I'm always telling people that I know loads of great writers who haven't got books out yet or whose books have sunk. I get sceptical looks. But it's true. I have met stonkingly talented writers who for many reasons cannot get a book deal: it's hard to get an agent; publishers only want to publish 'safe-money-bets', i.e. celebrity memoirs/novels, or highly commercial books - you know the ones you see acres of dumped in charity shops and for sale at airports. Meanwhile exceptionally talented writers are overlooked.
Some writers are just unlucky from the start - they get deals that fall through; a poor agent; verbal contracts that are reneged on; or they end up with undynamic publishers who don't do PR so the books sink. All that can be extremely disheartening over the course of a few years and many writers will just give up.
Stephen Price talked a bit about the celebrity book aspect of this in the Sunday Times. His piece is mainly about the fact that books are not selling well at all in Ireland, that publishers are scared and that e-readers have yet to catch on in this country. But Price also writes: "Many authors say that publishing has only itself to blame, paying huge advances to celebrities who lend their names to preening, usually ghostwritten tomes that lose buckets of money and end up in bargain baskets."
"...authors who did not score an instant success with their first outing usually found themselves dumped."
This brings me to writer Aiden O'Reilly who is one of those talented writers who is finding it hard to get a book deal. He wrote an open letter to the MD of the publisher Transworld Ireland on his blog and it has been picked up by NewsBlaze in the USA. A quote or two from his letter:
"I am looking for a publisher for a novel I have written. I looked through your website and list of authors, and noticed that your new fiction writers are exclusively TV producers, actors, columnists, and other such people with a high media profile.
I decided not to bother sending my manuscript to you. I cannot have any trust that it would get serious attention. I would not fit in among the authors on your list. Even if you decided to publish me, I would not feel comfortable with your publishing house."
"If the Transworld parent company pulled out of Ireland tomorrow, it would leave a lasting legacy in the hopes which have been kindled and those which have been quietly extinguished. Will you be proud of the direction you have given to Irish writing?"
There is NO shortage of excellent writers in this country. There is a lack of publishers willing to publish hard-hitting literary writing. We need a Women's Press. We need good publishers willing and able to publish good books, from women and men who are not famous or obviously 'fabulous' or media-savvy, but who are devoted to the craft of writing.
You can read Aiden's letter in its entirety here. It's a sobering and brave read. I hope he gets the publisher he deserves.