I don’t keep precise statistics on how many queries I receive each year, but it sure seems like there are more of them every week. I’m at 16,600+ e-mails sent this year, and the vast majority of those are responses to queries. Just about every stranger I meet who finds out what I do for a living has a book they want to talk about. Writers are filling chat rooms and discussion boards, discussing their work and trying to get a leg up.
Is it just me or are there more writers out there than ever before?
And if you agree with the premise that there are more people writing (me = guilty as well)…. why do you suppose that is? What’s behind it? I mean, it sure doesn’t seem like there are vastly more people reading books than before, and it’s never been more difficult to find a traditional publisher.
Is it the meteoric success of prominent authors hitting pay dirt? Is it the economy? Is it a cultural moment, kind of how everyone learned how to Swing dance in the 90s? Is it the Internet and computers and the new transparency of the publishing industry, where it’s easy to figure out who to query and who publishes what? Is it the self-publishing boom?
Very curious to see the responses.
So many responses, I had to skim through some of them, so apologize if anyone already mentioned this.
I would be curious to know the demographics of the increase in submissions. Specifically, is there a proportionally large upturn in queries from young people (say, younger than 35 years old?)
I agree with much of what has already been said. Technology, economy, culture, etc. But one topic that I think hasn't been touched on is the attitude of the newest generation. I think I heard it described somewhere as "Generation Me" or "iGen" for those born in the 70s, 80s, or 90s. It seems that those born in this generation (myself included) have put self and individuality above everything else, even more than past generations. We grew up being encouraged in absolutely everything, even when no talent is present, as if the desire to do something is all that matters, so that every single person my age is supposedly capable of writing a good novel… or being a rock star, or an Olympic athlete, or President of the United States… y'know, if we bothered to really put our minds to it. In short, there is a presumption of excellence in this generation.
So why not write a novel? Apparently 95% of people my age "could do better if they wanted to" than TV writers, or movie writers, or JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer. I think this could have a lot to do with it. People see a badly written episode or something on TV and the first reaction isn't "they could do better than this" it's "I could do better than this."
Add to this all the other influences people have mentioned, and you have a perfect recipe not only for an massive influx of queries, but of would-be authors whose egos are so inflated that they are truly shocked when agents and editors aren't grovelling at their feet to represent their artistic masterpieces.
We are probably noticing it more because of the advances in technology and the bad economy. People think,
Oh, I'll write a book and make some money off of it.
Diane M. Wylie says
I have to agree with those who said, computers are the reason. If we still had to write a book with a typewriter and a bottle of Whiteout, there are many who would not bother. It would be too much work to type and retype a manuscript.
Many people think getting a book published means automatic wealth. I can't tell you how many people assumed that I was going to be rich. Big surprise! LOL!
Let's compare writing books to Hollywood for a second. I think so many people are writing books now is because they see the potential in the written word. I mean you see stories potrayed on the big screen and wow they make millions, but its a tough industry to get into Hollywood. A lot of people have good stories and never really thought of writing them until now because they're hoping to be the best big author, and there isn't anything wrong with that. It's hard breaking into the industry as a writer, just like breaking into Hollywood is hard. Not every script written will become the next big movie. Not every book written will become the next best seller. However what people see is the potential these stories could have; and that is what I think is driving them. Certainly the success of other authors has pushed it too.
Claude Forthomme says
It's the economy, it's the technology, it's the demography (retiring baby boomers have time on their hands to write).
Actually that's the key answer: more and more people have time on their hands, whether to write, paint or play music…or just go jogging!
So, in a modern, increasingly affluent society, it's more leisure vs. less work. Is it more happiness?
Kate H says
I blame the culture of public education (reflecting the culture at large), which has shifted from rewarding merit to encouraging self-expression–and lavishing praise on any self-expression, even if it stinks. People want to express themselves, and technology makes it easy to do that with words. You don't have to learn a new "language" and set of tools as you would for art or music or dance; all you have to do is turn on your computer and spill your thoughts onto the page. Of course, if you want those thoughts to actually be worth another person's time to read–that's where the work comes in.
I'll add my voice to the chorus saying that fame is behind much of this trend. If reality programming has taught us anything, it's that people want to be two things: rich and famous.
I also think that people have started to view writing differently. Celebrities are penning (or, in some cases, "penning") dozens of autobiographies throughout their lives, writing hugely publicized fiction, and making piles of cash in the process. Getting published has become a status symbol.
For me it was the time. I took a few years off to raise children. During that time, I explored different ideas that came to me and found out I loved to write.
Zen of Writing says
There are more people than ever before. Why not more writers?
Jessie Sven says
My personal theory is that our generation has been told it's special. We've been conditioned to be special. And what's more special than writing a book? Obviously our special-ness needs to be shared with the masses. If I sound like I'm condemning it, however, I'm not. This surge of painters and writers is the fruit of a creative society. I think it's a beautiful movement. I just wish more people would have back-up plans.
I say it's simply that writing is easier than ever now. Not to say the thought process required in writing is easy or that more people are born with writing talent. In fact, I think less people actually write well now. However, if I had to write with a pencil or pen on a piece of paper, I would have given up writing a long time ago. Computers solve that problem. Now everyone who had an interesting dream or saw a strange man at the bus stop wants to be a writer.
Wendy Christopher says
I remember when Fifty Shades of Grey came out. The hyperbole surrounding it was enormous; according to many of the media reports this thing was being read by not only everyone on the planet, but most of their pets too. The author became an overnight gazillionaire (of course) and – get this! – SHE DID ALL VIA SELF-PUBLISHING!
…And then came the backlash. The book was awful. It was badly-written. It set a terrible example to women. It was REALLY, BADLY, ATROCIOUSLY WRITTEN. Oh, and did I mention the book was badly written?
And so now what you have is: write a book to make TONS of money AND become mega-famous in an instant! And look -you don't even need to be any good at it anymore!
In the current recession, lots of people both want and need to make money quickly and easily. In the tv-talent-show-obsessed, media-bombed society that goes along with it, many more also want to become famous for something (ANYTHING, if the crop of reality tv shows around these days are any indication.) How many of them gobbled up the hype surrounding this notorious book and thought "Woah – ker-CHING! Gonna download me a novel-writing app on my iphone and write me a BESTSELLER then!" And I don't think it's just pure coincidence that almost every reviewer who rips into the quality of the writing (and often the writer too) also at some point makes the statement "I could've done a better job of it!"
Okay, admittedly E.L. James might not fare so well when compared to the likes of Hemingway, but saying she's 'rubbish' is a bit like saying Billy Joel's rubbish at playing the piano because Stevie Wonder doesn't even need to be able to see when he does it. All those people slating E.L. James and fifty Shades are feeding into this idea of writing being an easy, almost lazy way to fame and fortune because – hell! You don't even need TALENT these days! You can write any old drivel and as long as it's commercially 'hip' it'll sell by the bucketload!
Except, as anyone who's actually TRIED to write a novel knows – those who've actually walked the walk as opposed to just talking a lot of hot-airy talk – it ISN'T that easy. Just FINISHING a Draft One of the darn thing is hard enough. And that's before you factor in things like editing, rewriting and all the attached gubbins.
So while I'm sure there are a lot more people out there 'writing' books these days, it'd be interesting to know how many of them are actually FINISHING them.
I applaud anyone and everyone who writes because it's what they want to do, they feel they were born to do and because they've finally found the courage to do it after years of feeling they couldn't. But those who do it because they read Fifty Shades, think it's bilge and decide they want a piece of that so's they can get that villa in Florida… sorry chums, but you've got a big -wake-up call ahead of you.
There is a corollary in writing to what is happening in cartooning and caricaturing, my main areas. I wrote two books in the 1980s before it was at all practical or easy to be published or find an audience. I published myself because a literary agent convinced me my books were so topical, they would have been old by the time a regular publisher got them out. By 1987, the 2nd book was VERY hard to keep in stock in bookstores. Only the Bill Cosby and Roseanne Barr celeb "authors" were getting the shelf space. Today with amazon, etc. it's not so impossible. I read quite a few of these posts but not all…did anybody mention the "self-esteem" movement in education? It has to have something to do with it. Also the shift from art of any kind being reduced from something FELT to something mechanical, making every technician think they are an artist.
basil papademos says
The question should be Why Are So Many People Writing Derivative Garbage These Days? I've had a couple books published and I live in Thailand. That leads many people to believe I've made it.
I get a great many emails and the main question isn't about writing. They want to know how to get a publisher's attention, what trick I used. I also get a great many manuscripts sent to me and I've seen only two that were remotely interesting. The vast majority are semi-literate crap full of errors of all kinds, ridiculous premises and from what I can see, no real love of or interest in. They want to be famous and figure writing is the easiest way since it requires no particular knowledge or expertise or talent. They see that bestsellers, like that Jack Reacher nonsense or James Patterson's hack thrillers and the wannabes figure, hey, those guys suck and they're selling tons of books, why not me?
Hello from December 2020. A lot has changed since ye olde 2009.
I think it’s the “if they can do it, so can I” view, especially from the publicly shamed authors such as S Meyer, D Brown, and EL James. Personally, I thought their books were decent and the stories moved well. But it did put out the image that even “bad” writers like they can make it, so why not you? Add that to a ready consumption of self-help books and motivational videos and you have all the armor you need to mount your steed and charge towards the gates of Publishoria. I also think that the world of writing and publishing is so openly shared now, that it no longer intimidates or puts people off in fear. It actually now inspires others. Like back in the day, Hollywood was where the movies were. You had to move there and become a part of it if you wanted to have a career. People would leap at interviews and stories of what goes on in the land of movie-making, etc. as if it were some secret sect. Stephen King to me was just like that. I would cut out articles and file them just to feel like I knew a little more about the obscure writer I admired. Now, Twitter makes them all seem on the same level as I am. There is no magic, no mystery. If they can do it, so can I. And if I can do it, so can everyone. I would also add that everything is thrown out on the internet for free, so value has changed. If someone gave me a free music album, movie, or book, I still may not even be bothered to consume it. But go back a decade or two ago, man, I would hold anything free or not close to my chest and wear them out in use. It was valued. Now, if a movie does not interest me I skip through it, feel jaded, and move on. Musicians are more technically talented than ever before but that doesn’t impress me. Books are out in the 1000’s every week and they all seem familiar. A writer offering a free book? I would not jump at it unless I really wanted to read it. I mean, just read that statement: a free book and I still wouldn’t feel like I have to grab it.
I do wish I had been born in a previous era with the same ambitions I have now. I would have gone to Hollywood with nothing but a dream in my pocket. At least the odds were less. Likewise for publishing.
Or was it so? I will end of with a quote from before the birth of Christ.
“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero, statesman, orator, and writer (106-43 B.C.)