Really, is there anything, if not soul-destroying then soul slapping, than receiving another returned manuscript with a pre-typed note apologising that the literary agent think that my book – which I have put my heart, and YES, MY SOUL, into – is not for them? Well maybe, being a school teacher I might put a visit from the government school inspectors, OFSTED, up (down?) there with it.
It took roughly 10 months to write Comrades Come Rally. Work days would be: get to school early to prep for lessons; teach; stay a short time to tidy up; then home to mark and then two hours of writing. Weekends would allow longer for writing. It would take seconds to see said returned manuscript on the welcome mat to get another whack to the soul. Yes indeed, writing was the easy bit. For starters, in my head there were no missing words, grammatical errors or plain old cock ups. That was certainly proved wrong when my partner would go through proof reading it. To which I would give a measured and thoughtful response by banging doors, throwing tantrums and generally doing a fair impression of a teething two year old. (Later I had matured to a surly teenager when receiving the comments of the professional proof reader). Still, it made me know how my pupils feel when I take the teacher pen to their work. Having no idea whatsoever about how to get a book published I did extensive research. Well…I bought a copy of the Writers and Readers Yearbook. Then I sent the manuscript out to as many literary agents as I thought appropriate. Hence, the returns. Most had the reply, ‘We are not taking on any further clients at the present’, which I thought had several possible meanings: (a) what it said (b) they couldn’t be arsed to read it (c) they felt it was not a saleable product (d) Christ, it was truly crap. Some did give personal advice and there were some kind – handwritten – comments.
But alas, no-one begged to take it. So I decided to self-publish. Now here perhaps, to medicate my soul (OK, I have flogged that metaphor to death), I should let rip and denounce publishers/literary agents as establishment types, mostly drawn from a similar class who only see the lowest common denominator quick-buck. Who only see distinct genres whilst mine is a mix of them. Who dislike anything political (and it is true that one agent did say that she liked the story but could I cut the politics!). And because of this, I self-published to put two fingers up to the establishment; to stick it to ‘the man’. Er… yeah. Trouble is, that I self-published through a subsidiary of Amazon, so I maybe won’t be raising that red flag just yet. Let’s face it, Amazon is pretty well – THE MAN.
Some of the criticisms of the publishing world might be valid and the argument that only the crap doesn’t get published is obviously wrong (God, I have read some real stinkers in the last twelve months and avoided far worse – I mean, celebrity memoirs of twenty-something comedians anyone?). Certainly though, there are some who have a sneering hostility to self-published authors. Why? Is it because technology allows too much rubbish to be printed (as if publishers don’t do that themselves)? Or is it a threat that they fear to their profit base? Is it snobbishness? But then on the other hand, I don’t see self-publishing as inherently radical. Let’s face it; it depends on what is being published. Marx, Trotsky, Lenin et al are all available through major publishers and equally, there are badly written romance novels self-published. So it is not so quite ‘them and us’. And true, a lot of self-published work is inferior. And let’s also be honest, I would have much preferred to have a major publisher. If nothing else, I would not have had to set myself up as a one man (plus partner and cat) PR department.
(Talking of which, for a day or two, I thought I’d been a bit of a Bill Gates by setting up a twitter account (Phil Brett @philjbrett ), a Facebook page, Comrades Come Rally, and a website (Comrades Come Rally). I’d even done a you tube interview – Comrades Come Rally . Okay, as the titles suggest, not particularly an imaginative one, but hey previously mastering texting had been a feat, but then I discovered that social media is some kind of multi-headed hydra, where you cut one head off and another grows).
Okay, take a deep breath. But I digress, back to self-publishing. It used to be known as vanity publishing. Obviously those published through a publishing house don’t suffer vanity and are completely ego-free (hmm). Maybe it is vanity publishing, maybe not, but I will put my hand up (the one, with the three fingers which I type with) and say that when I got the proof copy of Comrades Come Rally sent to me, I was proud. I had done it. What I had dreamt of doing, since being a kid (well, alongside at different ages – being Arsenal’s centre forward, working as a vet, being David Bowie, being in the Style Council, designing cutting-edge buildings, leading the revolution and so on) had come true.