Posted by on Mar 31, 2009 in Uncategorised | 7 Comments

When good writers go bad …

No, seriously that’s just to get your attention. Although, having said that, I could, if I allowed myself to, be completely depressed by the amount of depression I have been exposed to recently.

There is something very special about writers: in aggregate, we’re like the bit of seaweed hung outside the back door to tell the weather. We respond to the slightest change in environment – and as ‘recession’ bites, we – in the aggregate – seem to have become devastated by the down-turn. Almost every writer I’ve spoken to this month has been utterly down in the dumps. Established writers say their careers are over, emerging writers say their careers are going to be blighted and new writers say it’s not worth even bothering, with the publishing industry being what it is.


Look, I don’t want to get all life-coachy on you, but seriously, allowing yourself to be a barometer of bad news is an appalling way to establish a sustainable writing career. On the bright side, for example, people may read, buy and borrow more books as they cut back on their DVD and cable/satellite TV spending. I’m not a Pollyanna (I can imagine everybody who has met me in real life spitting beverage into their keyboards at the very idea) but I do know that in any talent-based industry, more people talk themselves out of success than ever actually fight to attain it. And it makes me angry to hear people who know very little about the publishing industry (like me) taking headlines and turning them into life sentences of failure. Yes publishing is at a crisis point – but so is banking and car manufacture, luxury travel and haute couture – you don’t hear anybody in those industries suggesting that talented folk should go away and not contribute to restoring the collective fortunes, so why are writers so very prone to folding their tents?

Um number two – did you know that ‘Colonel’ Sanders, who wasn’t a Colonel at all, developed his famous chicken recipe in the recession of the 1930s? In other words, without the bad times, he’d never have had the good times. Why can’t writers think like that?

I sincerely hope that loads of you are going to leave aggressively upbeat comments telling me how wrong I am about writers-in-aggregate, as that would make me very happy. Not that I’m unhappy, but you know what I mean …

Book burning courtesy of Altemark at Flickr (I’d like to say no books were harmed during the production of this image, but I’m sure that’s not true!)


  1. Vanessa Gebbie
    31st March 2009

    Its a funny thing. I had a knock back on a manuscript this week. A lovely one, but a knock back all the same. ‘Clever, witty, well written’… and all that. But also this ‘the publishers only want what they know already sells. The market is dire. You have to be writing like someone who is already out there. Or be writing to a tried and tested formula.’

    In a strange way, that is very very liberating. I do neither.

    I almost go back to where I was four years ago. ie, no immediate hope of anything. The difference is, I now know I can write. And I can just get on with what I WANT to do.

    Shame about the money.

  2. Nik's Blog
    31st March 2009

    Kay, that’s the best post I’ve read all week.


  3. Anonymous
    1st April 2009

    It’s all bollocks, this recession nonsense applied to writing. Fact, if your shit is good enough, it’s good enough whatever the economic issues. They aint daft, if it will sell, it will sell.

    And if your stuff is getting the knockback because of the current climate mebbes it’s time to sit back and stop chasing the vibe, because that aint working no more.

    Write what you really wanted to all along, throw all the trends and clever professional writer thinking in the air and go for it. Be honest with yourself and write what you always wanted to. Why not?

  4. jem
    3rd April 2009

    From a reader’s perspective it could be good news – publishers being more picky, only taking on the best books (although best and ones that make money might be incompatible), sellers discounting to encourage sales. And surely good reading experiences in turn help the writers too.

  5. Kay Sexton
    3rd April 2009

    Vanessa, you know, I sometimes think publishers say that right up to the moment that a new writer breaks through and then they all fall over themselves to locate similar ‘voices’.

    Nik, thank you!

    Anonymous and Jem – yes, I think that way too, there’s good in this recession as well as bad.

  6. Kip de Moll
    3rd April 2009

    I’m new, without the expectation and the habits established. To me, it’s a wonderful world. I’m used to the rejection, but continuing on undaunted because I’m really excited by what I’m writing and singing. I’m fine with peanut butter and jelly for awhile.

  7. Vanessa Gebbie
    3rd April 2009

    I dont know enough about the industry to know what they say or what they dont… all I know is that my new gift book proposal was not accepted, and the opinion of one agent!

    But as regards the rest, I do think we are saying more or lessthe same thing. It’s best just to get on with what we all do best… our own writing. And make it as good as we can.

    yes, the publishing industry is at a crisis point. But it would have been so with or without the recession, n’est-ce pas… to a greater or lesser extent?


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