Friday, 29 June 2012

The Chaos of the Universe

I don't believe in fate or destiny. I don't believe that everybody has a purpose – beyond the basic Darwinian mechanics of birth, procreation and death. I believe that we make our own luck (within the constraints of the world we are born into). So this is why the process of getting published and staying published is so confounding to me, because the governing mechanic seems to be pure chance.

Can anyone really explain why Fifty Shades of Grey is selling a gazillion copies right now? You can talk about untapped subject areas, savvy marketing and reader awareness reaching a tipping point. But it still doesn't explain why a fairly poorly-written novel is rushing off the shelves while others languish at the back of the shop. But that doesn't stop agents from taking on clients with erotic novels and trying to sell them while the trend is hot.

So much in this business seems to be about timing. If you send out your work a week too early or a week too late then you may get a very different response. Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles - in which a massive earthquake shakes the planet - was the subject of a huge auction just days after the Japanese earthquake last year. I'm not saying that the book wouldn't have been acquired if it had been sent out earlier, but I'm sure the advance would have been a lot less. I remember a converse example where we were about to submit my Undiscovered Voices novel and discovered that one of our key publishers had acquired another teen zombie novel just the day before.

We are all also at the mercy of the whims of business – look at the example of Frances Lincoln's parent company suddenly deciding to close their YA list. It was as if a trapdoor had opened underneath the editors and writers, who were left with no jobs and cancelled contracts respectively. Even if your book makes it through to publication, there is no guarantee that it will be one of the lead titles that receive significant promotion and advertising. Sometimes, it all seems like an impossible lottery.

So, how do we fight back against this chaos and try to impose some order on the universe? Grinding persistence seems to be the major strategy that writers employ, surfing waves of rejection in their quest to reach the right person in the right place at the right time. You could self-publish of course, which means you get to grab hold of the process almost to the end. Unfortunately, you will at some point have to throw yourself on the mercy of readers, who will most likely totally ignore you. Right now, though, I'm trying out the strategy of just letting go and seeing what happens. As a massive control-freak, this feels rather like admitting defeat, but there's also been a huge reduction in stress from not trying to manage the unmanageable.

There are forces in this world beyond my control. I just hope they're having a nice day when my manuscript lands in their inbox.



  1. Sebastian Gnomeface29 June 2012 at 13:44

    "Can anyone really explain why Fifty Shades of Grey is selling a gazillion copies right now?"

    Women. Should never have got the vote.

    1. Maybe we should rename you Sebastian Trollface!

  2. Another good post, Nick. It's like what someone (William Goldman?) said about Hollywood. Nobody knows anything! But still, films and books get produced or published, people spend money on them, and the planet spins. As writers the only thing we can control is the quality of our work!

  3. Yep. Absolutely nothing we can control about the reception of our work. But in a way (a really twisted, backwards-thinking way), that's kind of freeing. It's not our responsibility. As Jane says, all we can do is write the best books we can. Oh, and try to have fun.