One of the things I’ve learned (and am still learning) is that once a book has been published, genuine reviews on book sites such as Amazon and Goodreads are like gold. If anyone has read The Wrong Story and liked it, a review on either of those sites would be hugely appreciated. Thank you! And to those that have already written reviews, huge thanks too. You can find out more about The Wrong Story and how to get hold of a copy by clicking here. And you can find it on Goodreads by clicking here.
It’s Monday morning. The house is very quiet and I have completed every domestic chore I can think of – ironing, washing, cleaning, mopping the floor, walking the dog. I don’t even have a dog. Note to self: get a dog. Now, I’m ready to write. Novel Number Two. N#2. I’ve given myself three months to complete the first draft.
But now I’m writing this, and this isn’t the novel at all.
I have to get better at this discipline-thing. Last month I had a job and a regular income. Now I don’t. I know. I know. Let’s call it a social experiment; a period of no distractions. Write, write, write. The house is really tidy, by the way.
Discipline and routine, that’s what’s needed. A regular routine. A disciplined regular routine. Of Writing. A disciplined regular writing routine. A regime. A disciplined regular writing routine regime. Regimented. A disciplined regimented regular… did I mention that I’ve almost mastered The Bear Dance on the ukulele? I mean I can get through it. Sometimes. Slowly. If no-one’s listening.
Okay. Enough. Come on, James. Game On. If you’re going to be a professional, you’ve got to be professional. You can do this.
Here we go. The novel.
Hey, the postman’s just come. Excellent.
Two years ago I started writing my first novel The Wrong Story. Now, bar the final edits, it’s complete. To some extent I thought the journey was over: I’m a writer, I have written. Veni, vidi, vici.
But of course, the journey has only just begun. There is the little matter of publication and distribution. Engaging with mainstream publishers can be a bruising experience. The simple fact is, with diminishing margins and outlets mainstream publishers are less willing and less able to be adventurous with their lists of new authors. We all know this and I accepted it as a universal truth: that is the way it is. Get over it.
But I am learning that it doesn’t have to be that way. I was introduced to Unbound, the trading name of United Authors Publishing, a curated crowdfunding publisher. Unbound are like a mainstream publisher in that they edit, advise, provide high-spec graphic design, run marketing campaigns and publicise. They also distribute through Penguin Random House, which, let’s face it, is pretty good. The difference between Unbound and the traditional publishing model is that their production costs are covered through crowdfunding – people pledging money. This mitigates risk and gives a good view of the potential market.
That all sounds very now, but to be honest I hated the thought of asking people, including friends and family, for money. However, the more I thought about it the more I got it: it wouldn’t be me that would be getting funded, it would be the project, the book. And that, for me, is what this whole journey is about.
I remember standing up for the first public reading of one of my short stories: my legs turned to jelly, my mouth became drier than sandpaper and it seemed quite likely that I would fall over. But none of that mattered because having people hear the story was more important than my physical collapse. I would read it from the floor if I had to. I get the same feeling now when I think about seeking pledges. I want people to read the book.
Of course, the ‘curated’ aspect of Unbound’s business model means that they are as choosy as any mainstream publisher. With all the care and attention I would give to any submission, I pitched my story and then waited in that familiar silence for a yes or a no. But Unbound are fast and after only six weeks (which included the Christmas holidays) they responded – and to my deep joy it was a yes.
So now the journey continues. The contract is signed, I have my own pages on the Unbound site, a ‘shed’ in which I can talk to all my pledgers, a video (oh dear), a sample of the novel, a synopsis, a biography and so on. Unbound are very active on my behalf in pushing the project, but the bringing in of pledges is largely down to me. So I’m getting on with it – tweeting, emailing, going to readings, handing out flyers – and doing all the things that have to be done in order to get the book out there. And it’s exciting. I feel energised and I feel involved in the entire lifecycle of my book. I’m discovering that being an author is not just about writing.
It helps enormously that Unbound believe in The Wrong Story as much as I do. It also helps that I genuinely believe in Unbound – they’re responsive, committed, helpful and very enthusiastic. They’ve got a great list of authors and through their crowdfunding model they’re able to promote a stunning array of titles, one of which made the 2014 Man Booker Prize longlist. It is very now, and it does feel very right.
Looking back, when I was first introduced to Unbound my immediate question was, why would I choose to crowdfund my book? I now realise the question I should have asked was, why wouldn’t I?
To help make The Wrong Story this year’s bestseller (hem), please follow this link and pledge here: https://unbound.co.uk/books/the-wrong-story
For more information on Unbound, please follow this link: https://unbound.co.uk
A year has passed since I submitted the first 25,000 words of my novel as part of a creative writing MSt. Since then I have written, re-written, abandoned, restructured and despaired of, the remaining 60,000 words. Writing a novel takes time. Writing a novel is like grappling with a 100-foot long bean bag.
But I’m almost there and like many unknown writers who sense the final full-stop, I’ve started to think about how I’m going to ‘get it out there’.
Despite blogging in praise of literary agents I’ve found myself toying with the phrase ‘self-publishing’, and peering with an almost guilty fascination at the success of Nick Spalding, Hugh Howie, Amanda Hocking et al. Self-publishing seems to be so empowering; so liberating; and, I believe, sometimes so necessary.
Take Flann O’Brien, for instance.
This great writer has been on my mind a lot lately. Not least because there is an International Flann O’Brien Society and I’m presenting a paper at their annual conference in Prague, and his debut novel, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), is one of my primary sources. It’s a wonderful story: clever, satirical, exuberant, metafictional and very, very funny. Graham Greene liked it, so did Dylan Thomas and so did James Joyce.
I like his second novel, The Third Policeman, even more. In fact, I think it’s perfect. But when he submitted it to his publisher in 1940 it was rejected. O’Brien took this badly and told everyone he had lost the manuscript. But the story goes that really he placed it on his sideboard and then ignored it every day for the next 26 years. It was published posthumously and so he never saw it reviewed and lauded as a masterpiece.
I wonder how much impact that rejection had on his later writing, and whether as a result, other masterpieces were never written. That furrows my brow so much that I’ve taken to imagining Flann O’Brien receiving the rejection and logging on to the internet shouting, ‘It’s time for the Plain People of Writing to stand up for themselves’. I’ve started to imagine him self-publishing The Third Policeman on a 1940’s equivalent of a Kindle.
(In my defence, my paper for the conference is titled Parallel Explorations of the Boundaries Between Fiction & Real-Life. So perhaps I’m a bit out of kilter.)
Anyway, when I return from Prague it will be time to get back to my 100-foot long bean bag which I think is arranged as neatly as it can be – or at least as neatly as I can arrange it. And now that all the writing, re-writing, abandoning, restructuring and despairing is nearly done, it will be time for other people to grapple with all those words I’ve written. All I have to do is to find a way to make that happen.
In fact, all I have to do is take it off the sideboard and get it out there.
For more information on the International Flann O’Brien Society, follow this link: http://www.univie.ac.at/flannobrien2011/IFOBS.html