A Proper Conversation-Stopper!

During a family gathering over one of the many holidays we’ve been inundated with recently (who’s getting fed up with them now and who’s lost track of time?  IS it Boxing Day again?) I had a ‘conversation’ with my brother-in-law about my writing.
*ahem* here it is - abridged and with many seethes omitted:

BiL:     ‘How’s the writing going?’
Me:      ‘Oh, well, I haven’t done much lately, haven’t really… um (…how DO you explain about shattered confidence leading to non-production of wordage without sounding like a proper precious ponce – especially when there’s another 15 or so members of your extended family listening in with bated breath?) I haven’t had anything positive back from an agent yet.’
BiL:     ‘You know, you should send it off to some publishers, forget about the agents, just send it straight to them, cut out the middle man and you’ll probably even save having to pay them a fee too.’
Me:      (No sh*t, Sherlock…) ‘Well, it’s not really as simple as that, you can’t approach a publisher without getting an agent first, and that’s not an easy thing to do.  I’ve sent off loads of enquiries already… I have still got a couple -’
BiL:     ‘- you should just print it off; take the whole thing to them, plonk it on their desks, and wait for a reply.  You know what… J.K Rowling didn’t -’
Me:  (I’m allowed one seethe, surely?) ‘- it’s really not as straightforward as that, agents are inundated with manuscripts every day and I don’t think I’d get to see a publisher just because I happen to turn up at the door with a printout of my book, it doesn’t work like that.’
BiL:     ‘I think you’ve got to be more proactive.  If you believe in what you’re doing, your confidence will shine through and they’ll take you seriously.  If I didn’t believe in my work then nobody would be interested. That’s the way it goes I’m afraid; if you want to make a success of something you’ve got to be determined.’
Me:      (trying not to cry… or seethe too much) ‘Well… okay then, maybe that’s my problem (translation: can we shut up now and drink some wine please?).’
BiL:    ‘You know what you should do?  If you published it on line, that’s where yo’ll find your audience, you’d be out there and they’d see how good your writing is.’
Me:     (fascinated to know how he knows what my writing’s like when he’s never read any of it) ‘Online where exactly?’
BiL:     ‘On the internet, that’s when you’re going to get agents and publishers reading it.  I bet they’re always online.’
Me:      ‘I’ve got a blog.  I’ve got all the opening chapters of every book I’ve written on it.  And the only way an agent is going to see anything I’ve written is if I mail them and link to my blog.’
BiL:    ‘Everybody’s got a blog these days.  You want to just publish all your books on the web, that’s the only way to get anyone to read them.  Everybody’s on line these days – you’d be surprised what you can find on the internet.’
Me: (No. Actually I wouldn’t) (oh, and seethe) ‘If you mean self-publish, then I have been thinking about it lately but I’ve always been wary of it; I’m scared it’ll make me look like I’m blowing my own trumpet and not having anybody with authority actually validating it and championing me… I think I’d still rather wait and get representation.’
BiL:    ‘So if you can publish a book yourself then what’s the problem?  Once you’ve got a book in your hands you’ve made it.  People start reading it, then they’ll see how you write… that’s the way to get noticed, you’d soon get an agent or a publisher interested then. They’ll find your book online.’
Me:      ‘But they’d have to do a search to find anything online.  That’s what everyone has to do – they wouldn’t just happen to find it by accident.  And anyway, I think they get enough manuscripts sent to them without needing to search on-line for one that isn’t even good enough to secure an agent in the first place...’
BiL:     ‘Ah, you’d be surprised. For instance, if, say, they wanted to publish a book about a gardener who drives through Tuscany and all the adventures he has,  they could find it no problem… just type in "book... gardener... Tuscany..." publishers are always on the lookout for the next big thing and they've just got to look on the internet to find it.  Who knows, it could be you.  You just need to get yourself out there.  Get seen, you know?
Me:     (through teeth so gritted they'd be grand in a snowstorm) ‘Wine anybody?


Helen Black said...

Ah yes, the gap between the perception of being a writer and the reality is quite spectacular.

Which is why writing communities both real and on line are invaluable. It's just soooo nice to have people to speak to who understand.
HB x

Caroline Green said...

OMG I want to punch him and I wasn't even there. Many many seethes are allowed!

Phillipa said...


Wwll, even if you are publsihed, you get similar reactions. I went to a party where a former colleague (a nice bloke but not exactly culturally minded) laughed and snorted and said 'what? No you aren't' when I said I was a novelist. He could not compute that I'd had books in shops, on line, readers in many countries etc I don't think his tiny brain could cope.

Karen said...

If I had a fiver for everyone who's mentioned J K bloody Rowling to me in the context of my being a writer I'd be ... well quite well off.

"She's in the news a lot because she's one-off" I respond through gritted teeth. "Hardly any writers end up being that rich and famous." Cue disappointed faces all round.


Caroline Green said...

Karen, me too! That's my bugbear!

Neil said...

When I told my father I had a book deal, he said 'Perhaps you're going to be the first millionaire in the family.'
I said that it was more likely that I would be the first bankrupt.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

So painful to read, and so true. The response to 'I write' seems to go one of three ways:
1. J.K.R.
2. So, are you published?
3. This is the way you ought to
do it...

Rebecca Alexander said...

We may be siblings because I had exactly the same conversation with my brother in February. His comments on my 'wasting time' on an MA were completely patronising, even if my husband got a lot of backhanded compliments about being very patient and indulgent.
I notice if I say I've written a book people say: 'oh, me too, I started my epic novel about two kittens in 1987, would you like to have a look?'

Caroline Rance said...

Argh! How annoying. The conversation makes a great post though, which is one of the cool things about being a writer - even the less pleasant experiences provide us with stories!

RosyB said...

Well I have to say I quite like the sound of your BiL. He sounds like he is trying to be supportive and all that stuff about people just needing to see how great your writing is...well isn't it quite nice that he has all that faith in you?

A bit naive, perhaps, in some of his suggestions (I don't think it's an easy option to self-publish - but there are people who have made that work really well and what IS an easy option, after all?) but I've been thinking a bit about women and confidence recently and I do wonder if there is a point in there (albeit wrapped up in a slightly cut 'n' dried naive and over simplified set of suggestions).

This stuff about "authority". When you read about people who have really taken a risk and made things happen creatively they don't sit about and wait for "authority" to say they are allowed to. If you read about filmmakers and directors and realise just how active and determined those people have to be...well it can be quite inspiring in a way and it does make me ask - is there a tendency for writers and maybe particularly women writers (because women tend to write books more and - err - direct movies less) a bit frightened of "getting out there" and is there a tendency to look for the stamp of approval from some sort of "authority" (whatever that is and whatever that means) too much sometimes?

Life is short and I think your BiL has a point. Not that any of his suggestions are easy fix-its either, but perhaps if something is not working or making one unhappy then it is time to change the approach. It all depends on what the aim is, I suppose, but there are more ways of going about things than just putting all the power in someone else's hands. People go out and make their own films. Quite impressive. People even set up their own publishers. Err. Not saying that anyone should do this. But maybe if you want something you do have to "get out there" (whatever that means for each different person) and he sounds like he is trying to support and help you in his own way.

Lindsay said...

Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if it was that easy! We'd all be happy!

CekaTB said...

I'd have drunk the wine and hit him with the empty bottle, your forebearance is laudable!!! Why do non-writers ALWAYS know exactly what to do to get an agent/published?
The phrase that sprang to mind as I was reading BiL's side of the conversation was OFFS (Oh for ****'s sake)
Love your Blogs

Debs Riccio said...

Thanks for your comments, guys, you'll note that I didn't ONCE tell him how I thought he should be running his restaurant... Oh, hindsight's a marvellous thing, isn't it?!

Kat said...

This made me laugh but also made me sad because I've had this conversation a few times with different people too. They seem to think it's just so easy, and when we try to defend ourselves and explain why we haven't got a book deal yet because actually it isn't that easy, you can almost see them thinking, 'well you obviously aren't trying hard enough' grrrr!

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

And the other thing is when they say You know I've always wanted to write a novel... I grind my teeth and try not to burst back, Well get to your desk and try churning out 90 000 words and then we'll talk! I had an ex who said that more than once and it was a good reason for sending him back where he came from. best, cat

Kath McGurl said...

What is it about writing that makes non-writers think they are experts in it? Would your BiL advise a neuro-surgeon or an accountant or a primary school head-teacher how to do their job? (Actually from the sounds of him, yes to the last of those!)

Grrr-ing on your behalf.

Fionnuala said...


Debs Riccio said...

Thanks for the comments and additional 'Ggrrrr's'! You'll notice I didn't ONCE tell him how he should be running his restaurant - such restraint!