One evening last week, Ian Rankin, bestselling author of the Rebus series of crime novels, spoke at the Ottawa International Writer’s Festival in Ottawa, Canada, where he told budding writers, keen readers and super fans about his journey to becoming an author, a real author who could live off the books that he writes without working another job at the same time.
Together with host Peggy Blair, who also talked about her travels towards finally getting published, telling the audience that she “received approximately 156 rejections from publishers, not that I was keeping count,” before she got anywhere close to finding a publisher, the two crime writers talked about how getting published in the 80s, when Ian Rankin first tried to get his foot in the door, was a completely different game than it is now.
But both of them were careful to insist that it was never easier then, and it isn’t easier or more difficult now, but that it is equally difficult in a very different way. Ian Rankin, a world-famous author and writer of dozens of books, 20 of them a series about the same character, struggled immensely when he was first trying to get published, and told the audience in Ottawa that when his first book, The Flood, was published by a small Edinburgh publishing house, 200 hardcover books were printed and barely one of them was sold. But in that time, it wasn’t the end of the world. In fact, he soon found an agent, and his next novel was published by a London publisher who was able to distribute it further.
However, when asked by a member of the audience how long it took for him to be able to make a living from his writing and that alone. “I don’t want to discourage anybody,” he said, before answering that he was probably on his 15th or 16th novel before he finally found that he was able to live off his writing. But from the murmurs in the audience, it didn’t sound as if people were discouraged, it sounded like people were inspired, perhaps relieved, even.
Here is a bestselling author, one who is known and loved around the world, telling the world that he struggled, too. So it is okay if you are not successful right off the bat, and it is okay if it takes you a while to find your groove. Because if Ian Rankin can do it, then so can you.
Talking about the differences in the publishing industry today, Peggy Blair’s story was very different, and both of them admitted that today, with the rise of the eBook, they might have both chosen a different path had they been starting out at this time.
“I’d probably be self-published if I’d started out 25 or 30 years later,” said Ian Rankin, proving that he’s just one of us. So if you can’t publish, self-publish. You’ll get there.