Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Patronising Authors

When I was at drama school the main topic of conversation was the Equity situation. At that time Equity, the actors' union, operated a closed shop: you couldn't get a job unless you were a member of Equity, you couldn't join Equity unless you had a job. Each year each repertory company had two cards to give newcomers, something like 32 places in total. And that was it unless you went through the back door and did something like dance on a cruise ship, which would allow you to join under 'light entertainment'. What you were prepared to do to get your card was a hot topic of conversation.

Like everybody else, I was obsessed with the card situation. And then I got lucky, auditioned and got a job at a repertory theatre and got a card. I was a professional actor, and suddenly discussion about the Equity situation ceased to be interesting. What was intensely interesting was finding out the names of all the casting directors, and subscribing to all the professional journals and news services only available to card-carrying members of Equity which hadn't really bothered me so far.

It was much the same when I was pregnant for the first time, when any clue, tip, or hint to how to give birth is riveting - I took a Scrabble set into the delivery suite because someone had told me they'd had a lull at one point and had longed for something to do. Then I had the baby and whoosh! all that changed. Now the obsessions were about feeding and sleeping and developmental milestones. Then those were dropped for the terrible twos and toddler taming, and so it went on.

And it's the same again when you get your first deal. Before, you're fascinated by the minutiae of covering letters and synopses, obsessive about fonts (if I use Georgia instead of Times New Roman, will they still read my manuscript?). After the agent, after the deal, new things preoccupy you. Right now, every author bar the Top Ten best sellers is nervously checking their contracts. Every day there is news of a mid-list author whose contract hasn't been renewed.

So if published authors sometimes appear distant or - worse - patronising about the unpublished, please don't take it to heart. Imagine you're excitedly telling them about your intention to use a birthing pool for your first when they've given birth to eleven children already. It's hard to get really enthusiastic when your own pelvic floor has gone south.

At last! I've got my finger out and have committed to running some day courses:
Writing a Novel - 31st July in Bath and 18th September in Truro
Getting a Novel Published - 1st August in Bath and 19th September in Truro
Contact me on for more info...


Lizzie said...

I've been reading a well-known author for the last 15 or so years. Then last year her latest about to be published novel disappeared from Amazon's list and she's had nothing new since. I do hope she hasn't fallen by the wayside.

Sarah Duncan said...

I know of at least one person who that could describe. Trouble is, all the publishers are pushing the money at the already big sellers to try to consolidate their position.

One has to be positive and think of it in the long run - most authors do not stay published by the same publisher throughout their careers, and getting dropped by one publisher can mean success with another publisher. One of the most successful authors I know was dropped by her publisher, only to be picked up by another and have mega success.

And as readers, we can make sure that our favourite authors know we like them by posting reviews on Amazon so even if they're having a bad patch, they can get some consolation that someone thinks it's all worthwhile.