Sunday, 4 December 2011

That's not real publishing (Part 1)

“Oh, it’s an e-book.” She gave a knowing grin.
“That’s not real publishing, is it?”

The decision came to me after months of consideration and years of disappointment: I would self-publish my work on Kindle. It wasn’t something I did lightly.

I’ve been writing seriously (as in, seriously writing stuff that had an amusing edge) for twelve or more years and I have spent a small fortune in posting material out to publishers and agents in the hope that first they would read what I sent, and secondly that they would be impressed enough to read more.

In 1999, when I sent out samples of my first complete novel, a fair number of publishers were still accepting unsolicited material directly from writers. Between then and now that’s all changed. Nearly all publishers accept only that which has been submitted by a literary agent. This is very bad news for writers, and even worse for readers.

Literary agents are the self-appointed guardians of the publishing world. They are the experts in what the public wants to read, and experts in what the public ought to be reading. Their word is the word of the publishing God. What would the great reading populace of the world do if it were not for the literary agent standing steadfast against the flow of inventiveness of writers? Literary agents know full well that if a particular style of writing was popular in one book by one author last year, then every other author submitting material to them MUST, OH YES MUST, write in that exact same style and on the exact same subject. Or else!

Publishers, of course, must bow to the knowledge of these literary Gods, because if they don’t, it is they who have to do the hard work of reading new material direct from an inventive author. Heaven forbid that a writer, urgh – A DIRTY, HORRIBLE WRITER, no less – should submit directly to the very sensitive publisher. Lordy, lordy, lordy, that would never do. Ye gads: authors have GERMS.

As a writer I was in a situation where first I had to identify which agents represent my genre, and then which ones are willing to receive submissions. Recently I have been writing what could loosely be termed young adult fantasy, but it crosses the age boundaries and also crosses over into adventure and comedy. Try finding an agent that accepts that combination in the Writers’ & Artists’ Year Book!

I identified around twenty that might be interested, and sent samples out in batches of five. Take into account the postage (return), packaging and printing costs, and each batch of submissions costs about £25 - £30. Only a few will accept submissions by e-mail, and those who do probably use e-mail as an excuse not to actually read what has been sent.

One of the things agents want writers to include in their covering letter is the names of other authors to which they can be compared. At the same time, agents state they are looking for new and original voices: what do they want? “Dear Agent ... my writing is like a cross between J K Rowling and Alfred Hitchcock, yet I retain an element of stark originality ...” The real problem is that agents really don’t know what to do when someone with a new and original voice does come along, so almost invariably they reject it.

Over 12 years I have had rejections of varying quality: some were complimentary, some less so. More recently I have had rejections for Pike’s Quest that were downright glowing – so much so that I wondered why the work was rejected. One agent was thoroughly impressed with the writing, but after three chapters she wasn’t so sure about the story. She sent me the best rejection ever. But hang on: who is she to judge the story? If my writing was as good as she said, that should be enough to strike up a working relationship. I’m pretty damned sure that she doesn’t like everything that her existing clients send to her, but I’m pretty sure she attempts to place it with the publisher. She did ask me to submit future work to her, but gave not a single clue as to what she was looking for.

Writers employ agents, agents don’t employ writers. But agents often refuse to work for a writer. This is understandable if the writer is crap, but where is the sense when the writer clearly is not crap? Without any intentional arrogance, if I chose an agent to grace with my work, he/she should be honoured that I have done so.

The frustration comes by knowing that the work is of a publishable standard, yet I’ve only been able to get two publishers to read it.

In future posts I shall reveal the outcome of those two readings, and I shall delve into some of the pros and cons of self publishing.


Pike's Quest
Amazon for Kindle on these links - UK - USA - DE - FR - IT - ES  
To read the blurb, click HERE

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