Aspiring authors will take heart to learn that Agatha Christie, who published over 100 novels, short story collections and plays in her lifetime and is the best selling novelist in history (on par with Shakespeare if Wikipedia is to be believed) had her first manuscript universally rejected.
She believed being ‘over-burdened with imagination’ served her well as a novelist, though admitted ‘it can give you some bad sessions in other respects.’
Up to a point I enjoyed it [working on a new book]. But I got very tired, and I also got cross. Writing has that effect, I find.
She never considered herself an artist but a ‘tradesman’. In a reflective segue typical of her autobiography, she discusses why she never agreed to the hundreds of requests she received to read manuscripts. First, she figured she’d be too inclined to impose her own style on an aspiring author (‘I don’t think an author is competent to criticise’). Secondly, she thought it preferable to do no harm rather than risk discouraging a potential genius.
But she did proffer practical advice to aspiring writers. Take account of the market. Write books of ‘a length which is easily publishable at present.’ If you want to get your short story published in a magazine, match the type and length of story to what the magazine routinely publishes. You can’t fault Agatha for telling it like it is:
If you like to write for yourself only, that is a different matter — you can make it any length, and write it any way you wish; but then you will probably have to be content with the pleasure alone of having written it. It’s no good starting out by thinking one is a heaven-born genius — some people are, but very few. No, one is a tradesman… You must learn the technical skills, and then, within that trade, you can apply your own creative ideas; but you must submit to the discipline of form.
The world’s most famous crime writer was staunchly ‘against the criminal and for the innocent victim.’ She never understood the appeal of hardboiled crime fiction, which she described as ‘the taking of sadistic pleasure in brutality for it’s own sake.’ She was always more interested in her victims than her criminals.
The more passionately alive the victim, the more glorious indignation I have on his behalf, and am full of delighted triumph when I have delivered a near-victim out of the valley of the shadow of death.
The irony of having been the one to put that victim into the valley of the shadow of death in the first place seems lost on her.
Writing her autobiography in her seventies, Christie believed she’d chosen the right career for herself because she performed better in private than in public.
The most blessed thing about being an author is that you do it in private and in your own time. It can worry you, bother you, give you a headache; you can go nearly mad trying to arrange your plot…but — you do not have to stand up and make a fool of yourself in public.
The same cannot be said of authors today, who are compelled to engage in the public sphere to promote the work they write in private. In a post on Publishing Perspectives, Goodreads Founder and CEO Otis Chandler suggests, ‘Increasingly, the author’s job will be two-fold: to write a great book and to keep his [sic.] readers engaged and interested while he [sic.] writes the next one.’
I despair that this is even possible — at least for a writer who is also a parent. It makes me long for a time when being a writer made you ‘a tradesman [sic.] in a good honest trade’ like it did for Agatha.
And you could afford a live-in nanny.