A Note To Would-Be Spy Writers

       To compete successfully in today''s writing market, the author must compete with tremendous forces that previous generations did not face.

       For the past 60 years, most of us, at least in what spy-fi would count as the West, have had the same amount of “me-time”. According to our government, one source at least, we spend 7.7 hours sleeping, 8.7 hours in work-related activity, 1.1 hours eating and drinking, 1.1 hours doing household activities, 1.3 hours caring for others (children, parents, friends, neighbors), 1.5 hours engaged in “other” activity, and 2.6 hours in leisure and sports.
       Looking at the 2.6 hours of leisure and sports, however, one must look at how much of that is spent alone. Most of us go to movies and dancing and partying and sporting events with someone else and if we are with someone else, we are obviously not alone. We spend a considerable amount of time on the phone, even before cell phones were invented, and talking with someone means you are not alone.
       I would hazard a guess that out of that 2.6 hours we are said to have for leisure and sports, probably no more than half of that would be “me-time”. This is noteworthy because reading takes place during the “me-time”.
       But during those past 50 years, what other things vied for our attention during that precious “me-time”. In this, I am talking about those who would be inclined to spend it reading. There are always more people who do not read for entertainment than those who do but of those that love to read, how much time is spent doing it.
       I did not find any numbers on this but I did consider these facts looking backwards.

       • One decade ago - 2001: we had the Internet but streaming video was a rarity, certainly not like today. Amazon Video, Netflix streaming, Hulu, YouTube and others did not exist yet. Facebook was not yet conceived.
       • Two decades ago - 1991: the World Wide Web (www to some of you) was just being drafted by Sir Tim Berners-Lee so if people were online, it was with very slow modems connected to bulletin boards. AOL had just started its ubiquitous floppy and cd mail campaign.
       • Three decades ago – 1981: Cable had finally come into its own with a lot of premium channels giving fairly recently movies and other channels springing up every month or two. VCR were finally becoming commonplace and rental stores were becoming more and more common.
       • Four decades ago – 1971: Cable was just getting started as a means of passing to rural areas and small towns. It was mostly repackaging of larger markets'' channels but at least there were more than one station to listen to and more than a couple of channels to choose from.
       • Five decades ago – 1961: FM was just around the corner. It existed but there were not many broadcasters yet and many radios did not have it on the dial. In large cities there were the three major networks and lots of radio stations but in smaller cities there were usually one or two channels only and one or two radio stations you could get during the day.
       • Six decades ago – 1951: Most people did not have a television and if you did, you got one or two channels using rabbit ears. Radio ruled.


       This long-worded history lesson was done to show writers what they already knew and that is, if the author is lucky enough to find a publisher, and there were a fair number of them decades ago, there was a better than decent chance the story or book would be read.
       That is not the case any more in this modern world of lots and lots of radio stations, hundreds of cable channels, multiplex theaters, sporting events, and, of course, the ever-calling allure of the Internet. Throw in the fact that there are far fewer main-stream publishers and each of the remaining ones want only the certain best sellers, regardless of how good the books really are. Most independent booksellers are gone. A couple of major chains are closing stores rapidly. The chances of making it are very slim.

       So does this mean that there is no hope for would-be spy fiction authors? Not at all. In the series that I count as qualifying as spy-fi for my collection, 9 series were started in 2002, 11 in both 2003 and 2004, and 12 in 2005. Since then the numbers have dropped a bit with 6 in 2006 and 2007, 8 in 2008 and 7 in 2009 and the numbers will likely go up as many new characters created in the past three or four years will become series when follow-on books come out soon. That is 70 series started in those eight years and that is not counting the books that never were intended to be a series. This shows that there is a market.
       But the days when two or three times as many series were started in a year than now are gone. And gone with them, unfortunately, are some of the vehicles in which many of those new authors got their training.
       In the old days of the 40''s, 50''s, and 60''s, writers had numerous magazines in which to publish their works, giving them a chance to hone their talents and get a name for themselves. Whether it was the Saturday Evening Post or Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine or any number of other similar magazine and digests, the market for short stories was a good one and authors could practice and get better, and some times make a few pennies doing so. Nowadays, those magazines are mostly gone, largely because of the other things to occupy our leisure time with, like the Internet.
       Which brings us to the point of my long-windedness. If you want to be published and successful as an author in today''s world with all the other distractions for the reader''s time and attention AND you no longer have the back streets and alleys to practice in that once were, how does a new author get better and get noticed.
Many published authors have proffered to innumerable neophytes the advice to keep writing. Practice does not always make perfect but it usually makes better and better is what will help get you noticed and better is what will definitely keep readers like myself coming back for more.
       Amusingly, this same Internet that is taking so much of our leisure time can also be the answer to how to get that practice. There are the always available blogs through which the author can write and write and write and eventually get better. More importantly, various e-book publishers have recently started offering novellas and long stories for a small price. The world of self-publishing, thanks again to the e-book explosion, is growing and growing and authors that might never have gotten a chance can now get a small space on the enormous world-wide web.
       Be prepared for readers to not like everything you write. Be prepared to have the editor tell you, as editors have told writers for centuries, “this needs a little punching up.” Be prepared for rejection even.
       But keep writing.