10 Mysteries about Writing and Publishing

One unfortunate thing about living in Malaysia is the way I am so cut off from other sff* writers and from the vibrant sff community one finds in so many other countries. So it was great to have Donna – an editor and writer – staying with me, even if it was only for a few days.

I probably talked her to death.

Among other things we chatted about were some of the unanswerable questions about writing and publishing. I’ve been thinking this some more and here is my list of 10 (unanswerable) Mysteries about Publishing and Writing:

1. Why poorly crafted books sometimes hit bestseller lists and make a fortune for their authors

2. Why well-written, entertaining, thoughtful books sometimes flop catastrophically

3. Why writers/agents/publishers can’t figure out the answer to the above two questions after all these years…

4. Why so many people think that:

a) writing a book is easy
b) getting it published is only hard because “you have to know someone in the business”
c) writing is lucrative

5. Why many wannabe writers:

a) don’t read
b) don’t buy books and support the industry they hope will support them

6. When a struggling writer, trying unsuccessfully to get published, should give up trying

7. Why genre is so despised, sometimes even by those who write it

8. Why many sf writers/readers look down on fantasy (and occasionally vice versa)

9. Whether books will survive the computer/visual media age

10. And why on earth do I spend most of my days sitting at a computer writing anyway, when I could be out there earning twice as much doing other things?

*science fiction and fantasy


10 Mysteries about Writing and Publishing — 6 Comments

  1. I have some theories to some of you questions.

    Question 1.
    The answer, I believe, is marketing.
    If you have connections to powerful marketing that can blitz all forms of media (including the Internet) you can sell just about anything whether it has value or not.

    Question 7.
    Pure snobbery.
    I have found over many years of reading and discussions with other readers that many people have the view that literature and non-fiction are the only genre to which ‘serious’ readers and writers should aspire.
    This view seems to be enforced by the major literary awards and media book club discussions where the type of books I term ‘arty litreature’ seem to hold dominance.
    For me, (a non-conformist) SFF is my favourite genre. The bliss of escaping to another world as your own recedes behind you.

    Question 9.
    For me, nothing can replace the comfort and enjoyment of reading a printed book.
    Reading from a computer screen for long periods is hard work and lacks the comfort and intimacy of sitting in a favourite chair with a hard copy.

    Question 10.
    Because you love writing and I love reading your books.
    I selfishly thank you for your sacrifice of additional income to produce good reading for my enjoyment.

  2. Q10 What Peter said:-)

    I’m glad you had so much fun with Donna. Writers need writers. I’m realising that in spades since moving to the country.

  3. Trust me, those of us lucky enough to know you are equally bereft that you live so far away!!!!!

    1. Because, I think, storytelling often trumps craft, for the average reader. For eg, there is much written for the YA market that surpasses Rowling in execution, (my mind leaps immediately to Reeve and Wynn Jones) but her storytelling skills overcome that shortfall.

    2. For reasons that have tragically little to do with actual quality, they fail to ignite the wider reading imagination, or they’re eclipsed by something else releasing at the same time, or they’re insufficiently supported by publishers/booksellers.

    3. Oh, I think they have got them figured out. They just don’t know which solution applies to which manuscript. Problem is, the game is almost completely subjective. Studio execs were mystified by American Graffiti when they saw it — and it launched George Lucas as a major player in film. When he tried to get SW done, nobody got it. And yet it’s history now. Every book published has appealed to a small group of people. The mystery is what then crosses that boundary to appealing to a wide group of people.

    4. The people who haven’t done it think it’s easy. But that can be said for many undertakings. Only by doing something can you appreciate its challenges. The people who think there’s a secret society in publishing are the ones least likely to work their asses off in the first place and aren’t willing or able to recognise they need to do same. Writing can be lucrative, but the lucky ones who make big bucks are the exception that prove the rule.

    5. Because they’re idiots.

    6. When you’re dead.

    7. Because the world is full of ignorant snobs.

    8. See above.

    9. Absolutely.

    10. Because you are a hopeless slave to your passions. Because to not do it would be to deny your soul, your truth. Because you are a glutton for punishment. *g*

    But let me add this. So many writers have chugged along under the radar for ages, then suddenly erupted into the public consciousness and done brilliantly. Rowling’s very first print run was 500 copies. Evanovich wrote formula romance novels for years, and the Stephanie Plum books were practically invisible until #4 or 5. Megan Lindholm was obscure until she became Robin Hobb.

    The only way to guarantee you’ll (generic you) join the ranks of the well known is by never giving up, never striving to write better, never surrendering the dream.

    You are hands down one of the best in the game. I have absolute belief in you. Your break will come.

  4. Hey, I should write posts like this more often – it seems to prompt folk into saying really, really nice things! Thank you…

    Actually I think there is one point no one has made, and it’s very true: not everyone can be a bestseller.
    Even if every single book published was a brilliantly written ripping yarn, there will still be some at the bottom of the heap, whether because of poor luck, poor timing, poor marketing, or whatever – simply because in every race someone loses. OK, so it’s not a race, but nonetheless, there are only just so many spots at the front of the shop, or so many reviews in a newspaper, or so many dollars to be spent on marketing.

    I still think that no one really understands what makes one book sell big and another not. There are some books that just catch the imagination of a large section of the public, and some that don’t, although on the surface they seem equal.

  5. I had fun discussing those unanswerable questions…even though people smarter than me have posed answers…

    You write because you must Glenda…and you fans will throttle you if you stop!


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