Last month I met two Australian writers new to me: Anna Tambour and Rob Knell and happily added them to my wide circle of writer friends and acquaintances. We had lunch together in the postage stamp back garden I lovingly call the Italian courtyard. Both Anna and Rob are excellent writers in their different ways, but like many of us hampered by the age-old problem of getting published by the big houses. I include myself in that last statement, since more recently I am finding it frustratingly difficult to sell a novel to the large established publishers. It matters not that I sold 87,000 copies of 'Castle Storm' when Transworld/Random House brought it out. The next novel 'The Silver Claw' sold only 9,000 and I was immediately dropped and all communication ceased.
Publishers are of course in it for the money and nothing else. As one writer friend once put it, his book might as well have been a pound of butter. An editor does not want a good, well-written novel. He or she wants a product that will sell and sell very well. That editor may be a book lover too and preferably both good writing and good sales go together, but the marketing department needs to see long black figures or the novel is called to question. One of the problems is that editors and marketing departments do not know what is going to sell and what isn't, any more than we know the date of our death or what our next tax bill will be. It's all guesswork and blind prayer-ridden hopes of a new Harry Potter.
My own thoughts on the current difficulties of getting published are that ebooks, desktop publishing and on-line purchasing have thrown the big guys into a panic. They are attempting to analyse what's happening and are not coming up with any answers. A mist has come down over which way to go in the future. The media are little help to them or writers, since they concentrate on prize winners and runaway wildfires. One of the biggest problems is that fewer people are reading books. The market is shrinking because a huge percentage of the population reads nothing longer than a magazine. I have no answers myself, which I know is a big get-out. My hope is ever that writers like Rob and Anna manage to gather a readership using small, energetic publishers and social media, and get the audience their work deserves. Me? I've had my day, a more mellow time in the 80s and 90s of the last century, when the days were, if not golden, at least a little more silvery than they are now.