Not to mention that writers are, in effect, playing on the nickel slots

Robert McCrum throws cold water on “the jackpot theory of literature,” observing that “for every book that hits the jackpot, there are thousands that vanish into oblivion.” The truth, he says, especially in Britain, is that:

Most of the time … the so-called ‘overnight success’ usually turns out, on closer inspection, to be the well-deserved fruition of a painstaking apprenticeship.

When Ian McEwan published First Love, Last Rites, he was certainly acclaimed from the rooftops and woke up to a new level of fame, but discerning readers had been enjoying his stories for years in little magazines.

Again, when Paul Auster published The New York Trilogy in the Christmas season of 1986, the book was hailed as a sensation and became an overnight sell-out, though Auster had been writing, and publishing, unrecognised for years.


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