Going, going, gone are the days when an agent or editor drooled over raw talent and positively ached to spend eleventymillion hours honing that talent into a publishable book. Welcome to the modern world.
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann at the moment. I know, bit late, but I wasn't allowed to read it as a teenager - actually, "they" made sure I never heard of it - and I had to wait till I was 48 before I dared. The main character's man of the moment - I'm only halfway through and God knows how many more men there'll be; or women - is writing a book, which he is desperate to publish.
Bearing in mind that Valley of the Dolls was published in 1966, I thought you might like these snippets from it:
"Right now, I'm not sure if I can write. I'm not sure the book will even be good. At this very moment there must be half a million ex-GIs sitting at type-writers and hammering out personal versions of Normandy, Okinawa or the London Blitz. And each of us - we really have something to say. It's just a matter of who says it first - and who says it best." ...
"Lyon ... after the book is finished, will you marry me?"
"I shall be delighted to - if the book turns out to be a good one."
She was silent for a moment. "But you said yourself ... even a good book doesn't always make money."And then in a scene a little later, Anne is talking to a friend, Jennifer, about the fact that Lyon has finished his book. (That was quick...). Jennfier says:
"Wonderful! Now you can get married!"
Anne laughed. "It's not that simple. First it has to be accepted by a publisher. He gave it to Bess Wilson - she's a very important literary agent. If she likes it and agrees to handle it, he's halfway home. A publisher will automatically read a manuscript with more interest if he gets it from Bess Wilson."So, it was never easy, and agents were always important, and writers still sruggled. Even good books didn't necessarily make money.
Oh, by the way, Lyon gives Anne up for the sake of his writing. He takes her type-writer and disappears to the North of England - as in England, UK, not New England. Crikey, isn't that where Jane Smith lives? - and plans to write, because, "If I want to write, there's only one thing to do - write."
Yep. That hasn't changed either.
Oh, and he plans to marry "the first plump English girl who will cook and tend for me." Typical bloody man.
Anyway, back to the thing about risks and the real modern world, the one with a recession and all sorts of horrible threats to books. I was reminded of all this by this excellent post on whether children's editors are taking risks any more, from the Kidlit people. I think it nicely explains the situation. And don't think this only works for children's publishing. It applies to all genres.
It shouldn't depress you but it should goad you to better and better. There's no room for laziness or second-best if you want readers.
And as for plump English (or even British, as some of us prefer to be called, in case we might actually be Scottish or Welsh or Northern Irish) girls to cook and clean for you, fugeddit. Atcha with my pointy shoes.