Advice to Aspiring Novelists: Don’t Shoot Yourself

Question: What are your thoughts on the future of the book?

John Irving: If I were twenty-seven and trying to publish my first novel today, I might be tempted to shoot myself. But I'm sixty-seven and I have an audience so I'm not especially worried about my future in the book business. But I think it's much harder to be a young writer, a writer starting out today than it was when I started out, when my first novel, Setting Free The Bears, was published back in the late sixties. Here was a novel that wasn't even set in this country, it was about a couple of Austrian students and it had a historical section which was easily half the length of the novel about the Nazi and then Soviet occupation of Vienna, not a very American subject. I remember years later asking the guy who published that first novel if he would publish that novel if it came across his desk today, this was back in the nineties, and my old friend and editor and publisher, what I saw was, he hesitated too long. You know? He waited. He thought, "Oh, God, how do I answer this one?" And then he said, "Well, of course I would publish it today." And I said, "No, you wouldn't. I saw the hesitation." And he laughed and said, "No, of course, I wouldn't." Very telling. And I think it's a lot tougher to be a first [time] novelist, to be an unknown novelist today than it was for me and so I worry about what's going to happen with those good, younger writers. But I don't think the book is in any particular peril, I think the book is going to survive.

Recorded on: October 30, 2009

After the publication of the "World According to Garp" and numerous other bestsellers, John Irving does not really have to worry about his career. But, for those looking to break into the book-writing business today, Irving is far from envious.

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