Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why Are So Many People Writing Books These Days?

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.






321 comments:

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Jen said...

Is it just that there are more writers networking in the chatrooms, twitter, blogs, etc? Thus leading more people to think they could write... and more people to classify their jottings "writing" instead of leaving them in notebooks like they used to.

Alexander Pyles said...

I think it is more along the lines of Self-Publishing, since writing has gone under this almost idea that "anyone can do it", and I guess that is true to some point. Whether the quality is really there is in question, but quantity has indeed increased as you mentioned. Yet, I think it really relies on the fact that Self-Publishing has become a sort of boon to those that cannot find luck elsewhere.

Carolyn said...

I think the success of authors like JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer are certainly responsible in part.

And, both these women had no particular qualifications to start. they weren't already writers, for example.

From there, it's easy to think anyone can do it.

The economy is another reason. I hear from people who think writing (then selling) a novel will replace their lost income. It seems like a low-investment way to make a buck.

Lindsey Himmler said...

Just like everything else, I think the internet has been important for writers. No longer are writers hidden away, scrawling secretly in their bedrooms (see Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, etc.). It's so easy to connect with other writers, to feel part of a community and be inspired to write.

Malia Sutton said...

Partially, I think, because it's a little easier to do with the technology at hand. With a full time career, and working as a published writer part time, I don't think I'd be able to do it if I had to go back to typewriters and white-out.

slushpilehero said...

I know a stay-at-home dad who thinks he's the only one on the planet. His wife took a job that requires a lot of travel, so he left his accounting job to stay home with the kids. Also, he figured if I could do it, then he could, too. (I write fiction, I'm a mom, and I have a background that is the polar opposite of his, but, hey, you know, must be easy if your neighbor can do it, right?)

P. Grier said...

I don't know if I have any wisdom beyond guessing, but I will guess anyway. So many people have lost their jobs that I am sure many see it as a chance to do what they have always wanted to do. Then, the last of the baby boomers are entering their mid-life crisis.

Dick Margulis said...

It's the economy. People who were laid off or had their hours cut back have time to finish long-delayed projects or pursue long-deferred dreams, as the case may be, and the incentive to do something that (they think) will bring in some money.

Cate Hart said...

I think it's the technology. Writing and revising is so much easier and less time consuming when you have a computer program that you can quickly skim through pages. And then the internet community. It's easier to connect with fellow writers and find beta/CP's to help polish your work. And because you're in a community, you can have three or four different people looking over your work simultaneously, resulting in faster revision time. And these days most people in the business (agents and editors, ect) are connected online as well. They are are willing to share their insights and advice. Writers so much more tools at their fingertips.

brian_ohio said...

I just posted about this the other day... you stealin' my topics? ;-)

http://brian-ohio.livejournal.com/189966.html

Cheryl said...

IMO technology plays a huge role in this increase. There is software that you can plug information into and it will spit out a plotline. Software that checks your grammar and spelling. Voice recognition software is available and the writer isn't even required to physically enter their words into the computer. All this, combined with numerous how-to books and websites, gives the impression that it is a fairly easy task to become a published author.

Combine this with unemployment rates, the ability to work from home, stories of writers receiving seven figure advances as well as movie deals, well... it would appear writing and publishing a book is easy than winning $100 in the lottery.

Bane of Anubis said...

I think accessibility and ease of entry has probably fueled much of it.

Tracy Hahn-Burkett said...

I never thought about this before, but I'd guess it has at least something to do with the increasing blurring of the lines between ordinary and extraordinary, public and private. With a zillion TV channels, YouTube and the rest of the internet in most homes and an increasingly confessional culture, it seems like anyone can be famous, and that appeals to a lot of people. A corollary to this point is that plenty of people probably do have at least a few good stories in them, but while they may have always believed that they had something significant to say, it never seemed so possible before that they might actually be able to find a forum through which people will listen. People look around and see tons of other ordinary folks who've found audiences for their personal stories--written or otherwise--and they think, "Hey, maybe I have something to add, too."

The exception to this premise, of course, is everyone who reads this blog, because we are all extremely serious writers who review our own work with objectivity and check our egos at the door whenever we sit down to write or revise. :) (That's a smiley face, in case the punctuation marks don't convert to an emoticon when I hit "post.")

Daisy said...

I suspect it has something to do with the aging boomer population-- the kids are out of the house, they're closing in on retirement, and ever since their knees gave out they aren't playing so much squash anymore so hey, time to write that book that they've always known they had in them.

That, or email makes it so much easier that the same number of writers can query a lot more agents.

Bane of Anubis said...

easy of entry in terms of querying (via internet), writing (via pc)... definitely not ease of entry into the marketplace :)

Arabella said...

I don't know why exactly so many people are writing books, but I can hardly find anyone in my local community who writes, or who writes for publication. I have a hard time finding writing friends--so where are all of these people????

I do have a question, though: is the quantity of people writing good for the market, or is the market saturated? Are more people actually being published?

Nathan Bransford said...

Internet hive mind, brian. Internet hive mind.

j. m. Lee said...

All of the above, and...

I can't help but feel some of it is that people have stopped reading. Or at least, people have started reading fewer and fewer hard published books, spending more of their reading time on blogs, the internet, fanfiction, etc. It's kind of like transparency, but kind of not... Feels like when less people are going to a bookstore for their reading material, the more obvious it is to them that all you need is a keyboard and dialup and you're set. Hm.

Terresa said...

I think it could be a cultural moment. Or maybe not. In the past, huge waves of people have learned to moon walk, bought Cabbage Patch & Elmo dolls, the Rubic's cube, etc.

Is writing the current hip thing? Short of polling the country, the world, I'm not sure. If it is, that means more competition, but also better books.

For me, writing is about crafting a compelling story, one that needs to be told. It's an art I'm curious to continue learning, whether or not everybody & their dog is doing it. Writing is just as essential to me as the children I watch over, the air I breathe.

ajcastle said...

Honestly, I don't really know. Are there actually more people writing or more people sending in their work? I'm kind of inclined to think it's the latter and that is probably due mostly to the economy. IMO.

In my personal life, I don't know anyone who writes but me. I'd always had a huge interest in literature and wanted to see if I could do it too. I didn't start out with the goal of publishing, I just wanted to see if I could actually start and then finish something as huge as a novel. When I did, I couldn't just stop there and needed to write another -- and another...

beth amos said...

I think it's mostly the technology. It's so easy to bang out tens of thousands of words and edit at will (though there's not enough editing for many) with word processing software and computers. Back when typewriters were the primary way to produce a ms, it took lots of time, patience, and thought before committing those words to the page. I know I never finished a novel length work until I got my first computer. I started a lot of them, but never finished them. I doubt I ever would have been published in novel-length form if not for computers.

I think technology's role with regard to self publishing has a lot to do with it, too.

And I agree with others who think the current economy is playing a small role. There is this crazy, wrong perception that writing a book is a path to quick and sudden riches. I wish.

Hunter said...

I have to agree with many comments on here: the combination of the economy and layoffs, the rise of blogging and self publishing options, and the glamour of being an author are the biggest factors.

Over the 14 years I've been in the publishing biz, we've seen a major shift in the perceived value of creatives (writers, designers, etc) related to the spread of tech and the web. Mainstream media is feeling the squeeze from blogs -- and I think many journalists want to write something other than news to stay sane.

With so many layoffs in these creative areas in the past year, and more likely to come as publishing finds its way, I think you'll be getting more book pitches for quite a while. (I'll just email you with mine instead of posting it here, OK?) ;)

Sissy said...

I decided to write cause the story I kept thinking about was keeping me up at night. It seemed that the characters would talk to me and wouldn't stop until I got it typed out. I know I sound crazy. It's just that I've been in love with books since I was a kid and was only now brave enough to write it. I still haven't gotten up the courage to query anyone, you included, though!

Kerry said...

It does seem that the internet has unleashed everyone's inner writer. It is so easy to put fingers to keyboard and fly that everyone now thinks they are a writer. The same thing happened with the advent of cheap video cameras. Suddenly everyone thought they could be a documentary filmmaker.

While I applaud the democratization of the media, the fact remains that there are still very few great writers and perhaps even fewer great filmmakers. While it is true that anyone can write a book or make a movie, it takes huge skill and hard work to do either one well.

The massive odds against getting a book published or a documentary distributed widely doesn't seem to dampen people's dreams. I think that's a good thing.

Cary said...

Nathan, would like to hear about the quality level. What are you seeing-honestly....

Arwen said...

I'd guess perhaps exposure to and savvy about agents and what they do, via the internet, is also contributing to your exposure to the flood.

A favorite (paraphrased) Margaret Atwood quip of mine: Oh, yes, you're going to write a novel when you retire? I am going to take up neurosurgery.

jjdebenedictis said...

I wonder if the rise of the internet has made us all more attuned to words.

People text and email instead of phoning. We have daily reading quotas in the form of the blogs we find entertaining. We Twitter often.

Maybe, as a culture, we're simply rediscovering the appeal of communicating using the written word.

Anonymous said...

I think the economy has a lot to do with it. I personally know 4 people who starting writing books after being laid off from their jobs. They say that they always wanted to, but never had the time. So, they are focusing energy on writing that would have gone into work...or should be going into finding another job.
PLJ

Jen said...

I think most people have the idea that writing is cheap (all you need is a computer and some people make do without even that much), easy, and a sure bet. When someone like Stephenie Meyer comes along and says, "Oh, I had a dream about a sparkly vampire and I wrote a bazillion-word debut in three months and now I'm rich as sin" it sure doesn't help. What Meyer isn't saying, what most successful writers won't cop to, is how many times they crashed and burned before they broke into publishing, how hard they fought and bled for it.

It's not as easy as jotting down your craziest idea and then sitting back to cash the checks. It's not really the most fulfilling hobby a person can have. It's frustrating, infuriating and difficult. If a person has any sense at all they'll take up something more satisfying. Like welding. Or shuffleboard.

WritingToFly said...

Writing isn't "a real job". Surprisingly many thing fiction writers should get a "real job".

Which goes to show how serious people take the profession. Then, since that's the general feeling, there's a sense that anyone can do it. It's not a real job, after all.

Then you have the internet, of course, and networking - and many people get the idea to write that next Big Novel. While before they would have sort of mused over the idea over the assembly line, before forgetting about it, now they start up their internet browser, surf to a writer's community and get anchored to the idea.

Once anchored, they write the manuscript, and start sending it out. It is at this time the query letter angst hits them, and they will fuzz endlessly about minor details. :)

You finally get to feel this, as your slush pile grows and grows and grows.

Irishspartan1775 said...

I can only speak for myself in saying I have always wanted to be a writer. I don't know about the rest of the world, but I have been a reader my whole life, and I don't think that will ever change.

Were I to wake up tomorrow sans eyeballs I would still have audio books!

Mizrepresent said...

It is all of that and more. Self-publishing plays a big part of it as well. Alot of people feel that it is easy to write a book and most are doing it for money, and fame. 3 out of every 5 people i meet are writing books, wanting to write books, or have a book in them they are trying to get out. I remember when i first began writing about 10 years ago, it was not like this, and when i finished my first book about 5 years ago, the pickings were still slim, and you really had a chance to be published...now the market is oversaturated, and i just don't have good feeling about getting a book published, or reaching a massive audience if i choose to self publish. I think most likely i will take this time to fine tune my skills.

Teresa D'Amario said...

Just a thought, but maybe it's the invention of the home computer.

Have you ever tried typing on a typewriter to write a book? I did, and it's not fun. Now, we have a medium that is easy to use, and in every home. Even the older generations are beginning to find the computer useful and enjoyable.

Then came the internet. Research grew easier. Back in the day, if you wanted to learn about wolves, you had to rent movies and hit the library. Now everything is on youtube and wikipedia (ok, I hate wiki, and can't even spell it to find it, but you get the drift).

Plus, TV is getting really boring. LOL Gotta do something with our time!

Terry said...

PC's were the beginning of the end of publishing sanity. Before personal computers, writers had to type out their work, cut and paste and white-out corrections. And type the whole thing over and over again. No delete button, no spellcheck, none of the new technology.

Who among the writers today would want to go through that? My hand is not waving madly in the air.

Also in the 1990's a lot of New Age type books came out telling us, any idiot can write. You don't need to have talent, you don't even need to be an alcoholic or drug addict, as was once thought. So now all of us idiots, boozers or not, are writing.

This reminds me of a joke I saw a few years ago. A guy was hanging out an upstairs window in his home, while a garbage collector below poured over some papers in his trash. He called to his wife, "Hey, honey, someone's finally reading my screenplay!"

Aimee said...

If the world population has doubled since the sixties, why wouldn't the queries?

Anonymous said...

Two reasons. 1) Publishing isn't as much of a mystery anymore. All the info is on the Internet and anyone can give it a try.

2) The Stephenie Meyer syndrome. Meyer tells everyone the story of how she'd never written anything before, had a dream about vampires, wrote the book in record time and BAM instant gazillionaire. So now all these other people erroneously think it's that easy instead of understanding that Meyer caught lightning in a bottle. That's not how easy it usually is.

Caitlin said...

I'm sure the internet has a lot to do with the boom. It's easier than ever to do research for a novel, learn about the query/submit/agent/publish process, and literary agents are just a click a way.

I also agree that the economy is probably a major factor as well. Out of work people are spending time writing, and hoping they can capitalize on it.

But I know, at least in my case, that the recent hype around books like Harry Potter and Twilight have encouraged previously unpublished writers to take a chance and pitch the books they've been too afraid to submit before. Seeing the success of these previously unknown women is inspiring. Closet writers are believing they can get their work out there and actually be taken seriously, even if they don't have years of English Lit and writing classes under their belt, or dozens of published short stories in magazines across the country.

I'm by no means saying I'm the next Stephenie Meyer (as Moses parted the red sea, so shall I enthrall the masses with my prose), but Twilight was her debut novel. I've always worried that a debut novel is doomed to fail as a general rule. With all the recent exceptions, I'm actually hopeful now.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

I don't know, but I think the 1st comment nailed it-- it's just that more writers have appeared online and probably discovered your blog so they queried you.

Nathan Bransford said...

cary-

I'm seeing more really good stuff at the high end and more really bad stuff at the low end.

Dara said...

Probably a combination of many factors. I think the accessibility of the Internet and the ability to network easily helps and like the first commentor said, this probably leads more people in thinking they want to write.

I'm pretty certain the Internet is the key in the increase in writers, but that's just my opinion. The economy probably has a lot to do with it too.

MJ said...

Yes to technology, yes to the economy, yes to blurring of public/private lines. But I'm optimistic about this trend for a few reasons.

First, I think that anyone who wants to be a writer should be reading like a maniac - so more people writing (hopefully) means more people reading - or at least more people who respect and cherish the book (so no fringe cult following like P-Roth predicted).

Second, I feel that this trend is a good sign for the future of our species in general. Along the lines of Hegel and Humanism - it's a signal that we're moving from passive to the active, from culture consumers to culture generators. We're satisfying more of our basic needs (food, safety, education), and as we move up the 'pyramid of needs' (see Abraham Maslow if interested), we want to self actualize, to create. What better way to do this than write a book? Catharsis and communication in one.

More writers and artists in a given society = a society that values the arts and creativity. If those values reign supreme, then maybe things like wealth, status and war will get de-valued. So many books and speakers lately have been voicing the message to 'do what you love' and not to worry about the money. This seems positive to me. Happy people = nicer people?

Sure, not every book is fit to publish, but it's the process, not the product that's valuable to most individuals (and that's why there are agents!).

Also, Nathan, you're probably getting more queries due to the popularity of your blog. Have you asked some non-blogging agent friends?

Brandi Schmidt said...

All I can say is TWILIGHT!

I really believe books like Twilight inspire a movement. I know it's totally cheesy but I read the Twilight series and fell in love with the written word. I read before but NOTHING moved me like this saga. I swear at heart I’m a twelve year old girl!

Stephanie Meyer is a mom, just like me, why can't I be just like her? That’s one of the foolish dreams that swim around in my head (I’m not the only one – admit it).

I think anything that inspires you to want to be better (a book, economy, internet, etc) is great! Why not do what you dream? If you fail, at least you tried.

Words from the heart of a hopeless dreamer (and unpublished author).

Nathan Bransford said...

MJ-

Just about every agent I know, blogging or no, is getting more queries than ever before. The only exception to this rule are the ones who don't take e-mailed queries.

I think that's also revealing.

D. G. Hudson said...

Several reasons contribute to the fact that more people are writing than in the past: a large group of baby boomers, and their progeny who want to say something about almost everything, a multitude of writing courses encouraging even the poorest writer for the right amount of money, and the internet for making it easy to find the editors, publishers and agents.

Agents like yourself, Nathan, encourage writers to get it written, revised and send it in. (Thank you for that!) IMO, a lot of people have a story in them, and they want to see if it flies. Some will fall by the wayside, but a lot of people do achieve some measure of success. Me -- I just love writing, and will continue as long as I can see the screen and the keyboard.

Why are you writing Nathan?

Samuel said...

Jim Rutman commented, if somewhat obliquely, on this topic in a link Nathan gave in one of his TWIP round-ups. I think he (Jim) comes across really well:

RUTMAN: I think being published has come to feel, for reasons I can't explain, too achievable. To take a step back, I think the idea of writing a book has come to seem too achievable. I don't know what to attribute that to. It may be the fact that famous people have access to people who can write a tolerable book for them, which might create the impression that most of us should be thinking about writing a book. I think it used to feel rightfully daunting to write a book. People should be daunted by the prospect of writing a book—and more than they may be at the moment. I'm not saying that writing can't be a hobby. But professionalizing it? That's a whole other step, and you then expose yourself to a whole other set of challenges and disappointments that you have to take into consideration. But at some point I feel like there was some kind of fundamental shift that made writing a book—and finishing it and publishing it—seem like not that big a deal. Or not a big enough deal.

AM said...

Really? I know of no one in my wide circle of co-workers, friends, family and acquaintances that are writing or for that matter, have ever considered writing a book. And I know a lot of people. Huh.

I don’t think it is due to increases in technology because the technology to support writing has been around for many years. I think blogging and online communities certainly encourage people to try their hand at it. And I bet that when the country is fully employed again, there will be a significant decrease in new writers.

Nathan:

I’m curious. Is this a significant and recent upturn (months) or have the numbers been steadily increasing?

Is there a huge increase across the industry or are you having such a signficant increase because your fame now precedes you?

Blogging Mama Andrea said...

I don't know why more people are (likely all the reasons already mentioned). All I know is now getting my stuff out there becomes all that more difficult because there are so many people overflowing already overworked agents/publishers. I read the other day over at Kristin Nelson's site that she turned down someone she thought was really good because even being really good wasn't enough (paraphrasing).

That hurts.

Karen Schwabach said...

I think there are more good writers than ever before, and that that's because of The Internets. Back in the day, most people used to really struggle with writing. As a college student I worked in the writing center and it seems like for the average student in those days, getting a thought down on paper was a pretty serious challenge.

Today it seems like most people find writing much easier. You know the saying that you have to write a million words to become a good writer? The internet makes it possible to hit the million mark a lot quicker and a lot more effortlessly.

More people are spending more time writing than ever before-- so more people are deciding to write books.

And then there's the Potter effect of course.

Michael Pickett said...

I think that there are the same number of writers, but that the access to agents/editors is easier than ever. Whereas before, an aspiring writer would at least have to pay for a postage stamp to query an agent, today he can send off an email at no expense to him more than his time. With all of the advancements in communication, it only makes sense that we would get more communication.

Mandajuice said...

I think it's the economy and the baby-boomers beginning to retire. Every time I go to a local writers conference or a meeting, I'm astonished to look around and realize I'm often the youngest person in the room. And I'm 33. And I live in a relatively young city (Portland, OR).

I think most people have a book in mind that they've always wanted to write and it isn't until retirement (or unemployment) they finally find the time. Writing = second career.

Raejean said...

I definitely believe the ease that came with the PC and the internet has made writing more accessible, but those have been around for several years. The economy has people looking for creative ways to support themselves and self-publishing has increased the means, but writing has so much competition it's almost like playing the lottery.

For me and the writers I know, writing is very introspective. We define ourselves and our hopes and dreams by the stories we write. Getting published is a culmination of that journey.

Bill Mabe said...

Your blog--you get more queries because your blog is so popular.

Recession--as already noted.

Celebrity/easy money culture--everybody wants to be a star or at least get rich.

Success of people who are *seemingly* ordinary people, like JK Rowling (she seems ordinary)--if they can do it so can I.

Technology--internet makes research, getting story ideas, and sharing tips on writing easier; (being able to use a word processor instead of a typewriter also helps, though that's been true for a while)

Probably a little of all of these.

Gordon Pamplona said...

Hmmm. Everyone already gave the reasons. And herds make me nervous. Very nervous. Time to quit writing books and use my creativity to build dollhouses instead.

Laurel said...

Technology.

Not only is it easier to type an MS but many more people have typing skills than 15 years ago so thinking while typing is much more organic.

Research requires internet access, not hours in the library and interviewing people who work in the job your MC holds.

Once you've completed an MS, the internet again makes the research easier. Hop online and find agent listings instead of going to the library or buying the most current edition of Guide to Publishing.

Querying is easier now that it doesn't require the USPS.

The combination is death on agent inboxes.

Jens Porup said...

The same thing happened in ancient Rome. Legions of wannabe writers produced tons of papyrus scrolls, all saying very little indeed.

See my essay on the topic, here.

Anonymous said...

Writing equals staycation, or whatever people call it when they stay at home and don't go anywhere on vacation. I think writing is cheaper than going to Disney Land. Just a thought.

Also, podcasts like "I Should Be Writing" and "Grammar Girl" also encourage folks to write, and those podcasts provide a lot of information to write well.

What seems to be missing is a good way to identify a good editing service for all these drafts. If I google novel editing services, how do I filter out the good from the bad?

Steve Fuller said...

The same percentage of people are writing books. Twenty years ago, there was just no way of knowing so many people were writing books. Technology connects people in a way that gives us a window into their personal lives.

Nathan Bransford said...

Just wanted to chime in to say that I definitely agree that Baby Boomers retiring and working on the book they've always wanted to write is one of the important factors. This is especially apparent at writing conferences (though Baby Boomers might just be more likely to be able to afford writers conferences).

Eric said...

I agree with the people who are saying technology, especially word processing versus typewritering. But I think a big part of it is blogs. You go online and find a blog about something you're interested in, and the writer is really charming, and you waste all this time reading the words of all these people on all kinds of blogs, and you see that any topic is legitimate, even the misuse of quotation marks--it's charming!--and the bloggers have people commenting on their blogs and saying nice things about them, and you're like, "Yeah, that's the life for me."

Except maybe a blog is too much daily pressure and exposure, so writing a book is something you can still be an introvert about, which of course most of us are. And you can get it nice and polished and send it out when you're "ready." And people will think you are charming and send you flattering comments.

I'm serious. It's the blogs.

karen wester newton said...

I think it's a combination of things:

1. Computers, word processing, & printers make it easy to create a clean, tidy m.s.

2. The internet makes it easy to do research without leaving your house.

3. Baby boomers have aged to the point where they're looking for that second career, the one that's always been their dream but they had kids to feed & put through college before.

4. Self publishing is now a more affordable option, if you can't get an agent or an editor interested in your book.

Marsha Sigman said...

I think its a combination of several things. I started writing before I researched the process of becoming published, so I didn't have any ideas going in that it would be easy. I knew it would be hard but that didn't stop me.

I think its the economy and an atmosphere that makes us want to try and realize our dreams. Also, the Twilight story. What happened to Stephenie Meyers was one shot in a million but it inspired so many to believe it could happen to us.

The Internet and the ease with which we can submit our efforts is just icing on the cake.

Josin L. McQuein said...

A lot of people have "write a novel" on their to-do lists for "someday". Since a good number of those people have been downsized, they have the time to do it.

Add that to the number of TV shows that feature main characters who are best selling authors (Bones, NCIS, and Castle just to name the 1st three I thought of), and the fact that those shows give a skewed reality of what a successful writer's life is like, and it's little wonder that people think it's an easy way to cash in quick.

The perception is that a writer does nothing for most of the day, bangs out a few hundred pages in their spare time and then walks the MS into an agent's office and says "I choose YOU! Aren't you honored?" Then the agent hands the book off over lunch for a million dollar advance, after which the writer sits down with said editor and designs everything from the cover to the layout before being sent on a whirlwind publication tour of signings and morning show appearances. Then the book's a surefire hit -- all within a matter of weeks.

I'd say that most of those people don't take the time to discern how much of that presumption is Hollywood and how much is fact. That's why so many of them get frustrated and go for vanity publishers when there's no immediate lunge for their work. The speed and easy of vanity publishing fits the Hollywood model, and that's enough to convince someone who doesn't know better that it's the way to go.

Everyone seems to think that the ability to write a sentence = the ability to write a book, or that bad grammar = voice in a book. And that being an "author" comes with a certain amount of assumed intelligence and respect.

Also, emails are quick and cheap. There's no need for printing off huge chunks of MS to send off by snail mail or to pay for rolls of stamps now. Agents are only a click away.

Anonymous said...

I think storytelling is archetypal and it is a human obsession to hear and rehear or tell and retell stories.

At times when life is bleak, stories hold us up and become like food for the starving.

I believe that what has changed included:
The Word Processor
and
Electronic Submissions

without which writing would be just too too burdonsome for many.

(Remember those little white-out strips you had to hold over the typewriter keys?)

Oddly, I just reread "The Clowns of God" by Morris West. It was a Bantum book, published in 1980, 22 weeks on the NYT Bestseller list.
I was completely blown away by the typeset typos, the off-center registration, and other flaws we have come to believe we must never see in a "professionally published" book.

Kristi said...

It would take too long to explain my thought processes here so this is my short take on it: While technology may lend itself to people writing who might otherwise not have attempted it, I think the increase in numbers is more due to a cultural shift - which is impacting much more than just writing.

Ellen Painter Dollar said...

I think it has to do partly with the rise of newer forms of publishing--especially blogging and memoirs. I realize that many agents and editors say that the age of memoirs may be passing, and that they are only interested in memoirs from famous authors, but so many of my favorite books of the last decade have been memoirs or collections of autobiographical essays by not-so-well-known people that have somehow become big sellers. As a college student, I loved writing and did it well but never considered being a writer because I associated writers with novels, and I just don't have the skills for fiction (yet). But as I read memoirs, blogs and other nonfiction forms, I realized I could be a writer even if I'm not cut out to be a novelist. I'd be interested to know if my observation, though, is supported by agents' and editors' submission stats--Have you seen an increase in nonfiction proposals that are either autobiographical or that build on the authors' blog topics? (You have probably answered this question somewhere previously. Going to search the site right now!)

Matilda McCloud said...

I worked at a literary agency and also read slush at a publishing house--several years ago. Believe me, A LOT of people were writing books then, too. We were overwhelmed. I guess being able to send queries via email has increased the number of queries agents receive. It took a little more effort then to photocopy and send your ms etc, so that cut out a few people--but not that many. Retired people were writing their memoirs then--pre-Baby Boomers I guess. And by the way, not all of us Baby Boomers are retired. Yikes, we're not all THAT OLD, she says crying into her coffee.

Watery Tart said...

I'm inclined to go with D. All of the Above.

A. Economy leads people to try ANYTHING to get out of it and writing is one of those things (both freeing time of true talent, and putting pens to paper than have no business)
B. Blogosphere and networking give lots of advice to help people navigate both writing and submitting (the latter successfully, jury still out on the former).
C. A couple badly written books making millions (sorry for breaking rules here, not trying to point fingers, and not saying they shouldn't have been published because obviously they were SALES successes, but they DO give the impression anyone can do it).

I suspect both more is written AND people are getting their finished works out to more people because they are more desperate to have it work.

Rowenna said...

I think internet culture has emboldened writers--they're read on blogs, they commiserate with fellow writers on forums, they get advice and feedback and learn how to publish, and doing those things is a lot easier than it used to be. So more people are stepping out as writers, feeling like they can whereas a decade ago it must have been at least a bit more mysterious.

What I wonder is, if it is a cultural thing, will it stick around? I may have learned to swing dance in the 90s but I still dance...most people who learned don't. Just because someone starts to write now doesn't mean they'll continue to publication--I bet many first novels will get the rejections and decide not to perservere, write another book, learn the next dance step. Just a hunch...

liznwyrk said...

In a country that is so divided, with family so far away, and old modes of community are fading, there is no sense (and I would argue this is because of, not in spite of, the internet and fragmentation of media) that any of us feel like we are being heard. Writing is a way to say I AM HERE.

Lydia Sharp said...

The number one thing I see stated out there on Introduction-type discussions in social networking/writing forums is this:

I'VE BEEN WRITING FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER (SINCE BEFORE I COULD TALK EVEN!), AND THOUGHT I'D TRY TO FINALLY GET MY STUFF PUBLISHED.

Yes, that is as scary to me as it no doubt is to everyone here that reads it.

Julie said...

Its funny that you mention this and I do think you're right. The flood is heavier, but I have never actually met someone who writes except through writers blogs and other writing engagements. I never talk to people who are working on getting published at the grocery store or watching my kids at dance class.

Whenever I tell people I have written three books they can't believe it and they all say "I could never do that" but obviously someone is?

Rachel Menard said...

I think the economy is a huge factor. My friend's sister and her husband are both jobless and using their time to write SEPARATE vampire books. Be forewarned.

Erin said...

In my humble opinion? Blogging.

So many people have blogs, and so many other people enjoy reading blogs of people they could be friends with, that the dream of being A Real Writer seems more tangible and reachable than ever before. Especially with a handful, or even dozens, of blog readers telling blog writers "You should so write a book!" Even if they have no clue what actually goes into writing a book.

Anonymous said...

Fora for book publishing statistics at Dan Poytner's Para Publishing. Many inline links to statistics resources at Bookstatistics.com Interesting stats.

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."
—Benjamin Disraeli

Anyway, people write because they have something to say, and are weary of being interrupted while saying it. A book is, for all intents and purposes, a dramatic monologue, novels more so but disguised as narrative discourse.

Technology certainly makes writing easier. The yellow pad writer is a revenant cliché anymore. Word processor software makes organizing, composing and compositing, rewriting, and revising enormously simpler than double spaced pencilmanship. Typewriters, especially the manual ones are even more archaic.

W^3 communication enhances the ease of discourse. Correspondence turnaround is seconds instead of weeks or months.

Internet publication of writing blogs, online workshops, writing advices enhance writers' skills and confidence levels.

The apparent ease of access to the marketplace through online citizen publishers, literary agents, book manufacturers, and editors encourages more flow.

It's a Bell curve supply and demand though. There will be a new age of literature in short order, once the marketplace settles out again for awhile, when the overabundant supply becomes more manageable and the demand is more qualifiable, again, due to the Internet providing easy access to a broad range of literature that's not solely dictated by gatekeepers. Self-selection will become more of a market force than it's ever been.

There was a time when I could count the number of agents I'd shook hands with, figuratively or literally, on one finger, but the number of heads of state on all my fingers and toes. It used to be easier to shake a U.S. president's hand than meet a literary agent. Agent cloistering was commonplace once upon a time. You-all used to keep your vocation a secret so that you wouldn't be bombarded with all the unsolicited over the transom manuscripts. Welcome to the networking age.

What's next in the publishing kingdom? A new level of gatekeeper is emerging. Query/manuscript screener and advice services will become the point of initial access to agents and publishers, is dawning.

Marilyn Peake said...

I think the main reason is computers and the Internet. It’s easier than ever before to do research for a novel (Internet + Google, rather than doing research in the library and printing out information on coin-operated copy machines and absolutely needing to travel to a place to see what it looks like), type (type and then hit the delete key to erase mistakes, as opposed to typing on typewriters, feeding in individual sheets of paper and using white-out to cover up mistakes), edit (same reasons as for how much easier it is to type manuscripts today, plus the existence of computerized spell checkers and grammar checkers and online dictionaries), print (printer right next to the computer, as opposed to making multiple copies of a manuscript at a copying store), finding agents (constantly updated online lists of recommended and not recommended agents, as opposed to outdated published books about agents) and querying agents (mostly by email, rather than typing and taking queries and manuscripts in stamped envelopes to the post office and then waiting to receive a reply in the mail). Many famous writers originally self-published: Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, to name just a few. However, in the past, writers had to have direct access to an actual printing press in order to self-publish books, so they were frequently wealthy.

I also think that in today’s economy, some people are probably writing while unemployed which increases the total number of people writing books.

Jamie said...

I think it's a combination of those. Books and movies are an escape and right now it seems like a lot of people need that escape. So if you can't necessarily spend money on books (and if for some reason you don't want to go to the library) ... you sit down and start writing. You write yourself out of this world for a while... then you see things like Twilight, the Harry Potter series, Golden Compass, the Dresden series on Syfy ... you see all these book to movie things and it looks effortless. Not saying it is, but it LOOKS effortless because suddenly there's this book you didn't know existed and it's already a movie!

But I also think that a lot of people are coming out of themselves with the rise of technology. Things like NaNoWriMo (for better or worse) have opened up this world to people who always wanted to do it but never thought they could.

People are creating. It may not be gold every time, but that's pretty cool to see when we're constantly going higher tech.

Jude Hardin said...

I think a lot of people are still under the (false) impression that a published book equals instant wealth.

Anyone who has ever finished a novel, though, knows it isn't easy, regardless of the technological tools at hand. It's hard work, and it's very unlikely any appreciable amount of money will ever change hands.

Just Another Sarah said...

Unfortunately, I agree with Cary's question, up above...it seems like there are tons of writers, but that not all of them are so worried about the quality. Maybe it has to do with the idea of self-publishing (which I think is a very bad idea, myself), and maybe it has to do with the writers groups available, like others have mentioned. Maybe for some it's a get-rich-quick thought; which is kind of silly, really.

I am forced to admit, I used to frequent some fanfiction sites, and I have to say that I saw it there, too. The sheer number of stories out there is phenomenal. Some stories were fantastic, some even to the level of the original authors...and then some would write, "PLZ REVIEW! NO FLAMES!" And they'd have something you couldn't really follow. But I suspect that the idea of having written something that somebody else has read and even thought about gives you some sense of worth, of importance, a bit of a presence. It doesn't matter your age, your gender, your social situation. So perhaps, even with lower quality, the quantity of writing is getting people started in something that allows them some form of release. And that's not such a bad thing, after all.

Sorry--really long note. Great blog!

RLS said...

For me, it's the computer in general and the internet in particular. If I couldn't query electronically, I'd never have the energy to post at the rate I did.
Also, I found all the word processing features essential. Back in the day, (I'm 42) of the mere type writer, white out and literal cut and paste sent me running towards other creative endeavors.

Susan Quinn said...

I know the secret! Find out why in my new book Ways to Surgically Remove the Book Inside coming out in December 2009 from Author House!

Seriously, I think the commenters above have it covered: technology, the percieved ease or payoff of writing a book, and more people with time on their hands.

Question: How recent is this uptick? Are we talking the last year, a sudden surge? Or slowly building over the last several years?

Christina Kopp said...

Wired.com had an interesting article several months ago (http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/17-09/st_thompson) entitled "The New Literacy." The article argues, among other things, that the rise of social networking sites and texting has led to average Americans using the written word more than ever before. If you didn't have to write for school or work, you usually didn't write to communicate. Now, though, we write quite often in our daily lives, and although this style of writing uses its own sort of grammar and lexicon, it does require an understanding of audiences. A professor from Stanford argues that this new literacy trains people to understand their audiences and change their style to suit whomever they're addressing.

I'm not sure this translates into more completed books and queries, but I think it plays a role. The more we write in our daily lives, the less likely we are to view writing a book as something beyond us.

The problem, of course, is that no matter how much we write in our daily lives, writing well is a skill that takes a great deal of concerted study (though not necessarily formal study) and directed practice. On top of all that, perhaps there's the talent factor, as other debates on your page have suggested, though I still think it's pointless to discuss talent because we can't control what we can't control. ;-D

Another problem: the "new literacy" means that people are spending so much time writing that they're not doing much reading. It is difficult to write well if we don't expose ourselves to a variety of styles and ideas.

Maybe all of this new writing doesn't have a place in publishable books, but I do think it's encouraging that people are writing more. Writing requires an active kind of thinking that the passive entertainment of the twentieth century (radio, TV) didn't often encourage.

L... said...

I kind of think you would see fewer queries if we all went back to snail mail. When a writer has to shell out six bucks to send off a full then you know they're serious.

An e-mail? Type, type, type, spell check, send - kind of like commenting on a blog. ;)

Vacuum Queen said...

Sure seems that there are more people getting 15 minutes of fame...and a book deal. So maybe regular Joe Schmoes at home think they can write a book if someone from the Hills can. Or, "hey if that guy who makes witty Twitters can get a book deal, why can't I turn MY blog into a book?"

I really do think that's part of it.

And yes, I do also think the internet's easy access to agents and publishers and their world makes those of us who enjoy writing think it could be us just as easily as any other writer. Why not try to query and see what happens?

lotusgirl said...

Maybe it's all of the above. One thing that just struck me is that more people know how to type these days. One less obstacle. The fewer things that stand in someone's way the more likely he is to get to the end of the path. What do you think of that one? When I was young hardly anyone I knew could type. Now everyone can even little kids. Just a thought.

AM said...

Thanks Matilda.

I have been wondering if the numbers are inflated because agents are accepting emailed queries and that has made it is easier for writers to (1) resubmit to the same agents and (2) to submit to agents they would not have considered (due to genre, tastes, etc.) if they had to snail mail the queries.

Nathan's comment above seems to suggest that as a possibility.

Other than the agents blogs (which have now been around 5 years I think), the internet and writing software has been available for a long, long time. That’s why I was wondering about the time frame of this upturn.

Certainly, since Nathan has been blogging, the writing, internet and blogging technologies have been prevalent.

Perhaps the last, late-late technology adopters have just come online?

Anonymous said...

Books have replaced screenplays (the early 90's were a time when spec scripts ie., Shane Black's 'The Last Boy Scout,' were sold for millions of dollars) as the cultural lottery ticket du jour.

Blogs & blog comments seem to reflect this: there's more chatter about deals than books. In fact, I have a difficult time remembering comments about books read on your blog, for example (except when you've posted a book specific topic.)

Partly, I think this due to the blog's identity (by an agent.) But even that, pulling some veil back on a previously illusive - sorry, ellusive - business feeds into the frenzy.

The bigger fantasy, I think, is one of escape e.g., "if I sell 'my book' (generic, any book) then I will be free to retire to Ibiza, Marbella, the Canary Islands." Which reflects, I think, a basic disconnect between advances for first time writers and reality.

How many people, I wonder, read or heard about S.P's $1.5 million dollar "holding fee" (or, whatever it was before she resigned) and then tuned into hear she stood to make another $7.5 million (or, total.) Not to get political but she is basically, a hockey mom with few credentials who, through a stroke of genius or stupidity, was plucked from a small town and given a platform. Like other reality show contestents, she engenders this sort of America-as-Las-Vegas lotto life everyone seems to have enrolled in. Conciously, or unconsciously, people identify with get-rich-quick (and without much to back it up) scenario, the underlying lucre being shelled out by ... publishing companies.

Ergo, this mania is all Knopf's fault!

Harper K. said...

I agree with the 80-odd fine folks before me. But also: I think there's been a growing fascination among people with how the sausage is made with regard to our entertainers and our entertainment. In the days of getting our news mainly from print media and 30-minute news programs, it was tough to come across interviews with authors that were more than 5-minute PR placements. These days, the Internet is chock full with in-depth interviews with authors, screenwriters, TV and music producers, etc. And when people start to learn about how something is done or made, some of them think they can do it, too.

Writing a novel can be done at home, with fairly cheap equipment, without having to relocate to NY or LA, and with plenty of virtual writerly company on the Internet. So, umm, who wouldn't want to do it? (wink) That is, until you get to the murky middle of that fourth revision and you realize you haven't seen the sun in a while...

Also, the self-esteem-building culture that's been going on for the last decade or so probably has a lot to do with the upswing in people taking on the monumental task of writing a book. When I was a kid, I distinctly remember my 5th grade teacher and my mother actively discouraging me from sending out my 166-page handwritten novel manuscript for publication. To be fair, I'm glad they did. Sort of. I continued to write, but I never thought of myself as someone who could maybe, possibly be published until I was 25 and ran across the blog of a 25-year-old YA author. These days, I wonder if a 13-year-old me in 2009 would be one of those kids asking on message boards and blogs if I should include my age in my query letter.

Ink said...

I think it's a confluence of factors leading to a tipping point. Technology, access, the boomers, the author mythology, etc.

There's two others, however, which I haven't seen anyone mention.

1) We're at the apex of a culture of individuality. People become celebrities without any discernible talent (sorry, Reality TV). The promotion of individuality is everywhere, even if it's often a sort of herd individuality. It's all about you... so everyone's told. There's been a big shift in the cultural dynamic - less and less are people defined by their jobs, but rather by their leisure pursuits. People, more and more, have little investment in their jobs. Look at employment turnover rates and you'll see some startling changes in the last fifty years. A job is just a job. You go and earn money to live. And the real you comes out after. Do you mix dance music tracks in your basement? Make Youtube videos? Go to scrapbook conventions? Write a novel? People are increasingly defined by these choices, and increasingly pushed to express themselves in these ways. Thus we get a lot of writers.

2) Games of the role-playing variety. Look at the proliferation of these games over the last few decades. They're everywhere. And these game players are employing some of the crafts of a writer. They're creating characters, plots, story arcs, conflicts... over and over again. They plan adventures, campaigns, sometimes incredibly complex and fluid stories with moving and shifting casts of characters and players. I think it's a small step for many of these players to take that step and start writing down these stories in fictive form. They already have a world, a plot, a character that they love and are emotionally invested in. Why not make him real and share him with others? A book!

Fantasy dominates this market, fairly often. And I'm guessing if you add up the various forms of fantasy (adult, YA, Epic, Urban, Paranormal, horror) you'll find that this is the leading genre queried. Am I wrong?

Megs said...

My take is more along the lines of kids grew up and were taught to be practical, but over the last however many years, my generation came up being taught to follow our dreams, creative is better, practical is what you make it. Instead of keeping to our secret writings, we realized through the thriving internet reading/writing communities that it was possible to have an audience. Everyone keeps saying it's possible and you have a generation (or two, my dad's seems similar) that no longer believes you have to put aside your creative half, get practical, and only work in a "respectable" profession.

That's my take.

Anonymous said...

I'm a freelance telecommuting editor. But for a computer, e-mail, the Internet, and a dry roof over my head, I'd be hopelessly unemployable.

My work comes in via e-mail attachment and file share sites. Spends a little time on my monitor being read and marked up. Goes out via e-mail. The checks come in the mail from some of my clients, others deposit directly to my bank account. I've never even been face-to-face or talked on the telephone with most of my clients. Huzzah! for the digital age.

Anyway, it's all writing. The one thing that technology has done is compel writing as a manner of communication. We write because we write.

Robert W. Leonard said...

The internet has probably changed things in this area in two big ways. The first being that many authors are no longer quiet about their writing, wondering if everyone will mock them. Another is the online push for fellow writers to keep going, making many, many people who would have usually quit, not.

I imagine that most people suckered in by the allure of fame are also the ones who give up quickly. Like a teacher who started because of long Summer vacations. There is a reason the majority of teachers don't last 5 years in the field. It's a lot more work than it looks like.

Anonymous said...

@ Christina Koop: thank you for posting The Wired link ... I'd missed the piece and it's an interesting mix of cultural and business.

Kerensa Brougham said...

I actually think that in part, it's another instance of people wanting their moment in the spotlight. It's a way to get your name out there, to be "famous" or leave your mark. Add that to the reasons mentioned above (it's "so easy to write a book," etc.), and away we go!

Heidi the Hick said...

It's easier now. Anybody with a word processor and internet can bang up a few words and call it a book, get a few quick tips on finding an agent, and hit send.

What hasn't gotten easier is sticking with it long enough to turn it into an actual book.

Plus we have a very weird culture of quick cheap celebrity now. Anybody can have be a household name for 15 seconds!!!

And writing just seems like such an easy thing to do when you're slouching around at home in your Mort Rainey bathrobe.

ella144 said...

In the past few decades, writing (and reading) has become an integral part of daily human interaction, more so than at any other time in history, because a large part of the Internet is dedicated to writing down information, thoughts, events, and opinions.

Moreover the flow of written word is increasing everyday. It doesn't surprise me that increase includes books since they are one of the oldest, and most beloved, forms of sharing ideas with others.

We've all heard friends and strangers both say "One day I'm going to write a book." (Heck, we've all said that ourselves.) While the Internet connects people to information, more and more people see others JUST LIKE THEM are writing and getting published, and writing is no longer an unobtainable dream, but a real and tangible goal.

At the same time, they learn how to be published (if they bother looking) and where to send their magnum opus for publication. They learn tips for making their manuscripts more favorable to the people receiving them.

To sum up, though it is more difficult to get published because of the economy and the increase in submissions, it is also easier to learn how to be published because that information is more readily available than it ever has been before.

John Peterson said...

WordPerfect vs. Smith-Corona + transparency.

Grimmster24 said...

At first thought, my money's on the GIGANTIC ease of communication available to us now, via the Internets, so that, yes, we writers CAN easily access information about agents, publishers, and editors.

On another note, the word verification for me today was "tingshte." What a cool non-word. :-)

Marilyn Peake said...

Reading the comments about Baby Boomers retiring, I think it’s relevant to add that on average people are also living longer and healthier, so are physically able to do more – including write books – during their retirement years. Other societal changes also probably result in more people writing books. Women who stayed home to raise children used to be expected to clean house and cook all day. Now, many write books. When books had to be typed or written out longhand, it was practically impossible to write at work. Now, it’s possible to write on computers at work and on all kinds of electronic gadgets while commuting by train. In many ways, the modern world is very conducive to writing.

Stacy McKitrick said...

Age may have something to do with it. I've always read, but recently I've been reading A LOT. I had more free time (kids grown) and wondered if I could write. Once I got that first book finished, it opened a flood gate and I want to write more (and I want to be good). I never knew I had it in me. It certainly wasn't planned!

Marilyn Peake said...

Thinking about all the points made so far, I think the Internet has also led to a certain kind of book being able to be written quickly and selling many copies: the kind of book (many of them YA) that sounds exactly like blog chatter. It’s not literary, the grammar and background research is often filled with errors, but the author’s able to capture “blog speak” very well – the kind of chatting that happens on regular blogs about everyday life, celebrity life, and so on. It’s not self-conscious, barely edited, often breathless and oh-so-cool. Does that make sense? Anybody else know what I’m talking about?

AM said...

"...my generation came up being taught to follow our dreams, creative is better, practical is what you make it."

I am with you, Megs.

I think that besides the procedural changes in the publishing industry and the current economic issues that the most significant and enduring changes are being driven by a generational-cultural shift, which includes encouraged individuality and creativity, fantasy role playing (Ink, you are right) and reality TV.

We are encouraged to dream and to believe that we can succeed.

Sure, technology makes it easier to do, but the reason more people are using the technology today is something entirely different.

Joshua said...

Everyone has, or thinks they have, a story to tell?

-Joshua

Jason said...

Is it just me or are there more writers out there than ever before?

Yes, because there are more people than ever before.

Jason said...

Or...maybe there aren't really more writers per capita, but maybe you've experience more queries as your popularity has grown.

I would actually like to see some numbers though because without numbers this is all obviously guess work.

It's just that my gut tells me that it's more likely that you have changed rather than the world.

Nathan Bransford said...

It's really not just me. Agents who don't have blogs are seeing it too.

Joseph L. Selby said...

Is it that there are more writers or you have greater exposure and are receiving a larger percentage of submissions? I'd guess the latter. Behold the effectiveness of your blog.

Anonymous said...

Nobody wants to be on the RECEIVING end of things anymore. they don't wanna read books, they wanna write 'em. They don't wanna watch TV, they wanna be on TV. it's like the puvblic finally realized, "Hey, I'm gonna stop being a consumer and start being a producer. Why should these other shmucks make all the money?"

Ask yourself 1 question: Which side of the screen are you on? because those who control what's on the screens, get the cash. Those who watch the screens, pay cash. That's how it goes. So nowadays more and more people are realizing that with their cheap PCs. I-net connects and Web 2.0, they can, at least in a small way to start, control what's on the screen.

Which side of the screen are you on? All of us here are on the wrong side. Nathan is on the right side. But, for those of you with your own blog, that's the place where you're on the right side, it's a matter of growing the audience.

Anonymous said...

I am going to go a little rogue here (and I like the newer definition of that word–off the beaten path– better than the old one)
but regarding alllll these Vampire novels:

I love them! I have been reading them everywhere, NaNoWriMo has thousands going. What's fun is that it's alot like sitting around with some friends who like to playact and telling ghost stories. The next is better than the last. Such imagination! It's the new American pastime: writing Vampire Novels!!!!

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:37:

Put that way, it's Bill gates who's on the right side of all of our screens, now isn't it?!

Anonymous said...

Holy crap. This is the end as we know it: I've just gotten word that the first-ever auto-generated novel has been sold to a major house.

it's a genre romance completely generated by a computer program. Early word is it's okay, not great, but nevertheless salable.

What does this mean for the lowly writer banging away on the keyboard when some program is going to be auto-generating the genre novels a dozen at a time?

Robert Michael said...

I think some people have stopped BUYING books, but I know personally, I haven't stopped READING books. I have checked more books out of my local library (e-gad) and have begun several books that I had purchased but hadn't found time to read. I believe lots of people have been forced to do this.

As far as WRITING goes, it has always been my impression that thousands of people write. Since I have been involved with writer's groups, guilds, writing classes, etc., I have come to the conclusion that many of them aren't publishable. That might seem judgmental, but it's not different from the screening that agents and publishers already perform.

Anonymous said...

i think the web has made it a bit easier to get the word out about your creations, but in the end, people still have to like it. Even if you're a billionaire and you can afford to start your own big house and thereby self-publish your own books--you can't make people buy them--you can get it in front of them, which is an advantage, but at the end of the day they still have to like it. I think people forget that sometimes.

Lisa Dez said...

I can say with total certainty that I would never have written a book forty years ago. Partly because I was two, but also because without word processors I would have seen it as too much work. I’m an inherently lazy person. With a word processor, I can get my ideas on paper almost as fast as they’re coming out of my head. Nothing is spelled right and half the time I don’t even write in full sentences because I can always go back and fix it later. And I can write a book in a few months rather than a few years—which is how long it would take me to type a novel and my speedy 3 words/minute when you account for all the errors.

Also, the internet made finding my agent (relatively) easy. I can research agents in my fuzzy pink p.j.s from the privacy of my own home and query them at one in the morning when I actually have time to do things like that.

Rachel said...

I've had several friends who like to correspond by postal letters, like me, but we never take the time to do it. While communication is easy now, it takes no effort to toss off an email or text, or just call someone on the phone if you're thinking of them.

But I think there's something cathartic about really putting a lot of thoughts down in an organized way. We don't write letters, we hardly write long emails anymore, so we fill that void by writing stories, books, fiction, non-fiction.

I've never known personally so many people writing books, either. I guess we just need therapy for our crazy lives!

Kimberly Kincaid said...

I didn't get a chance to read most of the responses, so sorry if I'm repeating...but I took a break to blog surf in the hopes that it would knock my writer's block off and if I don't actually set a timer for my breaks...well...you know...there goes the afternoon!

I have read on several other agent's blogs that they receive thousands of queries annually. Let me be the first to admit it makes me want to cry at the sheer volume of competition out there. And yet, I soldier on!

I write because I don't really have a choice in the matter. This stuff rattles around my brain and begs to come out on the page and if I don't give in, I'm scared my head will explode or something...

I find the whole "skyrocketing to fame" thing fascinating and hilarious. I put it in the same category as winning the lottery. Only it's harder to do and the odds are stacked against you a little higher. You have to be *good* first to be the next Stephenie Meyer or JK Rowling or (insert a name of your choosing here)- in which case, you probably didn't just start writing, and definitely not just for grins to see if you could get rich quick.

I have met people who have gushed outright when I tell them that I write novels. I am very clear that I write unrepresented and unpublished novels (although not for lack of trying to land either an agent or a publisher, take your pick, haha!), but they don't care. They think it is positively glamorous. I don't have the heart to tell them that I write a lot of my stuff in my pajamas at eleven o'clock at night with one hand in the Cheez-it box, and that more than half of what I write gets edited, deleted or critiqued to the point that I could cry over it. Not glamorous, but like I said, I don't have a choice in the matter. The writing is coming out of me no matter what. I'm really just the medium between my incredibly active imagination and whatever method of transcription is closest.

So if I was in it for fame or glamour...I'd be in deep kimche right now, I guess. I must be in it for the whole "love or words" thing :)

Dreamstate said...

I think it is a bit like the ADHD thing...

It seems that every third child in a grade school class has been diagnosed with ADHD. When I was in school a few decades ago, there was no ADHD. Correction: there was no ADHD LABEL. Plenty of kids had it, but there was no diagnosis, no label, no attention drawn to it.

I think there have always been a huge number of people writing books, but now it is much more visible. We talk about in email, on blogs, on Facebook.

And it is now easier for people to write it and send it out -- write it and hit save and you are done(instead of manually typing it and having to make copies and manually revise and make copies). Hit attach and send and you are done.

Frankly, I think it is too easy now. Anything worth doing is supposed to be hard. That's what makes it worth doing.

Mary Caffrey said...

Just this afternoon, I got an email from authonomy, the big publishing company's website for aspiring writers, about a new service: CreateSpace.

You guessed it, these folks edit and help package reader's books for self-publishing.

Yippee! It's pretty cheap, too, for some of the services.

On a more serious note, there are authors who use lulu or PublishAmerica or some such companies to publish books that ARE bought and read by interested readers.

My best example is a lady who writes about the history of her small town. God bless her! Without people like her, history would be lost forever with the deaths of the people who lived it.


There are some stories worth publishing on a smaller scale.

Mary Jo

Jamie said...

I think all the things you suggested play a part I also think that blogging and that sort of thing also plays a part - it gives people who like to write little tastes of fame and before you know it they are writing a book.

Gordon Jerome said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bane of Anubis said...

Bransford @ 9:47 -- I think your comment just killed the exception for a few weeks :)

Nathan Bransford said...

gordon-

You can state your opinion without demeaning the entire business and all the people published by it with a broad, incredibly rude stroke.

Nathan Bransford said...

BofA-

Ha, probably!

Ted said...

I read all the comments and here's what I heard:

1. The Internet and PCs make writing and querying a novel much easier than it used to be.

2. If Stephenie Meyer (J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown) can do it without slaving away for years in the academic trenches, why can't I?

3. For various reasons, lots of boomers and stay-at-home spouses now have time to do what they've always wanted to do.

I agree with everyone else.

But no one seems to be focused on the ongoing implosion of the book-retailing market, which I worry will be almost incapable of launching a debut novelist by 2011 or 2012. And that's the earliest those of us querying today could ever hope to see their first novels released.

Imagine how much the eBook/freeBook landscape will evolve between now and then.

Ted said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

J.K. Rowling + the Internet + Stay at Home Moms = YA Books up the Ying Yang

Gordon Jerome said...

IT'S TRUE!

It's been going on since the late 70's when Stephen King came out with Carrie.

People read these books put out by the industry and these books are so simple-minded, that people figure they can write them too.

I can't believe you deleted my post.

Gordon Jerome said...

But no one seems to be focused on the ongoing implosion of the book-retailing market, which I worry will be almost incapable of launching a debut novelist by 2011 or 2012. And that's the earliest those of us querying today could ever hope to see their first novels released.

Now, that's a very good observation. That's something to think about. The publishing market as we currently know it, is failing. But I think what's going to take its place is going to be wonderful. It's a massive wave; one simply needs to figure out how to ride it.

Mira said...

I like what everyone said. I'm definitely going for d. all of the above.

I especially liked what Liznwyrk said. And Kristi, I wish you'd say more.

So, I guess the only thing I would add is that for some reason, it is really, really hard to evaluate your own writing. It's much easier to believe that your work is publishable than (I'm guessing here) that your painting is sellable.

The thing about writing - as an art form, it requires participation. It doesn't feel finished until someone reads it. So, that may add to the number of people trying to get published.

On a slight side topic, Nathan, that's an unbelievable amount of e-mails. I hope you take lots of time for relaxation. Engines can't run without sustenance, and you, like all of us, need and deserve time to re-fill and re-nourish!

But I'm also thinking that if you send that many e-mails this year, taking off a few, that's probably about.........11,000 people you said 'no' to this year alone.

Oh well. C'est la vie. I was one of those people. I'll live. Of course, I still have hopes, but either way, I'll live, and go on to write. And still benefit from your blog and your advice.

You do a great service to the writing community. You can only agent a few, but you support writers in other ways, and that's enough.

Nathan Bransford said...

gordon-

I deleted it because of your attitude, not because of your opinion.

Seriously, Gordon, I hope you'll learn soon that there's no virtue in being horribly rude. Everyone is open to even unpopular opinions provided they're stated respectfully. You're not going to change anyone's mind unless you engage people respectfully and stop trying to tear down everything you personally dislike or disagree with.

JFBookman said...

Many many interesting comments. Yes, technology, recession, etc. all help. But there have always been writers all over the place, writing quietly away. Since there was no way for them to get "published" the rest of us never knew about them. It's quite common to hear of people coming across a book or books they've discovered in the attic, and I regularly have clients who want to publish a book their parent or grandparent wrote years ago. So the openness and ease with which you can get into print these days is a big part of it. And I'm all for the little local books, the recipe collections, the local histories, and so on. They enrich us by being available. It just becomes heartbreaking when people begin to think that they will become a "published author" with big sales etc from these books.

Gemma said...

1.) The increasing do-it-yourself culture (people getting famous off of Youtube type stuff)

2.) Unemployment = time to write (at least in my case)

Christine H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mira said...

Nathan - for some reason, I've been worrying lately that my comments here will be misunderstood.

My previous comment. I still have HUGE hopes that we will work together, but I understand that may not happen for a wide variety of reasons. And by wide variety of reasons, I mean you'll say 'no.'

But my point of the post - I think it would be very hard to say 'no' to 11,000 people. And more coming.

I don't know if you struggle with that. Maybe you don't. But I would, so I was trying to make you maybe feel alittle better....? You're only one person.

Also, for people who query you to be realistic about their competition. You're like the football captain, and you can only take....so many cheerleaders to the prom...okay, my metaphor is not working here....

Okay. stopping now.

Christine H said...

I am writing my book because I find a little escapist fantasy goes a long way these days.

And, frankly, some of the movies that have come out (like The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies) have sparked my imagination in ways I hadn't considered before.

But, I've been wanting to write a novel my whole life, so it was inevitable this would happen sooner or later. And I agree with the previous comment: unemployment = time to write, although I'm working part time by choice because I have a family now. So I'm busy, but I have more control over my time than I did before.

Nathan Bransford said...

mira-

I definitely think about it, and I feel like an angel of death from time to time. It's a big reason why I started the blog.

Anonymous said...

Gordon,

If Stephen King's writing is so 'simple minded' how come he is among the handful of mega-mega-mega-bestselling authors in the last half century (or more). Maybe it’s that simplicity that sells. He is a born story-teller.

7 or 8 months ago I was simply a reader. I had never written a single creative word in my life. I had no knowledge of the rules and conventions of writing. I still have a lot (A LOT) to learn about writing. But I am not embarrassed to say that it is to Stephenie Meyer’s credit that I have started to write. Ok, from what I have learnt about writing fiction, she has broken at least half a dozen rules that I can see (especially the ‘said’ and ‘adverb’ rules). Does that make me enjoy her stories any less? Hell no! And I am sure that the millions that have read her books would say the same.

Wilhem Spihntingle said...

The abilty to send queries through email has allot to do with it. If the only option was snail mail, I bet the number of queries would drop big time.

Moira Young said...

I think it's a combination of things.

Television and movies - characters like Rick Castle (and that show is awesome) make the career seem a bit more glamourous than it is. Suddenly, being a writer is cool.

Technology - Technology is an enabler. We have the Internet (where strangers will praise anything) and we have computers being used by more than just geeks.

Culture - I think technology is combining with our culture (and popular culture) to create a new revolution. Until we further explore the regions beyond our planet, Cyberspace is the final frontier. There are countless books and movies about the character who discovers she or he wants to be a writer. More people are reading in the purest sense of the word (i.e. reading words on a computer screen before them) and more of that is self-published and, um, unedited. Ideas are transmitted faster than ever. Even bad ones.

And then there's the culture of the individual. I forget who pointed this out, but: everyone has a story to tell ... but not everyone is a storyteller. And not everyone knows the difference.

All of this creates a wonderful and terrible chimera that will be both a help and a hindrance. If more people who really can't write in the professional sense inundate agents and editors with their work, that makes it harder for the good ones to get their feet in the door. Worst case scenario, it poses a financial threat to the industry, because (for example) what do agents and editors have to do? Employ filters, people who can pre-sort the submissions. Even then the odd "good one" can slip through the cracks. But the more filters employed, the higher the cost, which then gets passed on either to the agent, the author, or the consumer (or perhaps all three).

I think the worst problem we have here is that yes, anyone can be a writer, but we *don't* have the same Standardized Ways of filtering out the ones who really can't write, the way we do scientists, doctors, and athletes. Part of this is because art is so subjective. And since we are all capable of self-publishing in some way because of the Internet (blogs, YouTube, DeviantArt, to name a few), instead of having a natural filter, we've diffused even further.

So the question is, how do we create those filters in our culture without exhausting our precious resources (e.g. agents and editors), or discouraging genuine, deserving authors?

Thermocline said...

The internet has made so many things easier to figure out. I don't know much about cars but I could probably find instructions for replacing a clutch, so why not give it a go if I'm inclined?

The same thinking probably applies to writing a book. "I know how to string sentences together, so why not try a novel?"

Vince Czyz said...

Dear Nathan:

I recall Joaquim Phoenix's character in "Quill" saying to Geoffrey Rush (the Marquis de Sade), "Writing more than you read is the sure sign of a hack." Or something along those lines. I've been writing seriously since the late '80s (and won a few awards) and I think you are right: more and more people seem to think they have a book to sell. My guess is it's a combination of things. The most important factor, though, seems to be that books that aren't very good and/or that aren't very well written SELL. The average non-writer thinks: *I* had an awful childhood. I can write a best-seller! Another important factor is that art has always been a form of self-help--or therapy. Choose your spin. As society continues to leave people isolated and maladjusted, you have far more "artists" now than you once did. Also, 100 years ago, it would never occur to the average person that his or her diary could be a best-seller. It was private and not considered a work of art. Nowadays, however, a memoir is a best-selling genre, especially if you can get Oprah behind it. If you fictionalize your life story and throw a few of your fictionalized friends in there, make sure there is something for the Oprah crowd--alcholic parents, abusive dad, racism, something politically incorrect--you have as good a shot as anyone. In short: we all know the formula now. And, lastly (off the top of my head, anyway, the overall quality of writing has dropped (houses regularly turn away the next F. Scott Fitzgerald as unmarketable) and this is another barrier removed for the hack.

And they are right. Dan Brown is a god-awful sentence smith, but his sales prove people don't care about beautifully written sentences.

Skyler White said...

I can’t explain it, but I love it! The more people interested in books, passionate about words, and at work with ideas the better. I’d rather talk to a cocktail party stranger about the novel they’re writing than what they do for a living, because it offers such a more intimate portrait of who they are. It makes me optimistic too about a country that can sometimes seem self-satisfied, incurious and apathetic, because surely it’s better for democracy that more people are engaged in the work of finding their authentic voice. As for the competition, I like that too. A swarm of amateur naturalists doesn’t drown out a Darwin, but it just might create one. And we could use that. In fact, one previous noter suggested that “in an atheistic world, we try to create purpose out of meaningless chaos” And how great is that! To me, the world *is* godless, meaningless and chaotic, and what better, more noble, more god-like response could there than to create something in that nothing? I’m delighted to know there are 99 other blind monkeys out there in the existential dark typing, until one of us hammers out “let there be light.”

Nick F. said...

I don't know that there are necessarily more people writing than ever before, but compare both the publishing industry and the state of the world to when the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Emily Bronte were writing. Particularly attend to the latter point. Sure, it's still no easy feat getting published, and just because you get published once doesn't necessarily mean you're going to make a career out of it, but it seems to me it is easier to get published now than in the 19th century.

And more than that, we have The Interwebs™. Facebook, Twitter, forums, etc. let writers connect with one another on a scale never before seen. Whereas in 1857 a man might have been in his study working a novel viewed basically only by himself and a few close friends, with the internet I can now join a writing community website and share my WIP with hundreds or even thousands of fellow writers. Internet means higher exposure for the "closet writers", so to speak.

And just one more point I thought of: I love classic movies. In my opinion, the last truly great, as near to perfect as any film can ever be came in 1969. Not to say there haven't been good films since, but the quality of films started going downwards in the 1970s. And one of my biggest problems with cinema nowadays is there seems to be no original stories left. It's 99% Pirates of the Caribbean this, and 99% Transformers that, and adaptation after adaptation (I'll finish this rant over on my own blog later). Short form: There are a lot of adaptations of books and comic books. Not to say classic Hollywood didn't adapt literature, but I think since 1990, there have been more adaptations of different works than in the days of the classics, where there were multiple adaptations of the same stories. People want to be rich and famous. They can't sing, they can't play a sport, there's nothing too spectacular to shoot them to fame fast. And so they turn to one last thought: If I write a book, they'll make a movie, and if they make a movie I get film royalties and more people will buy my book. Then I can be rich and famous and life will be oh-so wonderful with fire and ice sugar and nougat and everything nice!

At the very least, I know one person who is working on a book because he wants to write, as he put it, "the next Lord of Rings" and he wants to write the next LOTR, by his own admission, in the hopes that it will sell millions of copies and there will be multi-million dollar heavily-lauded blockbuster films made. And those are the reasons, unfortunately, the sample I've read suffers. Instead of trying to tell a story, he's basically writing a mega-blockbuster in novel form. Now novelizations are one thing, but this is like he's transcribing every last little facetious detail with none of the thoughts or background behind it, and just switching the action to past tense when he's done.

~Fin~

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

For me, it's just timing. I've always wanted to do this; it just so happened that my "time" coincided with everyone else's.

Adam said...

Sure, email makes it easier to query. And it doesnt take a genius to figure out if your queries are increasing that email is part of it. But writing a novel takes work. A ton of work. It can't simply be "I want to get rich so I'll write a book." Because anyone writing soley for that reason will figure out after a few days of hard work that buying a lotto ticket is easier.

There must be something more than that.

Tori said...

For me at least, the economy has played a huge role in why I am able to write so much. I have always written, but I have never been this close to finishing a project before, and the economy has given me the time needed to do so. Writing is an escape that I love, and the economy has helped me focus on it more.

I also think that the success of authors out there have given people the impression writers make a lot of money, which is far from the truth in most cases. It makes them think that writing is the easy way out of poverty, that they can become rich overnight.

There isn't a simple answer to this question. I think it is different for every person who writes, whether they do it for fame or for an escape or simply because their family says they can.

Matilda McCloud said...

Very interesting comments. Perhaps some of the books like WRITING DOWN THE BONES and the Julia Cameron books have increased the number of writers--you know, people doing their "morning pages" and all that. I agree that the cool factor is part of it--but I'd argue that it's always been cool to say you're writing a novel. It makes one's ordinary life seem a bit more special (and by writing, you spin something more exciting out of the mundane). I'm glad there are so many artsy people now. I know a lot of cool "millennium generation" people so that gives me hope for the future!

MzMannerz said...

Rambling thoughts:

I remember one person telling me they were thinking of writing a book, and wanted to know how long it had taken me to write mine. I remember thinking, "It isn't that easy!"

Then I got over myself. I spend a lot of time preaching about the necessity of keeping the arts in schools, of donating to the arts, of encouraging the arts in youngsters and everyone else. Whether or not people are dabbling or are serious is irrelevant, and people who want to contain any art form within some sort of elitist brick wall are not thinking clearly.

I wish I could shake everyone on the street and ask them to write, to paint, to sing, to dance, to do *something* that is artistic. It's the agent's (and publisher's) job to make certain the cream rises to the top, but to suggest that the rest of the bowl shouldn't exist is silly.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I'm going with the increase in unemployment. More time on people's hands whether they like it or not.

Kate said...

I, like many, wanted to write and publish a novel one day. But I decided that I wasn't going to do it unless I actually had an idea worth writing about. An idea that actually got me to the keyboard only came to me within the last year. I'm in my 20s, grew up in the internet age, and have a full time job. It didn't really occur to me until after I started writing that I should learn a thing or two about the publishing industry along the way. In the process of learning, I've trashed four works in progress. I'm doing what I can, Nathan, to not contribute to the madness. : )

Christine H said...

The Internet has given me a support system I don't think I would have found in my regular life. No one around me writes, and my spouse doesn't even READ.

So being able to connect with other people in the same stage of life, who are doing the same thing has been truly liberating and life-changing.

I thought I was the only Christian wife and mom writing heroic fantasy instead of wholesome romance novels. Boy, was I wrong!

Lisa Schroeder said...

I think it's partially the economy and the huge number of people out of work.

And partially the fact that they see Stephenie Meyer, a regular SAHM who had never written a thing before Twilight, and thinking - Hey, maybe I could do that and become a billionaire too!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Bransford said...

anonymizer-

No need to single people out. There's room for everyone and their opinions, provided they're respectful to others.

Diana said...

I think it's more like when one is pregnant it seems like every other woman one meets is pregnant. The reason it seems that way is because one is more aware of it. So, you're a writer and an agent, so it seems like there are more writers out there.

Then again, it might also be where you live. When I lived in LA, every other person I met was writing a screenplay. I think that San Francisco has a large population of creative people in it, not just writers but artists and craftpersons as well.

When you put those two things together, then you notice more writers. If you were an artist and owned an art gallery, I would bet that you would be noticing a lot more artists running around.

As for the increase in the number of emails you're getting, you're becoming more well known in writing circles. Because of your blog and because of your association with AW.

Anonymous said...

Misconception "People getting famous off yourube."

No one has gotten famous off youtube to the point of maing $, unless they wre already famous in the first place.

Michelle said...

Lovin' all the insights beyond my own.
Personally, I kept a blog during my international adoption process and enjoyed the encouragement of others in my comment section.
When my daughter came home, I embraced what had become therapy to me. Ana wakes up every night screaming in terror. Usually I grab a book when she’s left me wide awake, but one night I (gasp) wasn’t in the mood to reread anything(truly shocking) and I picked up a spiral and pen. I finished my first 77,000 word rough draft ten days later. I think writing is an amazing outlet in times of stress. (Little known secret: my hair stopped falling out when I started writing!) All that being said, I have never sent out a single query and don’t know that I ever will- so as far as Nathan’s question for discussion, that makes me full of bunk doesn’t it? But, I wonder how many bloggers found they had a voice others enjoyed and that led them to Nathan’s inbox.

Colette said...

I would suggest that it's not just books... there's more data and more information out there than ever before. In the IT industry we talk about it as information explosion. The tools help. And it's easier to do research than ever before.

Mira said...

Nathan,

Thanks.

And that makes sense about the blog. Starting the blog was a good thing. :)

But not an angel of death. Just a door closing. People will find the right door for them.

Anonymous said...

anon@ 1:41

Yes they have. Singers and comedians have both been discovered that way.

Marilyn Peake said...

Moira Young said:
"And then there's the culture of the individual. I forget who pointed this out, but: everyone has a story to tell ... but not everyone is a storyteller. And not everyone knows the difference."

That’s a really interesting idea. I’ve heard a number of public figures refer to Twitter as being a kind of poetry. I resisted Twitter for a while, thinking how is anything intelligible ever going to be shared in 140 characters or less? But I discovered something interesting. Twitter does seem to be an art form, a kind of poetic humming from the never-sleeping virtual hive mind. There’s a kind of rhythm to it. Taken as a whole, it’s like a novel: incredible insights, political statements, excerpts from literature, links to all sorts of things, all swirling about with observations and delicacies from everyday life, tweets like, "I had blueberry muffins for breakfast. Warm with melted butter. Yummm ... Now, to make coffee."

Anonymous said...

every institution that formerly relied on itself as being a point source of information dissemination (i.e. Publishing, Academia, Music, Hollywood), is now under pressure from the techni-revolution which allows ordinary citizens to research, produce and distribute their own work, whatever that may be.

Universities may no longer be needed in a few more decades. everything is online. In fact, simply "knowing" things is rapidly becoming immaterial. it's DOING things that matters now. What does it do? What do you do?

Anonymous said...

Yes they have. Singers and comedians have both been discovered that way.

disagree.

Nick F. said...

Interesting point Michelle. I suppose there probably are other people out there who write when they're stressed. Never occurred to me because, personally, I can never write if I'm not totally relaxed. Otherwise it feels forced and very very wrong and I scrap it and get angry at myself for writing something as abysmal as that. It's pretty much why I can only write in the early morning. My favorite time of day coupled with being left alone = ability to write. As the day winds on, I have school, work around home, friends and family and all sorts of other problems that get me all wound up and then I just collapse here on my sofa and say "Enough. I'm going to watch TV. Don't bother me unless you're on fire." Stress and I are like bile and chocolate milkshakes. Not a good combo.

Anonymous said...

All this is jsut talk, though, Right now there are millions of books on the shelves and thousands of people walking into B&N in a mall somewhere to buy them. Debut authors make their first sale everday, and the unwashed masses get rejected every day.

[talking heads} Same as it ever was....same as it ever was....

Anonymous said...

It's hard to say that more books are being written today than, say, 10 years ago. I mean, how would you know? It depends 1) on how you define "book". 2) Does it have to be published (and what's "published"?) or just have to be a certain length (what length)? 3) Who are "people"? Americans? Anyone? Published authors, unpublished writers? the above-mentioned computer program that auto-creates books?

The question is unanswerable without these defining parameters.

Steph Damore said...

Not sure. It was always my game plan.

Crystal said...

I would add the gradual increase of our overall education in the country. More college grads = more people who can string together a sentence. Usually.

Anonymous said...

The newest fad is the "voice novel" where people just verbalize into a recording device and upload it as an mp3. that way you don't even have to write. I suppose you could also use a voice-to-text program that will simultaneously convert it to text for you, but that's optional.

Sandra said...

I agree with everyone who said technology.

I wouldn't try writing a book, or even a longish short story, either longhand or on a typewriter. I never wrote anything but poems until we had our first computer.

I like the ease of correcting. I like being able to move whole chunks around without having to rewrite (type) everything.

We need to take a moment now and then to thank all the authors in the past who did it all by hand.

Anonymous said...

I think more people are trying to sell novels these days, but that most of them don't stick with it for long once they "get it out of their system" without making a sale, or even those who do make a sale but realize that if they had just worked a minimum wage job for the same # of hrs they spent on the book that they'd have way more money for the time spent.

Most people lose interest fast if there's no $ involved over a prolonged period of time. That's why the slush represents waves of newbs surfing their still-fresh optimism. Most of them fall off the wave and don't paddle back out. A lucky 1 or 2 will get barreled by that wave of optimism and ride it all the way into the shores of advance-paying, offset-printing publication, while an unlucky 1 or 2 will be eaten by sharks while paddling to catch their wave.

whitewitch said...

I think it has a lot to do with the major advancement in information technology which is the creation of the internet. Using it, communication and networking are but a click away. Moreover, the information and exchange of ideas has made it easier for burgeoning writers to come up with more marketable ideas and have access to a wider, more open-minded market in the process.

Moira Young said...

Now I've read what MzMannerz (and a few others) have said, and I feel like a bit of an ass because I posted before really thinking about the issue.

I completely agree that everyone should be encouraged to write, to express themselves artistically. Hopefully it will lead to the next Great Artist. This is the "wonderful" part I was referring to earlier.

The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that filters are a bad idea, are virtually impossible with art, and could do a lot more harm than good. It's a mixed blessing. Sometimes I feel run down, because getting published is such hard work, made harder by the extra competition. I want there to be an easy solution. But when I take a moment to relax, I know that I would rather have to work harder to be a better writer because there are more of us out there, than be easily published and have no impetus to improve.

JDuncan said...

I think it's a combo of the economy prompting people to try writing that book they always wanted, and the continued proliferation of self-pubbing avenues, i.e. kindle, smashwords, scribd, etc. that make it seem far easier than it actually is to find success in this crazy business.

Anonymous said...

I vote for technology. When I first started writing (at like 11, early '90s), most of the people I knew didn't have computers. I remember writing one summer on a typewriter I had borrowed from my uncle. Oy vey, all the typing mistakes! Now, so easy!
Of course, I wouldn't discount the runaway book sales of massive hits. I don't remember anything like Harry Potter during my childhood. The closest I remember were the R.L. Stine books and the Babysitter's club and those were no where near as huge hits as Harry Potter or Twilight.

Rogue Novelist said...

Everybody has a story to tell or write: While working out at Snap-Fitness yesterday, three people approached me and told me they are writing books, personal self-help books, and that their book will become a "Best Seller".

"So, you're telling me you are writing a book, because?" I said.

"You're a popular local author, and I thought you'd have advise for me about getting my book published."

To each one I simply replied, "Write your book first then we'll discuss publishing options."

Everybody has a story to tell, or write, and they are declaring what they are doing. But will the novels actually get written?

Anonymous said...

I think it's generational. Everyone under 40 has a computer and knows how to type (home row, not hunt and peck) so they have the means, whereas everyone over 45 didn't have a keyboard or the skill at the same point in their lives...the angst-riddled 20's when everyone wants to tell their story.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Ha, actually I'm getting a lot more angst books from over-50 set than from writers in their 20s.

terryd said...

There are 6-point-something billion humans on Earth. The largest demographic in world history has entered its autumn. Enterprising young men and women are looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. At the same time, our technology has enabled instant global communication.

Authors are considered by many to be "special" (in a non-short-bus way). And aside from ego inflation and dreams of bestseller-dom, most writers also desire to give of themselves in order to enthrall, educate, illuminate, etc.

Makes sense to me that we have writers under every other rock.

Here's to us!

Anonymous said...

If you take away all the vampire novels, are there still so many books being written these days?

here's my vamp idea, free for the taking:

There's this vampire who can only live on type O blood...his dayjob is as a lab technician at a hospital so he has no prob getting the testing equipment...

Sophie said...

I think a lot of people are under the impression they can write, and I include myself in that comment, without really understanding just how hard being a published writer is. I'm curious to see just how long this trend will last. I think whenever a new author comes along and makes it big (think sparkly vampires) people assume they can do the same thing. I know I for one, have a much deeper respect for all published writers, and no longer believe it’s easy, or it’s something just anyone can do.

Dawn Maria said...

I agree with the thoughts about technology and the Potter/Twilight effect, but I think another factor is the fact that most people believe they can write, because, technically, we all can.

I would never presume to be able to get into the music industry or the fine art scene because I don't have the skills necessary to play an instrument or create a work of art. But writing? Everyone writes, everyday. As medium, it doesn't intimidate the common person and therefore contributes to the "I can write a book too!" trend.

Combine that with the ease of sending email and you have agents with full inboxes. In a way, this circles back to the discussion about whether or not all people can write, if that's a good thing and do you tell those who can't write well the truth?

Anonymous said...

Actually, I find it funny that everyone assumes people in their 20's are good with computers. At my work it's always been the opposite. 20-somethings kow how to operate personal ocmputers, but only on the most superficial level. they don't know how to program, they only know 1 platform (mac or pc and never linux or unix), they don't know what the heck to do if the computer doesn't turn on or connect to the net...

Anonymous said...

...and because they;re so young they have no conpet of backing up your files, because they've never seen a computer hard rive fail.

Anonymous said...

I quite agree, anon 3:03!

it's also comical to me how inefficient they are with their choice of devices. they all carry 3 different gadgets around and are constantly switching earbud sets when they have to answer the phone or hear the iPod...if they knew what they were doing they would have 1 device that meets their needs--at the very most, 2. But some of them have a laptop AND an iPod AND a cell phone...quite ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

I've been writing on a PC since 1985. Early adopter, I guess.

Wordstar, anyone?!

I'm 41 now.

wendy said...

I've always noticed that more people think they have writing skills than any other. However, I've also noticed that those who love writing are far better at it than those who are more interested in art, music or whatever. I'm also on art, design and music lists and I see a huge difference in the quality of writing posts on writing blogs or lists than those on other lists.

But nearly everyone thinks they have a book in them, and perhaps they have. I wonder what are the common demoninators of the most successful stories that resonate with everyone?

Anonymous said...

It's gotta be the Internet because that's when I noticed that editors really started complaining about the volume of unsolicited submissions. All the writers' blogs and NaNoWriMo (did I get that right?) and agents' blogs inspired every English major to write fiction. The non-English majors got writing degrees from minimum-residence writing schools and wrote fiction as well. Made it hard on those writers who got the call (vocation) before these glamor days because more and more houses stopped accepting non-agented manuscripts. The children's and YA markets got tougher since the adult fiction writers and adult film screenwriters saw it as a more lucrative market and switched. Agents get dazzled by their publishing credits and the struggling talented writers who were there first in these markets are passed over. But there are agents and editors who make the right choices and pick future Newbery winners.

Jen P said...

I agree with many of the practical and statistical comments regarding baby boomers and Internet accessibility which makes it easier to "come out" as a writer and query by email.

However, I feel there is also an ever increasing trend which encourages the idea that anyone can achieve fame, glory and riches without the application of education, skills and hard work through TV such as the X Factor, Britain's got Talent, and all the singing / dating/ reality shows. And the idealistic dream of "becoming a published author" with fame, glory and riches is one aspect of being an author which certainly appeals to some unpublished writers.


So I agree with Ted's comment, the
thinking that if "Stephenie Meyer (J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown) can do it without slaving away for years in the academic trenches, why can't I?" has become generally acceptable rather than seeming naive and arrogant.

Anonymous said...

What do the "academic trenches" have to do with it?

Academic writing is totally different from commercial fiction.

mrmurph said...

I walk into Barnes & Noble or Borders, and see so many interesting titles. Perhaps the publishing industry is experiencing a downturn, but people still love to read good stories. Many of these folks want to share the pleasure with others, and writing is an extension of that desire.

Backfence said...

My theory?

Baby Boomers.

Based solely on my own experience as part of the baby boomer generation, I suddenly find myself for the 1st time with the luxury of time for myself. I always loved writing, but was too busy raising and chauffeuring kids, holding down a full-time job, and caring for elderly parents to even THINK of writing more than a journal.

Then, my nest emptied and there was suddenly room for ME! Wish I could have started sooner - the love was always there.

I agree that computers and self-publishing have probably contributed to the influx of writers also.

Carol B

Anonymous said...

The jaded cynic's response is: This is the age of ME. So naturally, all those Tweeters and Facebookers think that of COURSE they are brilliant and should write a book, because naturally everyone will want to read it. The sad part is, so few seem ever to have READ a book...

Anna L. Walls said...

192 comments - WOW I think it's because of the ease computers make writing and the access to the 'how tos' out there. couple that with the new e-readers and its a recipe for tons of writing. I'm guilty too. Wanna read mine? Hehe Muahaha.

Anna

Carolyn B said...

I wrote for years before anyone outside my immediate family knew it. I bought stamps and envelopes, made terrible carbon paper copies, retyped for new submissions, made hopeful, disappointing trips to the post office, and never even MET another writer until I was nearly thirty. It was hard and lonely.

Now it's a piece of cake. I can do research online, send off my work without spending a penny or leaving my chair, AND get instant feedback from other writers all over the world. No wonder everybody's doing it.

Pam said...

Technology combined with the I-want-to-be-a-bigdog-without-any-headaches mentality that is growing ever more prevalent. I wish that all literary agents would require queries to be submitted via snail mail, accompanied by a detailed synopsis and three chapters -- Chapter one, a chapter from the middle of the book, and the final chapter. This would cut down on the ridiculous amount of email submissions through which agents wade (which I suspect many are simply fishing expeditions for a not-yet-written book) and possibly would result in more wonderful writers/novels being discovered.

Anonymous said...

Part of it is that people are realizng that a job is just a job--it's not that much different from the primitive hunter-gatherer way of life where every day you have to go out and find whatever you need to eat, drink and live on. Today, most people need to go off to work every day to be able to get what they need. Tt's primitive.

And with the rise of reality TV and the web, more people are watching how other people found a way not to have to be primitive hunter gatherers--that is, to do something once that will generate income for a long time, such as a book or tv deal. I think for a long time kids were told that success = going to school and then getting a job, as if that's the best you could ever do. But in reality it is possible to do better than that, even if it is unlikely. But selling books is one possible way. A book can bring in income long after it's created, unlike a job where if you stop doing the work, you stop getting the checks. That may be why people are attracted to it. Cuz there's only really 3 classes of peeps in thius world:

1) the underclasses: these are your 3rd world poverty-stricken masses, your American bums and those otherwise unable or unwilling to care for themselves who cannot or will not hold down a job even though they have no other income

2) your bread-and-butter workers: those who hold down jobs that provice for themselves and their families, whether blue colalr, white collar, whatever. the point is they have to work, and they do work.

3) Those who do not need to work to get what they want/need: these types have found a way to provide for themselves without having to be hunter-gatherers, either thru retirement, inheritence, crime, or maybe they sold an invention idea, a novel, a hit song, or played in the NFL for 6 seasons. Whatever they did, it worked and now they can afford to basically do whatever they want as long as it's legal.

So the book writing thing fits into that broad class-struggle scenario. Most of us are 2) and will always be 2), but the books sort of represent a lottery ticket to 3).

The Spirit Guide said...

I would have to say writing a book is a spiritual endeavor. Leaving a small piece of immortality after you're gone.
In a highly advanced technological society overrun with economic woes, depression and feelings of low self worth, we all want to leave an imprint of ourselves.
To leave just a moment of inspiration.
We all just want to leave our mark, now more than ever. :D

Jacqui said...

Mega-selling first-time authors are a draw in this stinky economy. Reality TV shows means the average Joe can be a star. Blogging is huge--anyone can write and be published (and followed...and commented on). There's a ton of information online (thank you, Nathan and Co.) for writers. And word processing (who really uses that term anymore?!) has become so much easier and user friendly.

For me it was the economy, the desire to FINISH some of the writing I'd already begun, and to redefine myself outside of my full-time mommyhood job. Oh, and I got a new Mac. That was the cherry on top...

Anonymous said...

Why are so many people writing books? Computers.

I started my first novel at 14. I never got past chapter 2. It took too long to type and revise. I entered it into a computer at 18. Through an accident with my text editor, I lost every "h" in the document. I lost endless hours trying to replace those 'h's. Some of those missing 'h's are still missing decades later.

About the time I had my first child, we moved from text editors to WYSIWYG editors. I wrote my first software manual, which I couldn't have done with a text editor.

Then I took a break to raise children. I am compulsive. If I'm up to my elbows in writing, I'm ignoring my kids.

My kids are leaving me now. I've got two software manuals under my belt, and 5 novels in various stages of editing. With the internet it's possible now to take online writing classes that teach me what the issues are. It's also possible to mail my scene off to Judith Tarr and get mentoring help so I can see specifically what I did wrong this time. Because I can modify a sentence without rewriting or retyping the whole page, it's possible to move forward in a way that wasn't possible without my computer.

Adrianne

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