Clare Conville, who teaches on the Faber Academy two-day course titled ‘Getting Your Novel Published’ (9 hours, £199), says in the Guardian supplement that her agency ‘receives 4,000-5,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year and on average take on a maximum of five a year’. Francis Bickmore, the other teacher on that course, says that Canongate receive around 3,000 submissions a year, from which ‘we are looking to find around 30 new books a year. Perhaps only five are going to be from a debut voice.’
(I’ll mention, why not, that CBe has published one of Clare Conville’s authors whose novel, despite the author’s excellent sales and prize-winning record, and despite this novel being already scheduled for a Glyndebourne opera adaptation, and despite it being a fine book – so very fine that I was more than happy interrupt the regular, as it seems, CBe profile to welcome it in – was turned down by all major publishers. See Knight Crew.)
It’s a lottery. £199 well spent? The desire to have your work in print, as another concrete object in the world, detached from yourself, seems entirely reasonable to me. (Online and downloadable is not, from the perspective of many writers, the same thing. And while music, most of it, is online, and except for dedicated concert-goers no one is objecting, art is not: to see three major contemporary artists now showing in London – Richter, Dumas, Sasnal – you have to go to the galleries, and no one is suggesting otherwise.) This desire, hunger, while being catered for by public sector courses in a decent way – though god knows who’s going to publish all those BAs and MAs – is being exploited by Faber and the Guardian, most conspicuously, for financial gain above all other reasons. (And Faber still get ACE money, public money, to publish new poets.) No reason why they shouldn’t: they are businesses, no less so than any other publisher or newspaper, all with their target audiences. It’s a free market. A controlled (by who?) market wouldn’t be any less messy, but still.