no idea what is in his kindle) sleep (hmmmm forgotten author walking two rooms) and others all in last 12 months.

Tricia said...

As a bookseller and aspiring agent, I can tell you how incredibly frustrating it is to have to sell the books at the prices we do. I have worked for franchises as well as independent stores and being a manager, I can see how the industry of bookselling is going down hill. It's like a train wreck.

Publishers need to drop their prices, then bookstores can drop their prices. I know that nothing is as simple as that though. I constantly get told by customers how ridiculous our pricing is, " how can a book cost this much!?" is heard several times a day. I give them the same answer every time - " Imagine the amount of work that is put into this one novel. The author, editiors, copywriters, printers, reps, marketing people, graphic designers etc..." but it falls on deaf ears.

Anyway.. As a bookseller, we constantly try to recommend aussie authors. Traci Harding and Kim Falconer are two aussie fantasy authors I highly recommend :)

graywave said...

I write Australian novels. I even write novels about Australians. I also buy and read Australian novels all the time. However, my book sales are over 80% to the USA and about 10% to the UK. The small residue is to other countries (Germany, Canada,and Australia, mostly). If I ever think about that, I can end up feeling quite bitter.