Alix Christie in More Intelligent Life:
Somewhere in the world right now, ten million souls are hunched over their keyboards writing novels. Ten million hopeful scribblers in their holes. Good Lord, I’m one of them.
The figure is an invention, but backed up by rough math. A quarter of a million new novels are published annually across the globe, 100,000 of them in English. This represents, in turn, a quarter, maybe, of the manuscripts that agents try to hawk. Agents, as all writers know, take only a small proportion of the work they’re sent, perhaps a tenth. Ten million scribes in search of a reader may not be so tall a tale.
This is enough to give the struggling writer pause. Meanwhile, the publishing industry itself is undergoing some discouraging changes. New numbers show that even successful authors earn far less money from books than they used to. In an industry driven by hunger for the next blockbuster, the chances of making a living as a writer are slimmer now than ever. My timing has always been off, I told my husband, fellow journalist and leading fan, whose job maintains the roof above our heads. Just as I’d decided to tackle another draft of my new novel—in search of that great, elusive shape that might translate into sales—the market had moved on.
In the face of such odds, merely writing a novel must seem perverse. Self-indulgent, at the very least, if not financial suicide. The question is less whether the novel as a form is dying, or if the internet can offer a lifeline to certain writers. What cries out for explanation is the strange, persistent fact that millions of us spend years attempting something for which we are certain to see little, if any, reward.