Thursday, 11 July 2013

"Wait! Hold that Bandwagon!"

For me, self-publishing has always felt like the ‘elephant’ in my room. That's the room called Rejection’ because it's where my manuscripts which were heartily rebuffed by Literary Agents, reside. Of course ‘heartily’ is completely the wrong word to use – that’s the infamous self-flagellation talking.   I actually had some really nice rejects – no, seriously, I did.  At one point I was even on first name, chatty e-mail terms with about three Agents.  Ah, those were the days.

So what’s my point? (note: excessive naval-contemplation and digressive meanderings – this will be referenced later).  My point is that if any of my 4 self e-published novels had any proper literary merit then it stands to pretty good reason that they’d have been taken on by an agent at the time of subbing.  But they weren’t.  One of them got quite close – you know the story – the re-writes – the end changes – the re-writes – culminating in (and I nearly said ‘inevitable’ but why inevitable? Why should I be such a defeatist?) Rejection.

I can’t say that I was buoyed by the e-publishing ‘movement’ and felt that the time was right for my rejected manuscripts to land out there in the w.w.world for A.Reader, his wife and his brother to buy and perhaps enjoy.  But I can say with hand on heart that I went into self-publishing with extreme trepidation.  In fact so trepidatious was I that I changed my author name to my maiden name so that nobody who knew me ‘properly’ would know it was me.  And I kind of sloped them onto the system.  Oh, I did tell some writer friends and announce it on Facebook but that’s never felt ‘real’ to me anyway.  Anyone on my screen is (in my head) a cyborg and part of the Truman show; not the real world where there are Sainsburys, dirty dishes and dog poo.

I never  imagined that I’d get good ‘sales’ figures.  I assumed (rightly) that if I advertised any of the books FREE for a few days, that downloads would increase because everybody likes something for nothing, right?  Right.  They do – the numbers stratospherically soar when there’s £0.00 to spend.  Especially if a freebie co-incides with a weekend or Bank Holiday. And I’m not knocking that.  For me, if it’s downloaded, that means it’s on somebody’s Reading Device and for it to have got on there, buttons would have been pressed, decisions made (it’s free – the opening paragraph isn’t sh*te  therefore I’ll have it) and my words have been passed on.  I could say that really this is enough and all I ever wanted but I’d be lying.

I’ve had some reviews on the books I’ve got on Amazon.  Only 3 of them (out of a combined total of no more than 10) are from ‘proper’ readers – i.e. people I have never ‘met’ either in the flesh or through Facebook/Writing circles.  So these three are the true judges of whether my books are good or not.  To me, anyway.  I’m  not knocking the ‘others’ who are FB friends or whatever but they’re bound  not to say anything  terrible about it because – well, writers have such fragile egos don’t they? And I’d never say anything detrimental about another writer’s book I’ve read. 
 
So here (endeth the blethering and meandering, naval introspection) is what I say to you  today, dear Strictly fellows.  I have only today noticed a previously undetected icon on Amazon.co.uk which asks you if you’d like to read your reviews from Amazon.com as well… Well, I answer: that’s very nice of you, I didn’t realise there were any, yes please and thanking you most kindly.
*gulp* (that’s me reading it)
*gulp* (that’s me re-reading it.  Also *wide-eyed*)
*gulp* (yep - a third time.  Please add a broadening smile, a nod and a loosening of the shoulders)

This person is my Simon Cowell – this person – who read my book from (brilliant, witty, hopeful) beginning to (rambling, hackneyed, bitter) end has explained everything to me that I already knew but was pretending might not be (all) true.  And along with telling me how poorly executed my story is, the reviewer also added that if re-written I could have pulled it off successfully.  Hope floats.
*Perhaps they’d consider becoming my Agent?

We writers are always banging on about not taking reviews personally aren’t we?  This book was the first one I ever wrote. It was started 10 years ago,  was written during an enormous personal upheaval and should have remained as torn, tear-stained sheets of therapeutic A4 in the ring binder it started out in.

It wasn’t so much a story as a confessional memoir. It was a cathartic key to dealing with the bereavement, divorce and disillusionment I was battling with at the time and the fact that I changed the characters names did nothing to protect any parties involved.  The dead stayed dead, the divorce went through, but I was able to work out why both relationships were doomed to failure.

The fact that the book is also littered with humour and wry observations doesn’t make it any more a ‘proper’ book.  It actually just proves I deal with personal tragedy in a very Carry-On way.   (Example: I can still remember the horror on my mother’s face as I laughed like a Hyena when she told me her own mother – my beloved Nanna – had just died.  See?  Wrong.).

So, even though the reviewer didn’t know it, they actually got very personal about some very real stuff I was going through.  My main character (that’ll be Me) was a big Nellie and a wuss and handled stuff badly. That was when she wasn’t being melodramatic and contemplating her naval.  Well, this I already knew.  I just didn’t realise I was such a badly drawn fictional character.  Maybe if people had told me at the time to stop acting like a drama queen, grow some balls and get my life sorted out rather than write it to death, then I’d be in a very different place from the one I’m in now.

Anyway, what this Review has taught me:
  •  Never publish anything that’s personal. It could bite you on the arse.
  •  If you want impartial approval you ain’t gonna to find it in the mirror. (That’s the creative writing mirror; I’m not suggesting your lipstick’s the wrong shade or anything).
  •  Stop bloody waffling, woman and get to the point (that’s the creative writing point; I’m not suggesting I digress, meander or anything… although saying that…)

I have another book (contemporary women’s fiction – romcommy, wry, no cupcakes involved) that I was dithering over pressing ‘upload’ onto Amazon because it Wasn’t Good Enough for Agents.  I even made a cover for it  and everything, but I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson and I am going to start listening to my ‘gut’ a bit more.  Like I said, it didn’t ‘feel right’ at the start but I felt left out so did it anyway – but now I’m entering a new phase of my life called Second Guessing. And it’s about bleedin’ time.
Nice cover: shame there'll be no book

2 comments:

Derek Thompson said...

Wow. That's a banquet of a post, Debs. There's so much there to choose from, and I don't want to hog the screen, so here goes...

It seems to me that most reviews are from people we know, at least initially, because they're the only people who know about the book. Also, Thompsin's other review law is that people have to feel strongly about something to make time to post a review. So, by definition, in the main, they're either going to love something or hate it - 50/50 odds. I know I never review something as, "(Sigh.) So, so." In a strange way I look forward to my first bad review for Covenant, which is also self-published. I think it's just something we need to accept.

I think it takes courage to draw upon one's own life experience for writing fiction - the more so when it's dealing with emotions honestly. In a sense why wouldn't we use personal experience? It's taking the maxim 'write about what you know' at face value.

The whole publishing / self-publishing debacle has become snagged on how we measure value. Is it 'x' sales or 'y' in the bank? Or perhaps it's neither. Maybe it's the satisfaction we as authors get from knowing that someone, somewhere, is reading a book that would otherwise not exist without us. I have a couple of ebooks out there through an e-publisher (we should talk about them for your next book) and feedback has been great while sales are small. Meantime, my own book (see above) was self-pubbed in paperback and ebook. Feedback has been small while, relative to sales, I've been financially surprised.

Agents and publishers have a fiercely financial eye on everything now (picture Mad Eye Moody from the Harry Potter books - it's what I do), and not every submission they receive fits their model. We're not all going to the ball, but we can find other, equally interesting (and in their own ways, rewarding) destinations.

And, for the record, I think it's a great cover and a great premise. We should talk...

Debs Riccio said...

Bless you, Derek, you're always so nice to me :)I LOVE that cover I spent about a fortnight designing, and I still love the book that lies within it - trouble is Agents don't - or they "don't love it enough" they tell me. A lot :( SO why should I feel it's worthy of letting loose on an unsuspecting audience? What makes me any better at judging what the reading public want?