Last week I told the world (my small bookish corner of it anyway) that I was intending to self-publish my second novel.
But why self-publish? I've had to think about this at length. Goodness knows I thought about taking the plunge for an awful long time... several weeks stretching into months of "Shall I?" "Should I?" "Won't it be cheating?" "Will I lose all credibility?" "Do I have any credibility to lose?" These and other equally ponderous and uncomfortable questions kept me awake at night.
The simple truth is, I'm going to self-publish A Life Between Us because I want to. Now that I've committed to the project I can stop worrying about what other people think and just get on with the job in hand, which is writing, editing and marketing A Life Between Us to the best of my ability.
Writing is a kind of magic, and getting a book deal is too. When Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase got its deal it was incredible. I enjoyed every moment of the process - getting the news, meeting the team at Hodder, working through all the edits, seeing the cover for the first time, receiving my proof copies, then the beautiful finished copies, spotting my book in shops... it was a rapturous, crazy time that I will never forget. But of course, being the slightly megalomaniac person I am (all writers have to be?) I want to do it all over again. And again... and again.
But my second novel, submitted in 2014, wasn't picked up by Hodder. It was a blow, but after a few weeks I gathered myself and I worked hard on editing. I changed much of the plot, I changed character names, I changed the title. I still believed in it. My agent sent it out again...
All right, "Because I want to" isn't really an answer, so here are some of the reasons I want to. Warning: I'm going to be honest.
A Life Between Us didn't get a traditional book deal. I would have taken a trad deal and in fact I came tantalisingly close in 2015 to getting one. I was invited to a meeting with an independent publisher. They told me how much they enjoyed my novel and how interested they were in publishing it: all very positive and exciting. A week later they changed their mind. As you can imagine, that was crushing. And the reason? I think it's because my novels or ideas for novels are all so different, it would be hard to "market" me as an author. I don't know. Perhaps there were other reasons. My husband wasn't best pleased. He took a day of annual leave so I could go to London for that meeting. I spent £34 on a train ticket. I'm still considering sending the publisher an invoice for my expenses.
I believe a good book is a good book. Possibly I'm hopelessly naive and romantic (and a little bit conceited) but honestly, you don't get asked to drag yourself down to London by a publisher to discuss your book if that book is not publishable. No publisher is going to waste their time if the story is no good (and by "good" I simply mean publishable). They just aren't. So, funnily enough, the disappointment of that strangely inexplicable experience has given me more belief in this novel. I'm indebted to the publisher for that - if nothing else. OK, decision made: I won't send them an invoice.
I've worked out, rather painfully, that the publishing industry (in very general terms of course and not including agents) is...(whispers) not quite as loyal as it could be to its authors - without whom there would be no industry. I probably don't need to say anything further, but I'm going to.
It seems that in order to be feted or encouraged or even appreciated by the publishing industry you must be a very well established author (and that is well and good and as it should be), or a debut author. Which strikes me as a real shame, because who, seriously, produces their best work at their first, or second, or even third attempt?
Can I be really honest? If I hear the words "sparkling debut" or "stunning debut" one more time, I'm going to vomit. What's wrong with "sparkling third novel"? Many writers are not given the time and support to prove themselves as the writers they are capable of being. They are brushed aside too readily, to make way for yet another "stunning debut", which, most of the time, is anything but - Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase included. I know that's not my best work. Nor is A Life Between Us. But they are both, I hope, readable, publishable, and perfectly serviceable and necessary stepping stones on the way to my best work.
It's great to publish and showcase debut authors, of course it is. We all are debut authors. But only ONCE. After that we have to build on that first novel, and write the second novel, perhaps not getting it quite right at our first attempt. Ideally we do this with support and guidance from a trusted editor who knows our potential. For too many of us, that just doesn't happen. If writers are dumped too readily, I believe readers miss out, and in the long run the publisher misses out too. Writing is a long haul. Publishers, as well as authors, need vision.
I don't hate the publishing industry, I really don't. Where on earth would we be without it? But I am frustrated and disillusioned, which in turn has led to my decision to commit to myself, to be loyal to myself, to be my own caretaker and gatekeeper to my own career, at least for now.
More next week. I'm going to address the thorny, muddled issue of vanity...