The woes of a first time novelist


There will always be the lucky new author whose first novel ignites a hot auction. But more often today, many debut novels that would have won lucrative advances five years ago today are getting $15,000 or less, says Adam Chromy, a New York literary agent. Mr. Chromy was recently disappointed with the immediate response from editors for a debut novel he thought was exceptionally good.

So, I had originally anticipated writing my first bit of trivia about my manuscript today or perhaps had a little moan over Hazel’s (the small furry child) eye surgery. Maybe even combined them together into a nice little excerpt, but I couldn’t resist posting about the WSJ’s recent article about the publishing world.

I’m not afraid to admit that my soul dies a little bit inside every time I come across one of these articles. For those of you who keep up on these things, it’s not new news to you. If you are a budding writer trying to get your first book out into the market, you’re screwed. Okay, maybe not screwed, but frankly you probably have a better chance of winning next’s week Lotto. It’s brutal, I know, but I think it’s worse than that. Much, much worse. It’s no longer about separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s about the loss of cultural identity for every generation past ours.

So you might think that I’m a bit crazy. And I wouldn’t blame you. But I do believe that every age has books that help define the world in that moment, in that fleeting second of history. Books articulate a feeling, a notion, they imbibe us with a memory that we hold onto. And those books don’t necessarily come from the same old top selling author. Is James Patterson reaching the youth of today? What about John Grisham?

Think about this for a moment: what would’ve happened if no one had been willing to take Harper Lee’s first (and only) manuscript, To Kill a Mockingbird? Can you imagine a world without Scout and Atticus Finch?

What I’m trying to get across is that we need those new, undiscovered talents. We need to keep bringing new writers into the gene pool. And I don’t just say this with myself in mind. No. Variety is the spice of life, it what makes things interesting, compelling. Who wants to read the same old authors all the time. Isn’t it refreshing to pick up a new author that you’ve never heard of and actually like what they’ve written? I make it a point to go to my local book fairs and buy some random fantasy or sci-fi fiction authors I’ve never heard of. Yes, many times I’m disappointed, but sometimes, I’ll come across a real gem that I would’ve never found if I only stuck to the NY Times best seller list. (authors’s note: Listen to me people, loosen up and try it sometime. Go into a bookstore, go to your favorite section, shut your eyes and randomly place your finger on a book. Buy it, read it, and them let me know if you enjoyed it. 7 out of 10 times I reckon you’ll say it wasn’t bad.)

So you may ask me, “So Shawnee, if it’s so bleak out there, why on Earth are you setting yourself up for disappointment and the poor house?”

Because I can’t help myself and because I’m hopelessly optimistic that I will be one of the few. Because I really want it. Because I think I might be good at it. There’s a whole host of reasons, but mostly, because I have a story to tell. It may not be a story for everyone, but it’s my story, my characters, my little world inside my head. So there you go.