Friday, December 16, 2005

The best of times for writers?

Writers are a bit like farmers: they always complain, whatever the 'weather'. But young would-be writers probably don't realise that they live in the very best of times, at least in one respect: and that is in terms of the volume of useful information about publishing and bookselling which is now available to them.

The Galleycat blog has been around a long time, but under editors Ron Hogan and Sarah Weinman it is rapidly becoming a must-read item. For one thing, they seem to have the knack of getting big-time publishers and agents to talk to them, albeit anonymously.

Take, for instance, the really valuable discussion under the heading The tipping point for publishing success. Here we have a fascinating analysis of how publishing's profit and loss accounts really work. This is the kind of info that people of my age would never have even dreamed of getting when they were starting out.

At first sight, the article appears to provide some real hope for young writers. It indicates that, if you are in the right place, with the right book, at the right time, it makes perfect economic sense for a big publisher to make you a massive offer for world rights.

However, when you examine the small print, what the anonymous Agent Orange demonstrates is that the knock-on effect of big deals for a tiny number of writers is smaller advances for majority of other writers, who just get published.

This is the winner takes all mechanism, for which publishing is renowned. And of course we knew about that already, didn't we? Well we did if we've read my piece on the Booker prize; or my free book, On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile.

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