Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A world of books

It is tricky to get definitive numbers, but let’s say that 100,000 new fiction titles are published every year in the English language. What then are the chances of a particular book reaching the best seller lists? Mathematicians among you can work out the odds. I daren't even try, for they must be frighteningly high.

For new or wannabe authors, and these days there are many, it’s a daunting prospect. Good books will simply be crushed in the rush. Being ignored is bad enough, but Professional reviews – if a writer can get them – can be caustic, and the comment section of Amazon is noted for driving struggling new writers to contemplating suicide.

 I've read that publishers tend to concentrate the PR budget on perhaps half a dozen books and the rest are left to fend for themselves. That means the author has to roll up his or her sleeves and do what they can via electronic technology, for without some sort of exposure, the book will remain unnoticed and unread. Unhappily, Amazon algorithms aid and abet this by taking the most popular books to the front of the list. Reviewers tend to review the same titles, bookshops stock the titles they thiink will sell, and usually they’re all choosing the sort of read you would expect to find in the top fifty books of the year. None of this is geared toward finding the debut or middle list author.

The reader takes few risks in this burgeoning market. Some, spending almost £15 on a paperback that is too large to handle comfortably in bed and which turns out to be not such a great read after all, may go so far as to ignore that author in future. They may even write an unfavourable review. But then, readers are so very subjective in their tastes. I’ve read an awful lot of books in my life, but these days there are many books I pick up and return to library shelves unfinished. I often complain that I cannot find anything I like, which sounds as if I must be the pickiest person in the world when the numbers published are taken into account. I’m attracted by a good blurb, but often the book doesn’t live up to it.

Trying to find a good read for me means stalking the libraries, bookshops, listening to friends and dodging about the many internet  sites but eventually, even for the most dedicated, (which I am not!) the search begins to pall. There is so much on offer! How can I make a choice? It seems to me I either buy an armful, or I buy nothing. What kind of choice is that? Perhaps, just perhaps, too many books are published these days. 


Dean Crawford said...

It's hard to get noticed in the publishing world, that's absolutely correct, Jen. But it's been that way for many years, and while luck still plays a part it's down to the author to produce the best possible novel that they can. That's the ONLY way to beat the odds.

PR departments can only afford to promote the novels that they feel confident will sell enough copies to make a return on that investment. Publishing is a business like any other and needs to make a profit in order to survive.

Once, new authors would be nurtured by publishers over many years in order for them to gain a following. Now, that's impossible - agents do the filtering for publishers and only the best get through. And, as you say, even then they often receive little support upon publication.

The only option is to keep improving your writing, keep sending work out to agencies, and keep working at it. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. If it seems impossible, well, that's what I thought too once, but I stuck with it and got through. If I can do it....

Jen Black said...

Ah, perhaps you underrate yourself! Dean, I'm so glad you keep encouraging me - and everyone else.

Ursula Thompson said...

These daunting numbers and the depressing outlook is almost enough for me to put everything on the shelf and forget about it. What's the point of trying to compete with 99,999 other books?

Jen Black said...

It's a good thing we have Dean's example to follow!

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's a scarily big pond out there, and I am a bit intimidated with all the 'necessary online presence' bit that the publisher wants from me, but I'm gradually trying to get to grips with it. Hard, when what I really want to do is get on with writing the sequel to my book. However I know I have to somehow manage a balance and try to raise my profile. I have the patience to try to build a readership slowly, but I'm not sure how patient my publisher will be. Hence the scary bit.

But thank you, Jen, for taking a chance on an unknown author, and for getting in touch to tell me. I really hope you enjoy the read. And I now have what looks like a very interesting blog to follow.

Dean Crawford said...

@ Ursula: If you focus too much on the odds, which isn't the way to think about it, then you're you're competing with every book ever published. However, 99% of them are obscure and unknown. Plus, as I say, it's not the way to think about it.

You're not competing with them at all: you're competing with yourself to write the best story that you can. If you do a good enough job, you'll get through. Stick with it.

Jen Black said...

Hi Margaret - hope to see you commenting here!