SO, WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF PUBLISHING?
Fewer publishing houses concentrated in conglomerate hands trying to produce more books of less quality. No full time readers, no full time copy editors and therefore missed newcomers and pisspoor final presentation of texts on the shelves, silly covers, greedy and simple-minded bookshop chains, lunatic bidding wars designed to crush the spirit of unknown newcomers, celebrity “tighten your buns and nurture your inner pot plant” hard backs and much related insanity. Go somewhere else if you can, there is nothing like watching people who care about books being destroyed by publishing to put a blight on your afternoon.
HOW DO I GET PUBLISHED?
Write as well as you possibly can. Markets won’t help you, networking might (Although it will probably also involve the removal of your soul and will only help a little if you can’t write). Sleeping with writers makes them very happy, but as the ability to type with any kind of skill is not contagious, it won’t actually help you. And then we get into sleeping with/ selling drugs to/ blackmailing editors, agents and so on – and if you have the knack of doing that, you don’t need my help.
NO REALLY, HOW DO I GET PUBLISHED ?
Find someone you can trust to look at your work, get it into the best possible shape, ruthlessly. Take advice from The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook on agents and editors that might suit and then contact them, one at a time. You will probably need an agent to help you catch any editor’s eye, these days – no one really has the time to read any more. And you could try praying, or voodoo.The market is now probably beyond saving and access is ever-decreasing. If I were starting now, I'd be nowhere. Sorry.
WILL I MAKE MONEY OUT OF LITERARY FICTION?
No. Or not quickly, unless you are incredibly lucky. Fiction is not exactly fashionable right now and never really has been a big earner. Then again, if you are writing literary fiction, you probably do it fairly helplessly, because you love it. The fact that we do it for love is, sadly, well-known amongst publishers, editors and so forth and this means we will receive the bare minimum and still be quite happy in an odd kind of, blood-soaked way. Welcome to wonderful world of literary fiction.
WHO WILL MAKE THE MONEY?
Your agent will make a little. Your publisher will mess up making what they could.
And if they mess up too badly you’ll end up out of print. But who needs money ? - be happy if you’re in print at all - you can sell your organs to foreign businessmen, you have possibilities, get on with it… And you could be a poet – they don’t make anything…
WHAT ABOUT THE GLAMOUROUS JET-SETTING LIFE OF THE NOVELIST, THEN ?
Endless community halls and libraries, immensely tiring tours of places that might be interesting if you ever got to see them, food you can’t eat, or never get, not enough sleep, crushing isolation, little or no chance of a cup of tea on the road, endless working to subsidise the writing… oh yes, it’s all a breeze. Sometimes, you may get to meet the former Bishop of Edinburgh, that’s one of the few high points.
Sometimes it is nice. Sometimes it is immensely grisly. I would recommend tours of Germany, the Leukerbad Festival, The Edinburgh Book Festival the Victoria Festival, the Vancouver Festival and a few others, but it’s not a roller coaster of unlimited fun out there. Then again, it's nowhere near as lousy as waking up in Fallujah, or being a coal miner - so the whining should be limited.
ISN’T ALL LANGUAGE ESSENTIALLY MEANINGLESS?
I’ve told you before – keep away from those academics.
Of course, when I say “table”, I don’t mean quite the “table” you do – but that’s a good thing. It means you help me to make my “table” mean more.
Language used carefully unites more than it divides, communicates more than it obscures, but it’s also like a gun – it can do as much damage as the person in control of it has the power to inflict. So it’s our duty to learn how to use and understand the words around us. Hint - rush into a room full of Wittgenstein fans and yell "Fire !" - check if they interrogate your meaning for a fortnight, or run for the exits.
WHAT IS THE KEY TO WRITING GOOD FICTION?
Years of practice and observation.
Which isn’t the answer you wanted. I could say “capturing point of view”– but that comes back to years of practice and observation. Or learning a lot about your soul - same problem, if not worse. Just try to be aware of how you work and how that could help you tell other human beings about human beings who don’t exist, but could. Help us to dream together – that’s something we like to do. Tell me a story, I like stories. Tell me as if I were someone you care for, someone you trust and respect, someone as bright as you are, who deserves the best.
BUT FICTION IS ALL JUST RECYCLED FACT AND SCRAPS YOU OVERHEARD ON BUSES, SURELY ?
You can rip off your life and other people’s stories if you like, but that’s more theft than fiction and it will leave you with precious few friends and very little life remaining. Practically speaking, things you make up (it’s called fiction, remember) will fit your story better and be more fun for all concerned. This is, at one level, a meditative flight from self – that’s surely rather better than rummaging round in other people’s leftovers
I WANT TO BE A WRITER, WHAT SHOULD I DO ?
Give yourself a severe talking-to. But if you can’t persuade yourself otherwise (and probably you can’t) then what you have to do now, and ever after, is write to the best of your ability and then a little bit better than that.
Then better than that.
And read everything you can, always.