For a long time, I thought I was a sad lonely freak.
Surely no one else had such a burning ambition to be a writer, yet had achieved a gaping zero in terms of publication? Throughout my life, whenever the urge to be a novelist has resurfaced, I’ve felt a crushing panic that I still don’t have a paperback with my name on it.
I left full-time work and set about writing with new commitment. I had a few articles published and wrote a commissioned book on the history of a school. My novel, Unspeakable Things, went to an excellent literary consultant. I could tell it was getting better and better. I was growing as a writer.
From agents, though, a deafening silence (cue tumbleweed shot) or ‘I am not sufficiently excited about the work…’
Then I met my neighbour, Sylvia. We discovered we are both editors, and both working on novels. I told her I was sending off to agents and not hearing back.
‘No, you won’t,’ she said, sagely.
I was intrigued. My experience wasn’t unique, then?
Syliva knows a lot of writers. She began a Writing Group, and I joined – something I had spent many years avoiding, through fear of… I’m not sure now. Crushing criticism? Pretentiousness?
The small group of writers who met for a convivial meal all seemed to have good projects underway. They clearly knew what they were talking about. I assumed they had all had work published.
They hadn’t. There are more of us. I may be sad and a freak, but I’m definitely not alone.
I have worked in publishing for over 30 years. I know that some works don’t reach a standard suitable for publication. I was convinced that if I didn’t find an agent, it meant my novel wasn’t good enough.
Gradually, I have changed my mind. I began to hear about self-publishers who write well, sell well and enjoy the experience.
I was not enjoying the wilderness where agents fear to tread.
Traditional publishing is increasingly risk-averse. You have to be a dead cert for a number of sales for them to take the risk. That’s what ‘not sufficiently excited’ means.
Sad lonely freaks unite and fight!
Sylvia and I have started an imprint, Holden Park Books. We review one another’s work, having consulted the professionals earlier in the process. Sylvia is very dynamic and has published a Kindle version of her novel, The Jacaranda Letters. I have read it, and it’s excellent. The paperback will be out soon.
With Unspeakable Things in the self-publishing pipeline, I am writing a second novel, The Year of the Ghost, about a boy who is being haunted on the annual family holiday to Wales.
My dream of clasping that paperback is still very much alive, but as the dance teacher said to the students in leg-warmers and leotards, ‘Fame costs, and right here is where you start paying!’