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My Say - Lynda Finn


My Say gives writers a chance to air their views about writing and the writer's life.

Contributions should ideally be 200 to 400 words in length and of general interest.  Please email them to us.  WritersServices' decision on whether or not to include each contribution is final.

Lynda Finn writes about the isolation of New Zealand writers and their problems with getting published

Although the world thinks of New Zealand as an island off the coast of Australia, we are in fact 2,151 kilometres apart. This isolation has its advantages, not least in a determination to prove that our alleged cultural backwater can produce award winning writers and vibrant local literature.

From Katherine Mansfield to Witi Ihimaera, author of Whale Rider, we have enjoyed a long and enduring pattern of excellence, all the more remarkable in a population of less than 3 million. The disadvantage of our far-flung outpost is a very limited market. Unless an author is already a media personality, sales of around 500 books is about average. That means my first book, with total sales of 1,600 in a niche market, was a bestseller but to a UK agent or publisher that's very small beer.

Not having access to agents who can successfully represent our work to the more lucrative northern hemisphere is another drawback. Many published authors, having contacted UK agents appropriate to their genre, have simply been ignored. Those who receive replies are told, even if not quite in these words, that there are enough good British writers. Agencies do not to want the multiple hassles associated with far-away antipodean authors.

Of the handful of literary agencies in New Zealand, the established ones are fully booked and the newer have an unproven track record. Major New Zealand writers are now represented by overseas agencies but had to achieve substantial fame before being accepted. For the many others, competent, even popular, the next rung on the ladder seems to be missing.

To progress, we must sell our work to overseas publishers but most will deal only through an agency. UK and US agencies don’t want to represent Kiwi authors. Would UK agents benefit from having a stronger liaison with their NZ representatives? When visiting the Frankfurt and other books fairs, do the UK & US agents simply ignore New Zealand writers? If so, why?

Should agents send talent scouts to our literary conferences? How can they be convinced that this is worth their while? On the other hand, are we doing something wrong, if so, what, and how can this be remedied so we find a wider market?

Where does judgement on quality come into all this? It is sadly obvious that poor quality work frequently gets through to the bookstands, if the market is so very competitive, how does that happen?

There seems to be no valid excuse for agents to ignore and exclude us. Today’s instant technology allows agents to respond to writers’ initial queries at virtually no cost; our forwarding work if requested, the work of a moment. Perhaps readers need to hear a new voice, if so, there are Kiwis here just waiting to sing.

Lynda Finn

© Lynda Finn 2003