Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Bloody Amateurs

It was always my feeling that Mslexia could run its novel-writing competition, and all sorts of great books might be submitted, but that the real proof of the pudding would be in how many novelists from the shortlist went on to secure agents, and how many books from the shortlist went on to be published.
Only eight weeks after the winner of the Mslexia Novel Writing Competition was announced, the winning book, “The Beast in all Her Loveliness” by Rosie Garland, has sold to Harper Collins in what is reputed to be a six figure deal!
It is rare for novels to make so much money. It is not uncommon for writers to receive as little as a few thousand pounds for a first novel, and less for genre titles.
I also now have an agent, as does Rebecca Bave; she and I were runners-up in the competition, and I happen to know that most of the shortlisted writers have or have had representation.
I wonder what the glitch in the system must be? The work is clearly being done, but many great books are not making it to the tops of slushpiles.
Here’s my thinking: the slushpiles are too damned big and too damned impenetrable. Yes, some of this stuff is being read by office juniors who aren’t paid terribly well to rattle through scads and scads of slush. Stuff gets missed. Of course it does!
Call me a snob, if you like, but it is far too easy to write a novel. Anyone can do it, and everyone does. The practical stuff is all taken care of by computers, word processing packages, and grammar and spell checkers.
Even twenty years ago a writer had to be pretty serious about the craft to tackle writing a book. In the age of the typewriter a writer’s foibles came to the surface of the text all too easily. That is no longer the case.
Sadly, it would appear that people really can and really do delude themselves into thinking that they are writers. I don’t know how they can read the drivel they have written and continue to believe that anyone else might ever want to read it, but that’s exactly what happens.
Amateurs are ruining publishing, and I wish they’d bloody stop it right here, right now.
In the meantime, if you write as well as Rosie Garland, keep at it, and enter the right sort of competition. It isn’t enough to write a good book; these days, you have to put it in front of the right reader, too. 


  1. I know what you mean, I started out on a typewriter so old it didn't have an 's' and I had to leave a space then go back and ink them all in. But we all start as amateurs...maybe the publishing industry needs a better system of reading the slushpile, like getting people to send in a one page writing sample first (to weed out the writers without a clue). Or a short test on the 'finish this sentence...' or something.

    1. I expect I'll forget all about the snarking if/when I get a book deal. In the meantime, I think we're all allowed to blow off a little steam once in a while.


  2. I am so glad you said that (and I'm so glad it wasn't me as I don't even have an agent so it's possible I'm in the rubbish pile!).

    What you don't address are the books that are published and you think "What?" because they are so awful you almost wonder if it's a joke. Or worse, those that are just boring/predictable/cliched (or even all three) and then you think, well SURELY I'm better than that.

    Love the idea of a grammar test :)

  3. If you don't like it, then you don't have to read it. But don't knock people for trying. It's all part of the learning curve, and it's all experience.

    Self-publishing is giving many people the answer to their dream of becoming a published writer...even if only three people actually read their work.

    And just because something is pro-published doesn't mean it's good. Because there's a lot of crap coming out of the Big 6.