Sunday, 3 October 2010

Better write better

I’ve been reading Nicola Morgan’s rather good blog for some while ( She did a series of posts about how to use Twitter, so, following on from my last post I decided to take the plunge.

I’ve installed Tweetdeck, again as a result of various comments. Seems like a good idea, especially as it has a column of newsfeeds so that I pick up friends Facebook updates at the same time – on the Iphone too.

Then the wierd stuff starts. I wrote a tweet saying I’d slept in my campervan on the way to a conference in London. Somewhat inconsequential information for the world in general, but one has to start somewhere. (More of the conference in a moment.) Next thing I know I have a new follower on twitter – some campervan / motor home site in the USA that claims to offer everything motor home, is now following me. Obviously they have some software that is chewing through all the tweets in the world and hitting on words like campervan, motor home etc. The mind boggles. I wonder what the package is and where I can get it?

The conference was the writer’s workshops do, in London, about getting published. It came with a one-to-one book doctor session thrown in, which seemed like a good idea since I hadn’t had one since the last update. OK so I am selling the book on Amazon, Smashwords etc. but maybe it still needs work. Plus one has to book up for these things so far in advance that I hadn’t taken the e-book plunge when I signed up.

There is a temptation to Iphone a tweet while sitting in the audience. Risky though, because if a camervan site in the USA can follow me off the back of one word, then who knows who else. If I imply that it is bizarre to listen to “Two drably dressed publishers with boring voices talking about how they want to have their socks knocked off by new submissions.” People whose presentation style seems to suggest that they have never been excited in their lives, but who may nevertheless be monitoring every word in some crafty way. These people publish books. I don’t want to offend them do I? So I thought it, but didn’t say it.

Maybe the drab presentation was part of the act. If it looks as though one would have to work very, very hard to get these people excited, maybe it gives you some idea of what you are up against. As far as I can tell from the figures bandied about at the conference, for the average writer, the odds of getting picked up by a publisher are about one in a thousand. So to a first approximation all authors are failures. Harry Bingham did let slip that three percent of the people who have been through the Oxford Writers Workshop process get picked up. So that must be seen as a huge success – to go from 1 per 1000 to 30 per 1000.

I find it slightly tedious that Harry keeps implying that the only reason you book does not get picked up is because it is not good enough. Has he never read Fred Hirsh on social limits to growth? “If everyone stands in tiptoe, no one sees any better.” If we all get much better at writing but the number of authors stays the same and the book market stays the same then still seems likely that 1 per 1000 will still be the norm.

Of course there is another problem, namely that some pretty dreadful books that appear to disobey everything the book doctors say, still seem to get published. Maybe Harry’s advice should be rephrased along the lines that for most of us the only obvious way to improve our chances of getting published is to write a better book. There may be other ways, like luck, inside contacts, or whatever, but the chances are that the people who get through by those means either don’t know how they did it, or are never going to say. So shut up and keep trying to write better.

I guess Harry’s sales pitch worked to some extent, because I now have a signed copy of his book on how to get published (Getting Published, Harry Bingham). I’ll get Nicola Morgan's book (Write to be Published), when it comes out, but chasing around to see if I can pre-order got me to Snowbooks and their rather wonderful Open Rejection Letter ( It says it all, and it’s worth reading, but here’s a little quote, which I hope they don’t mind me using – it does say open after all.

What it comes down to is that publishing companies aren't really the people you want reviewing your work. If you think about it, we have a financial incentive to put as little thought and effort into sifting through submissions as possible. We've got a lot of submissions to get through and not enough time. Plus, many publishers aren't looking to take any chances with new material; they want obvious, commercial successes, ideally from authors with a track record.”

So, while hiring a witchdoctor, bunging it on Kindle etc. may be worth a try, trying to write better still looks like the only game in town.


  1. Hello, Rod - well, you tweeted at me and I visited you and am leaving a comment, so you must have done it right!

    I agree this habit of companies to follow anyone who accidentally mentions something they sell is pretty scary. I think it's also a lesson in how not to use Twitter. I block everyone who markets at me in an intrusive way and I "unfollow" anyone who seems to be on Twitter only to self-promote. So, if you do find the software to do it, I recommend you don't! I think Twitter is much more about social networking (with unpredictable positive side-effects for our businesses) than it is for selling in any deliberate or explicit way.

    I have also used the "report as spam" button when anyone seems to be marketing a product at me uninvited. Same as I rip up ALL unsolicited mail unopened.

    Good luck and have fun!

  2. I enjoyed this post, Rod. Let's hope those drably-dressed publishers aren't reading it too, or you will be on that list they pass around of Unforgiven Writers to be Shunned.

    Once they've succeeded in putting off all the talent, they can attempt to find themselves jobs in some new sphere of endeavour, while we discover that there's a lot to be said for self-publishing.

  3. Well I did say that they said sensible things, they've obviously just never had to give a lecture to 400 medical students