23 OCTOBER 2012
A week or two ago I engaged in an interesting exchange of tweets. What started it off was this from @Kelsye -
‘Asking a poet to handle all their book marketing is like asking a swimmer to play line-backer. Different skill sets entirely.’
Here is my reply –
‘The sporting equivalent of the successful modern writer must be a triathlete - three gruelling disciplines that all involve endurance’.
This attracted some attention and got retweeted by @Island_Cowboy, causing me to respond –
‘Thanks for the RT. It sounded good when I said it - now I have to figure out exactly what the three disciplines are ...’
What was in my mind at the time was the fact that I have often likened writing a novel to running a marathon. Despite Wendy Loveday managing to write one in a week (I still can’t get over that), for me, it’s a long-distance event requiring steady application, day in, day out, over what can be one or two years. To complete the analogy, flash fiction is a sprint while short stories equate to, say, the 1500 metres. As to where poetry fits into this, I’ll leave that up to the poets.
Marketing your work is similarly long-winded. There are very few of us who are able to achieve instant success and for the vast majority it’s a case of settling down for the long haul. And as I have learnt over the last few months, blogging and tweeting is tough, time-consuming and there’s no guarantee of getting results.
More recent events have given me an insight into what the third and most critical of these disciplines must be. Besides being able to spend long hours at the writing table and then on the computer and the telephone promoting their work, the successful modern writer needs a level of mental resilience that would test the patience of a saint. This skill, to be able to accept the vagaries of the publishing industry and ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ that it brings is equally as gruelling and involves just as much endurance as the other two.
You will no doubt gather from this that I have received another setback – and you would be right. In my blog ‘Back To The Future’ (10 October), I indicated that I was due a phone call with a prospective agent to discuss my debut novel BIRDS OF THE NILE. The call duly took place and I have held off any comment until the outcome was clear. Initially the agent ‘loved it’, ‘really wanted it’ and told me it was ‘beautifully written’ but wanted some changes. I agreed to make a proposal as to how these changes would be done and how long they would take me and sent it off.
They say that no news is good news but in this industry I have invariably found that not to be the case. Good things seem to happen quickly, book deals are done on the spot and if somebody really wants your work it gets snapped up. No surprise then that after a week’s silence the news that came back was bad.
The sticking point is the fact that my book has been round the block once already – as I outlined in ‘Sob Story’ (20 August). Despite the fact that the book has been considerably improved, my prospective agent is reluctant to go back to those publishers who have seen it before and rejected it. So now I find myself unagented for the second time – and hence the ‘Damaged Goods’ of the title.
My analogy of the successful writer being like an athlete is not without personal experience. I have been a jogger for as long as I can remember and I regularly run a couple of miles a day. My reaction to yesterday’s news was firstly to kick the cat (metaphorically of course – I don’t actually have a cat) and then go out for a three mile run, just to prove I could do it. Similarly, I’ve heard enough comment about my novel to know that I can write, that it’s a great book and that one day it will get published.
In the meanwhile, if there are any agents or publishers out there who would like to read a well-thumbed, slightly shop-soiled version of BIRDS OF THE NILE, please let me know. I’d be happy to let them see it.