the world doesn't need another novel
Posted by Robert Craven on Wed, 20 Jan 2021
"Publishing is a business, not a charity." went Kenneth (not his real name) on a phone call recently. Through lockdown 2020, I completed my latest novel. And I decided after six years of independent publishing to try my hand at pitching it via the conventional route.
Carefully selecting the agents who handle this genre (crime), I began to follow the submissions process and track each submission on a spreadsheet.
The first thing that became apparent is that UK agencies, in particular, are inundated with submissions, inboxes are the new slush pile for the 21st century. With everyone locked down, a burst of creativity has inspired a tsunami of writers in the attics to pitch their novels.
And true to form after six weeks the rejections started coming in (and are still coming in). There is a standard 'I don't get any passion from your work, so I can't champion it," though the more analytical responses I followed up with a phone call.
Most times I'm politely fobbed off by a receptionist or assistant, but 3 - I'll call them Kenneth, Cathy, and Dan took the time to chat. Dan I found out was a vanity publisher but was upfront about it, and his explanation of the industry in the UK chimed with Kenneth and Cathy.
It's all about celebrity.
With lockdowns and the collapse of the ebook market, the industry has circled the wagons and is only investing in brand-recognizable names. "If you're a new writer - forget it," he said. In reality, to produce a novel, purchase an ISBN and print it (without a distribution network) and have a cover made, there's little change from €2000. That's a big gamble.
Kenneth was equally forthright - "Agencies aren't taking risks at the moment," he stated as he gave me a snapshot for 2021 - "93% of books being sold are by someone famous. This is an industry, not a charity," - it was cold, but as the email rejections were coming in, I could see he had a point.
So how do you breakthrough? I asked. at this, Kenneth couldn't provide an idea, "It's hard to know, since COVID-19, the industry has taken a blow,"
Cathy too, a freelance agent responded kindly and in conversation was indicating with her client list that only the established authors on his books were being pressured to deliver. "A keen amateur isn't worth the gamble," she stated matter-of-factly on the phone.
I have seven novels out and one did very well during the summer of 2019. Is that any help? I asked
"No, if anything an independent platform is running against you," she replied.
"Why?" I asked
"Because they don't want to take on a back catalog," she said.
The odds are long on any new author breaking through prior to Covid but are now in the Hail Mary department, so I have the wip ready to go, like a bridesmaid looking for a wedding. I'm already formatting it for Amazon, mindful too that about a million books a month are being uploaded to the platform.
which begs the question - does the world need another novel?