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Friday, February 29, 2008


i can haz editorial kontrol?

Mika thinks she could write my novel much better than I can. She's already been on the keyboard and tried to rewrite the beginning.

Now it reads 'HhnhChapter One.' Clearly she intends to write a visceral, gritty thriller complete with sound effects. I have had to evict her from my study out of pure professional jealousy. I can't be threatened by new writers like that.

The thing is, actually some unsuccessful writers are under the impression that published authors would like to block talented newcomers because they present too much competition. For the record, it doesn't work like that.

The book market is not a fixed chain of supply. There's only room for one electric company in every house; the market is finite. Most people can only afford one car; there's a limit to how much food people can buy in a week. But books just don't work like that. Nobody grinds to a halt because they don't have a novel in their hands. If you go into a bookshop, you may have a specific book in mind, but if you're browsing, you could end up doing one of several things: a) Buying nothing; b) Buying one book, and c) Buying several.

In those circumstances, a new author is unlikely to be a major threat to an established one. If both Jane Newbie and John Oldpro are good authors, the likeliest outcome is C; the shopper will pick up an Oldpro trusting it'll be good, and take a chance on the Newbie as well. If the shopper has a finite budget, then there's an element of competition - but who knows which way it'll go?

It's highly unlikely that Oldpro will be so concerned that he'll want to scupper Newbie. For one thing, odds are quite in his favour; somebody with a limited budget is probably going for the safe buy, which is to say, buying the Oldpro and asking the local library to order the Newbie so s/he can read it on spec. But even if the buyer goes for Newbie, Oldpro would have to be a pretty sour puss to object.

Because, the thing is, no successful writer dislikes books. Writers love books; believe me, you couldn't spend your whole day trying to create more of the darn things if you didn't enjoy them for their own sake, rather than just for the sake of your ego. If you want to show off, there are easier ways than becoming a novelist. Writers like books. Hence, if Newbie's book is close enough in aesthetic to be in any kind of competition with Oldpro's, there's a pretty good chance that Oldpro would like to read it. Heck, he'll probably enjoy it. It's not in the interests of established writers to block promising newcomers; it means they don't get to buy their books.

Like many conspiracy theories about writing, this theory is based on the a priori assumption that your book couldn't possibly be rejected because the person reading it doesn't like it, which is never a sound starting point. But the basic point is fairly simple: literary success is not a simple you-win-I-lose zero-sum game. Who knows whose sales affect whose? It's perfectly possible that Newbie's success might actually lead more people to buy Oldpro's books - all those 'if you liked this you might like that' things on Amazon and in bookshops can have that effect. Writers grumble when other writers are more successful than them, because they're insecure, but it would take an exceptionally irrational writer to actually block the success of a newcomer.

I am blocking Mika's literary success, of course, but that's mostly because I don't want her to shed on my expensive computer, or to kill herself chewing the wires. Similarly, Oldpro might refuse to plug Newbie's book, but he probably has reasons other than competitive jealousy. Usually it's because he honestly doesn't like her book and is worried that a plug will end up shedding on his reputation as a man of judgement. It's a complicated world, and second-guessing motivations seldom does anyone any good. Better, really, to buy them off with a fish treat. It worked for Mika, anyway.

We are so lucky that can't write...coherently, that is ;-) Damn felines have more imagination than most humans. Damn you, Mika; damn you, Manny ;-)

Have a lovely day! :-)
My cat keeps his paws off the keyboard, but is fascinated by the little black marks that keep appearing on the screen, and the tiny bug of the cursor as it moves around. I tolerate his intense gaze, but object to the sudden pounces.

He has also chewed two holes in the insulation of the cable that connects the keyboard to the computer, when I thought he was innocently cleaning his pussytoes.

But... but... I do grind to a halt if I don't have a novel in my hands... and I never met a more experienced writer who didn't wish me well.
I liked a comment that you left at slacktivist so I decided to give your blog a visit. I'm also a writer, from Melbourne Australia. I’m not published yet, unless you count one of those 25 word or less competitions. At the moment I am concentrating on writing some short stories, but I do plan to start a science-fiction novel some time in the not too distant future.

It seems all cats have a naive belief that they can write - or type anyway.

I read your dating guide – thanks, I have finally found out what I have been doing wrong all these years. (The dating part, not the submitting to publishers part.)

I think I will add a link to your site on my blog. :)
Hi Chris, pleasure to have you here! You had a 25-word thing published? That's great... would you be willing to share? We like short short stories over here. :-)

Poor Mika. The bright screen is a constant temptation to her; she certainly likes to watch television. (She's a Desperate Housewives fan. I can't quite seem to interest her in The Wire in the same way, but maybe I can talk her round.) She also tends to get a cuddly mood around mid-afternoon, leap up on my desk and chirrup for attention. She is such a temptation...
Here I found it. These 25 words won the Video Ezy Mother's Day competition. We had to explain why our mother was the best mother in Australia. In my case it was easy as I had a secret weapon…

Most People with Muscular Dystrophy don’t live past their teens, we’re 27 year old twins and our mum continues to care for us at home.

My secret weapon of course the fact that I have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Having a serious disability can be hard, but it can also be advantageous at times. You just need to know when to exploit it.

The prize was a diamond necklace that was supposedly worth $10,000. But in reality it was worth more like $3000. (Keep in mind this is in Australian dollars. At this time in 2005 they were at an all-time low against the US dollar.) Mum didn't feel the necklace was suitable for her so she tried to sell it on eBay, lol. We eventually sold it at auction for $3000. With that Mum got a handbag and a really nice diamond pendant. All I received was the pride that I'd won the competition and a shit load of brownie points. It's great now when I have an argument with my mother, I just bring up the fact that I'd won her a $10,000 necklace. HeHe! That is definitely worth at least $10,000.

On a serious note should I include this when I am submitting to publishers or agents? At the moment I do not include it, but all the same it is a competition I won, so I am really unsure.
That's a pretty impressive cash prize! Good for you.

Mention it on letters? That's a slightly tricky one. I'd mention it if you had had a short story published, so possibly it comes under the heading of 'short story', but what argues against that, more than the length, I'd say, is that it's not fictional. If it were a fictional story, perhaps, but under the circs, you're probably right to leave it out.

Thanks for sharing! :-)
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