First published elsewhere on 15 September 2011
“A world tour,” he said, “using blogs.”
“What’s that, a new travel agency? Better make sure they’re ABTA bonded and ATOL protected.”
“No, a tour of weblogs in order to publicise the release of my stunning new novel, Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens.”
“Well you didn’t honestly think I was talking to you because I liked you, did you?”
“Not really. So what’s in it for me?”
Actually, the conversation didn’t go quite like that: it went more like “TWEET?” Back in July or August, a certain Mr Jonathan Pinnock used Twitter to arrange his month-
long publicity blitz of guest blogging throughout September. It was all rather fitting, because it could be argued that without social networking, Mrs Darcy Versus the Aliens may never have reached publication.
So, faced with the prospect of Mr P claiming squatters’ rights in my webspace I had to consider how I was going to play it: hand over total control, and be blackmailed into buying it back at hugely inflated rates? Nah, I’m not (quite) that stupid, plus, I’m a control freak. An interview, perhaps? Ah, now that’s more like it. I am, after all, a trained interrogator. Well, my bosses prefer the term ‘interviewer’, but what do they know? Still, that’s political correctness for you.
Q: I have to warn you, Mr P, as you sit strapped into that chair, this may be deep and penetrating. Do you think you can handle it?
A: Ah. I hadn’t realised it as going to be that kind of interview. As long as there aren’t any probes. I don’t like probes.
Q: First off, great to meet you. How’re you feeling? (See, I warned you this would be deep, didn’t I?)
A: Assuming there are no probes, fine. Top of the world, in fact. Although this being published thing is a bit of a roller coaster. One minute you’re elated because you’ve actually got a book in the shops ad the next you’re fretting because your Amazon ranking has slipped by a thousand or two.
A: It’s a sequel to Pride and Prejudice with aliens. (I know, some of those have more than one syllable.) It features most of the key characters from Pride and Prejudice, some of whom reveal a new side to their character (re-
evaluating much of their behaviour in the original novel) and others of whom undergo an unexpected (and yet strangely logical) character development. New characters are brought in, as well as real Regency people such as Lord Byron and Sir Humphry Davy. Oh, and Jack the Ripper somehow gets involved as well – I’d forgotten that. Chaos ensues.
Q: In my experience, Jane Austen fans take her work quite seriously -
so seriously that some of them fail to realise that she was probably one of the greatest comedy writers of all time. How does the humour in your sequel compare to Jane’s original?
A: Probably a bit broader than hers. Generally speaking, a lot broader. Although I like to think there is some subtlety here and there.
Q: Have you faced the backlash of marauding hordes of Austenites, stalking you, threatening to de-
bag you when you appear in public, or otherwise inflict serious pain upon your personage?
A: No, they’re all lovely people. I can’t imagine them wishing to do such a thing! In any case, Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens is on sale in the Jane Austen Centre Online Giftshop, so it has the official imprimateur. Ha!
Q: Are you looking forward to it happening?
A: Are you mad, sir? By the way, have you put that probe away? I’d feel a lot happier if you had.
Q: Have you received any feedback from genuine JA fans – good or bad?
Q: I think I’m right in saying that you serialised Mrs D on the web before getting published, and that you achieved quite a following. What came first, the networking or the serialisation?
A: The networking. I wouldn’t have contemplated serialising the book if I hadn’t already been immersed in social networking.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone trying to reach publication via the same route?
A: Get stuck into Twitter, Facebook, blogging, the lot. Engage with all that and make yourself known. Then introduce your new project to your friends and followers. Make sure your project works well as a serial – does each episode stand alone? Is it short enough to be digestible in a few minutes? Decide what to do about late-
comers – I had a regular “Previously on Mrs Darcy” thing that got more and more bizarre as I tried to summarise the entire plot so far in a single paragraph. Think of other ways to draw people in – the single best thing I did for Mrs Darcy was to put together a couple of daft YouTube promo videos. They didn’t have a lot to do with the story in fact, but they gave a feel for the flavour of the humour. And they were over in less than two minutes.
Q: Do you have any views on general self-
publishing – would you ever consider it?
A: Hmmm. Good question. Would I have done that if Proxima hadn’t picked up Mrs Darcy? I might have done. But I would have wanted to do it properly, which would have meant commissioning a decent cover (expensive) and a professional editor (ditto). And I would then be spending the next year being very annoying to people, going around shouting at them to buy my book. I guess I’m doing something similar right now but at least I feel I have a publisher behind me. I’ll be honest: the fact that I can point to my book in WHSmith gives me a bit of credibility here.
Q: What is the difference between self-
publishing and vanity publishing: surely, it’s a very fine line?
A: Ha ha. Funny you should mention that -
yeah, I’m the king of funny -
yes I do, as a matter of fact. My Scott Prize – winning collection, Dot(.), Dash(- ) will be published some time next year. It would have appeared along with the other Scott Prize winners this November, but my publishers (Salt, who are – quite coincidentally – the parent of the Proxima imprint) quite sensibly delayed it in order to avoid confusion over which book I was going to be promoting at any one time.
Q: Do you have anything else to add, before we wind up this session: perhaps a very great plug for my own opus – Pike’s Quest?
A: I would love to give Pike a plug! What’s not to love? Engaging characters, sparkling wit and a Quest! As well as a horse called Horse and a sparrow called Robyn Fynch.
Q: Thank you, Mr P. You’ve been a wonderful victim. I promised you deep, I promised you penetrating. I think I’ve delivered on both counts. I’ll untie you in a minute and you can mop your wounds. Now ... what did I do with those scissors?
A: No, the difference is quite clear cut. In self-
publishing, you as the author are taking control of the whole operation. You may not have a clue what you’re doing, but you’re in charge. With vanity publishing, you’re handing over a large wad of cash in return for some vague promises.
Q: What about self-
publishing on Kindle? Do you consider it to be any different to doing it on paper?
A: Similar principles apply, although the production costs are obviously lower and the cover design isn’t so critical (although it still needs to be eye-
catching on Amazon). But again it’s all about selling. I keep repeating this: the main reason why John Locke has sold a million copies of his Donovan Creed books is that before he became a writer he was a millionaire insurance salesman. If you think you can sell a million copies of your book, pause a while and ask yourself: could I make a million selling insurance? It’s hard work, and the writing is the least of it.
Q: At the end of Mrs Darcy, the reader is informed that there will be a sequel? When will we see it, and what will it be about?
A: Well, it depends on demand. At present there are no firm plans beyond that last-
line promise, although I do have a vague idea of the plotline. However, I don’t want to give anything away yet!
Q: I know you are a prolific writer, but normally your output is short fiction – often very, very short fiction. Do you have any plans to publish a collection any time soon?
A: Generally very positive (apart from the ones that ignore it in chilly silence). I think they appreciate the fact that I’ve written a genuine sequel (albeit a somewhat peculiar one) rather than trashing the original novel. I think there may well come a time when Pride and Prejudice takes its rightful position as merely the first of Jane Austen’s “alien” series…
Q: In words of single syllables, so I can understand, can you give short overview of what the book is about?
“Ah! What a coincidence. I’ve got a blog.”
Buy Mrs Darcy Versus the Aliens at WH Smith and other bookstores throughout the UK, or at Amazon and other on-line book-sellers.