You might be quicker than me, but I had to use the calculator function on my mobile to give the answer: 27,375. But 27,375 what somethings?
27,375 is the number of enquiries that one literary agent, namely Lorella Belli, reckons she receives in a year. Now guess how many she says she is likely to accept? I won’t keep you hanging on, as its far too depressing to dwell on… 3… THREE !!!!… that’s all. And that’s per year remember, not even monthly. I found this out while doing the research that is advised as necessary, by the Writers and Artists Yearbook, prior to approaching an agent with a query letter. This rather depressing revelation hammers home what the competition is like. Maybe I should have written a book about ‘managing disappointment’, although a quick Google search reveals that someone has beaten me to that one too.
On this latter point, did you know that the ‘self help’ genre of books is relatively new; 1970 onwards? To prove my point, I bet that if you looked on your parents bookshelves, assuming they are 75 yrs plus, you will find very few such books. Dr Spock’s Baby and Child Care Book is the only title I can vaguely remember being quoted to me and maybe, even then, not by my own mother. Now contrast that with how we are these days. Without walking upstairs and actually looking at my own bookshelf I know you would find quite a few. The biggest volume covers pregnancy and caring for young babies. Now prompted, I can also recall two more titles relating to child development. Both investigate how to talk to toddlers and young children. I bought them when I felt that I must be doing something wrong, as I couldn’t elicit cooperation without a ‘fight’. Did they cause any lasting change in behaviour? Did they heck!! Got to laugh with the benefit of hindsight. Who can really consistently get a toddler to stop screaming and sit down in their car seat without a battle if they really don’t want to?
Continuing to scan my memory banks, I’m vaguely aware of smiling to myself now. My head has ‘seen’ the next book cover and it’s churned up some past memories and associated feelings . Called something along the lines of “Where do I Come From?”, it is an illustrated children’s book that does not spare any blushes to help broach the subject of sex and sexuality. This is not one we bought as it happens. It was inherited with the house; found by accident, tucked out of sight right on top of a fitted book shelf. Now thinking more laterally, ‘oh yes’… how about The Kama Sutra as a self-help book? I’ve just wiki’d it and it was printed, as a widely accessible book, in 1980. However, I can’t confess to ever owning this one. I did get a gander once at some of the illustrations when the book was sneaked into school, which I suppose is why I know of it. And before you ask, no… I am not one of the 10 million people reported to have bought a copy of the Joys of Sex either.
Before I go completely off topic, going back to our parents’ days I can’t believe that they didn’t at times feel like they might have wanted a second opinion; perhaps to have looked at some interesting pictures or get some friendly advice on how to make life more like we wish for. Can I conclude that, way back then, the self-help book was not regarded as something that might do well in the market place? Possibly thousands of promising manuscripts were rejected by publishers. This lack of flexibility by the industry might have had something to do with Susan Jeffers’ experience. In 1972 she first approached publishers with her novel new book: “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway“. It failed to make an impression and was scornfully rejected by some. But now look at the benefits that self-help brings to the industry. In the UK alone, in the last five years this genre has earned 60 million pounds.
So… my research of today has stressed the importance, for any wanna be authors out there, of not making it any more difficult for yourself. Try and ensure that you write within a recognisable genre from the onset. Any book written outside a specific category, however well presented, exponentially increases its chances of falling out of a marketplace, rather than into one. This fact, when compounded by the eye-watering evidence of how stiff the competition is, makes getting through the initial screening and finding recognition far more challenging than I had ever at first imagined. But there is always hope. Susan Jeffers persevered because she believed in her product… and I believe in mine. Despite the somewhat depressing conclusions I have drawn from todays research, I don’t feel quite ready to give up just yet. I need to keep focused on moving in a forward direction; trying to be as flexible in my approach as is possible. Thinking of calling it a day?… Nar!… Where would the fun be in that eh?
I take heart from the entrepreneur John Locke, who has succeeded and managed to sell more than a million copies of his books by self-promotion and self-publishing. Perhaps I shouldn’t even try to fit into the system, as this would oblige me to conform to literature rules that, as a dyslexic, have never been hard-wired in me. It doesn’t come naturally. For me, it would be the psychological equivalent of trying to push water uphill, with the intention of ‘going with the flow’. Plus, isn’t there a danger that the industry loses diversity by only backing writers who can churn out formulaic literature in other Shades of Grey; nothing critically reviewed as inspiring or challenging, merely delivering more of the same?
“A mistake is just another way of looking at things” Catherine Graham
Photo by Terence S Jones