Wednesday, 3 June 2009

It may not be your book...

So everyone has a novel in them? Fair enough. Does everyone have a good novel in them? Probably not. Does everyone have a good novel, plus the desire, determination, perseverance, thick skin, and sheer bloody-mindedness to get published? Definitely not.

For anyone reading this who has taken on the already difficult task of writing a novel (and congratulations to you, it’s no mean feat, no matter how many people seem to have done it on Absolute Write), you will be well aware that the hard work is only to begin once you embark on the soul sapping publisher/agent round, trying to get someone else apart from your friends to give your work any validation.

We all have rejection letters, piled up high, if you are anything like me. Does this mean you are terrible writer? It becomes difficult to believe your friends and loved ones after a while, who insist, objectively, that your work is good, excellent, sublime... So why can’t agents see this?

And then to add to the profanity of it all, you buy a novel, one in the bestseller's list at Waterstones no less, and you find that it is the most gut wrenching string of dribble that any soul has ever let drool from their lips (fingers). Where is the justice?!?

Instead, maybe you should be asking, where is the luck?

‘Luck? My genius has nothing to do with luck’. No, probably not, but luck has an immense part to play in the lives of us all, from the moment we are born, to the moment we die. Of course, with the probabilities of life-changing events being very small, we can live most of our lives within a ‘high-probability’ bubble, meaning we avoid such instances as getting ran over, crashing in a plane, being crushed by a falling cow, annihilated by a gang of wasps, or getting a novel published.

I’m not saying that luck is the only thing involved – there has to be the raw product there to start with. But to say that luck doesn’t play a massive part is naive – if this wasn’t the case, then the publishing industry would have to be said to be infallible; how would one explain a publisher passing over so many great works so much of the time?

My interest in Randomness has arisen due to an excellent pair of books by one of present day’s greatest minds, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. If anyone is interested in examining just how random and affected by external events our lives are, I strongly recommend Fooled by Randomness, and The Black Swan, as well as his website.

How many times do you think your novel has landed on the wrong desk – the one just next to the person who would have loved it? How many times do you think the agent was distracted when looking at your query letter? How many times do you think the agent was in a rush when skim reading your sample chapters? How many times do you think they were in just a bad mood?

Of course, these examples are simplistic to help illustrate my argument – any system as complex as Life has an almost infinite number of variables to consider, and it becomes impossible to label them all. Therefore, although the above are flippant, I’m not trying to say that if you aren’t published, it’s down to nothing but bad luck. It could be just a God-awful novel. If your book is worth publishing, however, there’s a good chance it hasn’t been, yet, because of negative luck.

What can you do? Increase the odds. Don’t give up. Query, query and query again. Then query some more. If your book really is that good, then one day you’ll tip the balance into the ‘high-probability’ bubble, and getting published will be as likely as rain at the weekend (in England anyway…)

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

A Gentleman of Letters

Whilst in India last year, I wrote a very unserious blog regarding the adventures of a Knightsbridge gentleman who found himself in the wilds of India, without service of man servant, or a reasonable supply to gin to suport him.

It proved reasonably popular with my work collegues, but for whatever reasons (laziness!) I stopped after not very many posts.

I tried to resurrect our Gentleman back in March, but didn't get very far. So this is the third attempt. You can follow the latest adventures, here. If you enjoy let me know!

I will return to previous discussions in my next post (Note to self - don't make the mistake of saying tommorrow in a blog post!)

Monday, 1 June 2009

Self Publish, or not...

Only onto my fourth post, and already I’m questioning what I wrote in my second post. A few days ago, I put forward the idea that self-publishing using POD publishers would open the door to a democratizing of the publishing industry, a removal of the gatekeepers and the possible death knoll of the publishing industry.

I developed these ideas after reading a few books on the subject and after reading around the internet, gleaning whatever information I could on the subject, and as the idea of publishing my own book filled me full of vigour, focus and the belief that it was only a mtter of time before I had a number one best seller, I was careful, subconsciously I guess, to only chose the website and write ups that would extol the virtues of self publishing.

Once the initial burst of energy subsided however, I felt it time to explore the other side of the argument. My first stop was of course the excellent Absolute Writers forum, and it was this thread that given me due cause to stop and think.

Within that thread I found a few erudite first person accounts, and good links to other relevant websites. There were good arguments both for and against, and is obvious that to decide between self and traditional publishing is not an easy one to make. I urge anyone who is considering following the Self Publishing route to visit this thread and others within the forum.

I am not about to say that my mind has been changed completely. I still stand by some of the points raised in my earlier post, in that I think with development and time, the act of publishing will become easier for the writer, and that marketing skills will become as necessary a skill as the actual writing, if anyone wishes to meet success using this method. I will say however, that I don’t think I am ready to follow that route just yet.

I have only queried about eight agents with Russalka. I need to follow that path further and put a lot more work in before I am satisfied that I have exhausted that route, and before I can confidently change tack. There is a niggling feeling that to abandon trying to gain success through a traditional publisher is, at this stage, a compromise.

Tomorrow I hope to write a short piece on the virtues of the work by Nassim Nicholas Taheb, one of my favourite non-fiction writers, and how his books on randomness have totally changed my perception of being accepted by a traditional publishing house, in a positive manner.