Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Bitter Pills And Honey

I was within a hair's breadth today of giving the go ahead to the publisher who expressed so much interest in The Book.  The one I particularly liked offered a very good service, including promotion, marketing, proof-reading and editing and was not the most expensive of the dozen or so companies I have contacted recently about this book.  They have a good website and I am convinced they really do care - unlike some of the others who lurk outside the doorway of opportunity like half-starved wolves, just waiting to pounce.

Here's a little story.  It is a true story and I know it is true because it really did happen to me.  I was eleven.  I had only just gone up to secondary school.  I wrote this children's adventure story entitled The White Admiral.  It was a simple enough little tale about a young boy who inherits an ivory elephant  (the White Admiral of the title) from his grandfather .  He does not much like it but, because he has fond memories of his grandfather he decides to keep it.  Later that night, unable to sleep, he goes back to have another look at it and makes a startling discovery - it is full of jewelery and money.  And just at that moment, his  unscrupulous uncle creeps in to steal it.  I cannot remember exactly how it ends (this was written over forty years ago don't forget) but I know the uncle produces a gun, which the boy wrestles out of his hand and accidentally shoots him with - only a flesh wound, I hasten to add, nobody gets killed.  All the noise wakes the rest of the household, the uncle is taken to hospital (and presumably later charged) and the boy gets to keep his treasure trove.  This was my first ever attempt at a children's adventure story and I was really proud of it.  I even drew some illustrations if I remember correctly, and I can't draw to save my life!  Anyway I found a publishing company and sent them my book - the only copy I had (another big mistake, but I was still learning my craft remember). And - joy of joys - they took it.  I got an official letter of acceptance and was told a contract would follow.  And it did.  But with it came an invoice for - and I can remember the exact amount to this very day - £249.  I begged, pleaded and cajoled my poor mum to beg, borrow or steal the money, but she was not happy; her maternal alarm bells were ringing.  We went to see a solicitor who advised us to get the manuscript back and avoid this company with a ten foot barge pole forever.  The company was what was then called a vanity publisher.

Naturally, being only eleven and seeing my dream heartlessly wrenched from my grasp, my entire world collapsed.  It took me a long time to get over the heartbreak and the disappointment.  And I never did get my manuscript back either.  Okay - so we all have to learn from our mistakes, but I think that experience at such a young age has left a very bitter taste in my mouth about paying for publication which makes me still wary today in the click-and-fix world of self-publishing.  Don't get me wrong.  When I was in my mid-30s I self published a whole series of poetry collections, one of which went to three reprints because it sold so well.  And really if you stop to look and do some proper research, there are self-publishing, POD and partnership-publishing companies everywhere, plus there are e-books which are doing amazingly well thanks to Kindle and Kobo.    So I am not, in any sense of the word, tarring all such companies with the same brush.

But it still goes to show how, as writers, we all feel the need to prove ourselves.  I have a list of published work as long as my arm, including the Yucketypoo books.  Yet I still feel this urge to prove myself - mainly to myself - even if I have to pay for it.  And even with that list, I have so struggled to be taken seriously by publishers and agents since My Writer was born three years ago.  I know they are inundated with unsolicited manuscripts and work incredibly long hours and invest oodles of pounds shillings and pence into their authors.  But when you have been writing and publishing stuff as long as I have, a form letter telling me to look at The Writers And Artists Year Book - as if I am a ten year old novice - is soul-destroying!  So, can you blame me as the months and then years have gone by since I wrote The Book, for feeling a tiny bit frustrated?

Anyway, I have not committed The Book to that company as yet despite the fact they appeared to tick all the boxes, because another possibility has come along that may yet solve the riddle of why it has taken me so long to reach this point with my masterpiece.  And on that note, I will sign off till next time.  Watch this space..........

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