Monday 24 November 2008

Do Publishers Only Want Celebrity Stories?

I have to admit to feeling discouraged when I read about the book deals offered to Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin. Is the only way one can get published today to become a celebrity of sorts? Even a default celebrity like Joe the Plumber appears to have more chance of getting a book deal - and a speedy deal too! - than an unknown author.

But perhaps it's not all the publisher's fault. Publishers, editors and agents are, after all business people. So they will offer book deals to authors who write what the reading public buys. So, really, we - as readers as well as authors - have only ourselves to blame if we rush to buy these "celebrity books" rather than the books which tell well-written and imaginative stories.

A more positive spin on Joe the Plumber's book deal is what I call the Destiny Factor. Joe the Plumber was in the right place at the right time and good luck to him. Call it Fate. Karma. Divine Intervention. Damn Good Luck. Call it what I will, there is a point beyond which I, as a writer, cannot go. I can do everything right. I can be the most talented author on earth. My novel can be the next Big Thing. My voice can be unique and my prose enchanting. But I cannot control all of those x-factors making up the path to having the right story land on the right agent/ editor/ publisher's desk at the right time.

Does this mean that, instead of groaning and clutching my hair as I wrestle with finding just the right word, I should put down my pencils, switch off my laptop and give up writing as I wait for the Destiny Factor to pick me as a winner in the lottery of life? Absolutely not! Let me tell you about Koos van der Merwe...

Koos was a very good, but very poor, fellow. For years and years he went to church twice on a Sunday and once on a Wednesday. Eventually, he got tired of walking because he couldn't afford the petrol. So he decided to ask God for help.

'God,' he said, 'I know that I should be grateful for all I've got but...can't you help me a bit? Just a little bit?'

As Koos was about to stand up, he was shocked to hear a deep voice come from above. 'Koos,' the voice said. 'I am God. I have heard your prayers. You have been a good, faithful child of mine for all your life and so I will answer your prayer. Soon, you will win the Lottery and be rich beyond your wildest dreams.'

Koos was ecstatic! Week after week after week he would rush to the TV to watch as the lottery winners were announced. Nothing. Nada. Niks. This went on for months until, one day, he couldn't stand it any more. He went to church and said, 'God, I don't like to rush you because there must be a good reason for the delay...but when am I going to win the lottery like you promised?'

There was a clap of thunder, followed by a long-suffering sigh. 'Please, Koos,' God's voice boomed down. 'Just work with me on this. You can't win the lottery unless you go and buy a lottery ticket!'

Being a writer is much like being a lottery winner. I won't win unless I buy a ticket. The Destiny Factor is what drew Joe the Plumber's name out of the barrel of voters milling around Barack Obama. The Destiny Factor may pull my name out of the barrel of unknown authors whose manuscripts form the great heaps of slush piles in the publishing industry. If that happens I want to have "bought" my lottery ticket by having my manuscript ready and waiting.

Despite the fact that I'm not a celebrity, not even by default, I will continue to write and dream. And I will still tell the stories of my heart.

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