Monday, November 15, 2010

Too Many Novels?

In a blog called More Intelligent Life, which seems to be attached to The Economist, contributor Alix Christie tries to provide some insight into why so many writers are working on novels just when the form seems to be in serious trouble. Here’s an excerpt:
Somewhere in the world right now, ten million souls are hunched over their keyboards writing novels. Ten million hopeful scribblers in their holes. Good Lord, I’m one of them.

The figure is an invention, but backed up by rough math. A quarter of a million new novels are published annually across the globe, 100,000 of them in English. This represents, in turn, a quarter, maybe, of the manuscripts that agents try to hawk. Agents, as all writers know, take only a small proportion of the work they’re sent, perhaps a tenth. Ten million scribes in search of a reader may not be so tall a tale.

This is enough to give the struggling writer pause. Meanwhile, the publishing industry itself is undergoing some discouraging changes. New numbers show that even successful authors earn far less money from books than they used to. In an industry driven by hunger for the next blockbuster, the chances of making a living as a writer are slimmer now than ever. My timing has always been off, I told my husband, fellow journalist and leading fan, whose job maintains the roof above our heads. Just as I’d decided to tackle another draft of my new novel--in search of that great, elusive shape that might translate into sales--the market had moved on.

In the face of such odds, merely writing a novel must seem perverse. Self-indulgent, at the very least, if not financial suicide. The question is less whether the novel as a form is dying, or if the Internet can offer a lifeline to certain writers. What cries out for explanation is the strange, persistent fact that millions of us spend years attempting something for which we are certain to see little, if any, reward.

I’ll admit it’s not a jolly path. Yet neither are all of us deluded. I always dread the moment at parties when I find myself explaining that I’m working on a novel. (It is a measure of the general incomprehension that the follow-up question is all too often “fiction or non-fiction?”) Inevitably I’m forced to make the cruel confession that I’ve not been published “yet.” ...

German children have a toy they call the Stehaufmännchen. Our kids are half German, so we’ve had quite a few of these small “stand-up” men. He’s a fat fellow, made of plastic or wood, and weighted at the base. Every time you knock him over, he rolls drunkenly and then pops back up. The Stehaufmännchen has become my talisman: a symbol of the fortitude it takes to face a decade of rejection and to keep at it, day after day.
You can read the full essay here.

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While we’re on the subject of people writing fiction, the latest installment of my serial novel, Forget About It: The First Al Zymer Senile Detective Mystery, has been posted in mein blog. You can catch up on the story at the archives. As always, send comments to

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