After reading Crime Fiction for Beginners by Gervase Shorter, I really wanted to know what his experience had been trying to get published. He was gracious enough to share some of his insight with me:
I used to think that publishers spent their time scouring the plain in search of new talent that they could nurture but when I started writing I found that publishers are not on the lookout for new authors because launching a novel by an unknown author takes a big promotional investment for a very uncertain return. New talent is just not an attractive business proposition; it´s a risky gamble that publishers avoid if they can. Best selling authors like J.K.Rowling and William Golding took their first book to a score of publishers before they found one that would take it on and I could name several well known and successful authors who spent the first ten years of their writing careers taking their books from one publisher to another.
Another reason why publishers aren´t on the lookout for new talent is that they are inundated with manuscripts sent in by would-be authors. They receive a hundred manuscripts for every one they publish and far from looking for new talent to nurture they´re trying to keep all these would-be authors at a distance so publishers often don´t bother to acknowledge the manuscripts they receive: ‘if you don´t hear from us in three months you should assume we´re not interested’ and when they do reply they avoid wasting time on authors whose works they aren´t going to publish by taking care not to give any reasons: ‘it´s not for us’, is all they usually say.
When I was looking around for a plot, I thought that, treated like this, there must be lots of authors planning to murder a publisher and that´s the story I´ve written in ‘Crime Fiction for Beginners’. A publisher is murdered. In one way or another four authors whose manuscripts he rudely rejected are involved in the police investigation around which the book revolves but this isn´t a conventional crime novel. It´s really about the four writers and what they are writing (Regency romance, sci-fi, previous lives and a cold war thriller), in other words these authors live in their own fantasy worlds. Their plots are more real to them than their dull day-to-day-lives and the reader looks over their shoulder and follows the stories they´re writing as they develop. So ‘Crime Fiction for Beginners’ is actually five novels, not one. And there´s a really unexpected twist at the end.