The Failure of the Unpublished Author: Dead or Dying?

We’re fans of failure on this blog (as we are in life). And of course, The Race: A Novella has a failed lawyer as one of its pole stars. Now Tim Parks brings things full circle with a look at failed writers, which of course we’re HUGE fans of as well, when we’re not self-hating them. (Oh boy – are we back in the artists as narcissists tangle? Let’s move on.)

While Parks is very good at describing the burning desire of struggling authors to receive some kind of validation, and the intense, all-consuming focus on publication that young writers feel. His post takes an interesting direction with a look at the other side: how quickly a published author closes the door behind him or her:

But we’re all aware of the woes of the wannabe. Less publicized is how the same mentality still feeds the world of fiction on the other side of the divide. For the day comes when wannabes, or at least a small percentage of them, are published. The letter, or phone call, or email arrives. In an instant life is changed….  

I have often been astonished how rapidly and ruthlessly young novelists, or simply first novelists, will sever themselves from the community of frustrated aspirants. After years fearing oblivion, the published novelist now feels that success was inevitable, that at a very deep level he always knew he was one of the elect(something I remember V.S. Naipaul telling me at great length and with enviable conviction). Within weeks messages will appear on the websites of newly minted authors discouraging aspiring authors from sending their manuscripts. They now live in a different dimension. Time is precious. Another book is required, because there is no point in establishing a reputation if it is not fed and exploited. Sure of their calling now, they buckle down to it. All too soon they will become exactly what the public wants them to be: persons apart, producers of that special thing, literature; artists.

Maybe that’s changing? And not just because of the ability to put one’s books out there, but because of the many, many outlets young people have to express themselves. Waiting for a publisher to bless your vision, to give you a platform, to amplify your voice may be like waiting for your horse to be hitched to your buggy was in 1925. Who needs years of frustration? You can go viral in seconds.


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