About Me

My photo
Bookish. Publisher at Louise Walters Books. Reader, writer, and editor. Working class gal.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

Thank you for all the responses to last week's post. It got far more attention than I'd anticipated!

This week I'm going to be slightly less controversial (maybe!) and talk about vanity, an issue that is inevitably tied up with self-publishing.

One of the issues I wrestled with while considering self-publishing was my own vanity. I have it in bucket loads. I honestly believe there isn't one writer who isn't vain about their work (if nothing else)! And the reason is, we have to be - whether trad published, self-published (assisted or truly going it alone), or if hoping/planning to be published by any of these routes. If we weren't vain we would never send our work out to agents, or upload it onto Kindle. When we submit our work to agents and editors, or to beta readers or to our partners or to critiquing forums - anywhere at all, we are saying to the world:

Here's something I've written. I think it's pretty good. In fact, I think it might be wonderful.

We know we are vain because if the response is even lukewarm, let alone negative or an outright rejection, we bristle with hurt pride, we leap to our writing's defence (even if only in private), and yes, we are shocked that the reader didn't love our offering.

(One of my caffeine-fuelled writing sessions. Also, nail polish. I told you authors are vain!)  

But in the sensible writer, the true writer who understands that writing is a craft, something else kicks in. I think it's an ability to see our own work as others see it, coupled with the genuine desire to learn and develop. It's also the wisdom to realise that our vanity, while necessary, is almost always false.

The problem with writing is that just about everybody thinks they can do it. We can read, we can write, we can punctuate and spell to one degree or another... we are literate. It's not like being able to paint, or play a musical instrument. Those are rarefied skills that most of us freely admit to not possessing.

Image courtesy of Pete Tuffrey Artist 

But writing? Easy peasy. Many a time I've told people I'm a novelist and the reply is, "Oh, I would write a novel if I had the time", or, "My great uncle Ebenezer had an amazing life, you could write about that". Or that old chestnut, Everyone's got a novel in them. (They haven't though.)

Many would-be novelists are actually in love with the idea of "being a writer". It tends to top those lists of most desirable occupations time and again. But "being a writer" is a fantasy, a romanticised, Harry Potter-fuelled lie. This notion of "being a writer", coupled with vanity and ego is enough to convince some people that they "should" be published. It's not wildly different to the people who audition for The X Factor. "I really, really want this," they say, regardless of their talent. But if I wanted to "be" a great clarinetist, I wouldn't just buy a clarinet and climb up on stage and try to play it. I'd look like a compete fool. What I would do is buy a clarinet and take lessons. I would practice for hours, days, years. Realistically, I would probably accept somewhere along the line that I would never be good enough to perform to an audience other than my mother. But writing is more subtle than that, it's far murkier. What we produce looks like writing. And these days we can turn it, more or less by ourselves, into something that looks like a book.

I asked myself over and over, isn't that what I would be doing? Is self-publishing this novel nothing but a vanity project? And other thoughts - so what if my debut got a book deal? This isn't that novel. It's a different novel and it may not be as interesting, or as commercial, or as whatever. There must be a reason it didn't get a trad deal, I tell myself, and it's true. I'm risking making an almighty fool of myself, making all those horrible noises on my metaphorical clarinet.

I still wrestle with those doubts and fears. I think I'm going to throughout this project. But I hold on to the fact that I can write fairly well, I know my current limitations, and I'll always strive to exceed them. I hope I understand the craft of writing, that truly it's not much to do with the ability to put words onto paper (although that is a start). It's little to do with imagination either - everybody has imagination. It's all about responsibility to our readers. If we are vain enough to present our work to the world in whatever capacity, that's fine to a point, as long as we remember to forget about ourselves, and get inside our reader's experience, and be considerate of them at all times. A good novel is a crafted performance and as long as we hang onto that thought, I think it's fair to publish our work in any way we can or in any way we choose, and see what the world has to say about it.

Next week I'm going to talk about validation. See you then!

Disclosure: Pete Tuffrey is my brother and he's a brilliant artist, do check out his work.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Why self-publish?

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...

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Sistah is doin' it for herself!

I am delighted, excited and absolutely terrified to announce that  my second novel is going to be published in February 2017 and the publisher is... ME... with a lot of help (an awful lot of help!) from those lovely people at Matador.

The novel will be published in paperback and e-book and will be called A Life Between Us.

Over the coming months I'll be updating progress here on on my blog and on my Facebook writer's page, and on Twitter.

Advance review copies should be available in the autumn, so do please let me know if you'd like one and I'll start drawing up a list now. I'll also be running a giveaway before publication, and over the coming year I'll be revealing the cover, and posting up the opening chapter here on my blog. I'm also planning a series of blog posts about the self-publishing process, and an article (or two, or three) about my decision to self-publish.

In the meantime, here's a photo of Mrs Sinclair's latest foreign edition. This one is Bulgarian. Mrs S is now published in 14 languages, which is beyond exciting.

Do keep in touch, it will be lovely to have you on board! More news soon...

Louise xx