When my editor at Simon & Schuster signed me, she expressed an interest in developing new writers. Anyone who’s read Gladwell’s New Yorker article understands that it takes time for many artists to develop. It’s true for me. But that was nearly seven years ago. The market was different then. I doubt that anyone is looking to develop writers now. And that is not a bitter recrimination on editors or agents or the publishing industry, it’s just that the market is so terrible and this is a for-profit industry and that’s just the way capitalism goes.
Many have been saying that it’s the end of an era for midlist writers. Publishers are just going to drop them in the future. So if you’ve had moderate success with one or a few books, but haven’t developed your fan base or your writing style yet, you’re out of a job. Permanently. And if you’re a newbie coming into the publishing industry, that first book had better be a best-seller, or else you too are out on your ear.
Now I’m worried. a) Because I’m one of those midlist writers who hasn’t found her stride or her fanbase yet. b) Because by getting rid of a vast number of writers (About 80-90% of writers are midlist) the industry would be squelching a great deal of terrific books and people. And c) Because without an opportunity for writers to develop, and lopping off those who don’t score best-sellers right away, the industry would be killing-off artistry (insert comparison to Kara DioGuardi here). Let’s face it, blockbuster books, while enjoyable, aren’t the best writing there is out there. (Here’s an interesting article about unpopular, but great writing.)
I know what you’re thinking, and I’m not Mary Walters, and I’m not bitter. I’m sure everyone’s already seen her venomous blog post from last week that garnered so much response, and even roped in Nathan Bransford who tried to bring his own perspective to the mix. Frankly, that was painful to read. And my mother has a saying, which she usually saves for clerks at department stores: If you don’t like your job, get another one.
And that’s just the thing. There are other jobs out there. Ms. Walters has had a career in publishing, and maybe it’s time for her to move on to a job in, I don’t know, demolition. It might help to alleviate some of that anger. When the midlist axe drops, there are going to be a lot of writers looking for other things to do. Fortunately, most of us have other jobs, so it’s not like we’ll be begging on the streets (we’re already there, kind of), but we’ll certainly be looking for other outlets. Maybe we’ll revolutionize the industry by doing more POD and making our own rules, setting up our own writer-centered industry. It could happen.
In the meantime, you can either despair and blame everyone else for your lack of success, or you can keep working and pushing yourself, or you can simply get out and do other things with your time that aren’t so frustrating with odds that are more in your favor. Life is too short. There are plenty of other enjoyable things out there.
And look, it’s earth day today. Go do something nice for the environment. I will be writing. As maddening as it is, I really love what I do. And even if I never get another novel published (cringe!) I’ll probably still be writing, and hoping that I don’t turn bitter. Because really, is that any way to live?