Some of you will know what it’s like as an independent author. You lose all your friends because you’re always ‘on a book’ and so they get fed up of inviting you to stuff to which you never turn up. You get so preoccupied with writing an original take on murder that you can’t make up your mind between an Indian takeaway and a pizza when you suddenly remember you haven’t eaten since breakfast last Tuesday. Then when the delivery boy arrives with your dinner you give him a whole back story of useless parents, teenage delinquency, falling in with the wrong crowd, ending up in the youth justice system and now turning it all around with a job delivering Chinese takeaways (The Indian restaurant was engaged and you couldn’t find the number for the pizza place and anyway, you prefer Chinese). The poor lad is probably a model student with great parents who’ve brought him up well and he’s now doing his turn in the family business. But not to your crime writer’s imagination, which has got him down as the leader of the youth wing of the local triads and sinking meat cleavers into the necks of his father’s business rivals every other Monday.
You wolf down the chicken in black bean sauce with egg fried rice at lightning speed accompanied by a couple of large glasses of the only half decent red wine the corner shop had. Thank God for screw tops. It’s been months since you’ve been able to lay your hands on that corkscrew. Then once you’ve fed and watered yourself you go back to the other side of the mirror and continue to explain just what that character is doing with a garotte in the spare room of his semi in Birmingham and why he’s soundproofed the walls.
Then one night on the local news you hear the story of a local author made good. There he is, face smiling all the way to the bank, brought up on one of the roughest estates in Manchester and the father of 11 children. He’s never had a job and couldn’t even read or write until he was 48 and a half and a great grandfather. But then, helped along by a social worker intent on him ‘turning his life around’ and a creative writing course at Salford university, he writes a novel based ‘loosely’ on his life. The novel is billed as a ‘tell all’ story of what it’s like to grow up on the wrong side of the tram lines. Then another book follows and they’re now being optioned for development into TV dramas in a bidding war between the BBC and Sky. The producers of a couple of soap operas are also knocking on his door to see about him joining their script writing team. It’s a rags to riches tale to warm the heart of even the most diehard fan of right-wing TV commentator Katy Hopkins.
So you think to yourself, ‘I live in the northwest too. Maybe that same publishing company who made an overnight star of this other guy could help me too? Maybe they could look at my crime fiction which is all set in the Manchester area or close to it and maybe they could think about publishing me too? So you contact them. The company is run by a guy who sounds like Terry Christian and he asks you to send in your stuff. He explains that they’re only a small publishing house that’s previously only been into magazines but that now they want to diversify into fiction, particularly crime fiction. So you send your stuff to him and he responds a few days later saying he loves it and wants to talk about working with you. Yes, he will publish the books you’ve been nurturing for years. Yes, he will put you in print and have you on the shelves of Waterstones and WH Smith. Yes, the ebook versions of your work will be available for sale almost immediately.
And there you have it. You’ve arrived. You’ve made it. You’ve got a literary contract. You’ve stepped out into the bright new world of being a published author. I repeat, a published author! You don’t have to take those skeptical looks anymore from friends who’ve always doubted whether or not you’d ever make it. Next you’ll be storming up the charts, featured in the Sunday supplements, and the bidding war won’t be between the BBC and Sky, but between Hollywood producers. Book me a flight to Los Angeles! Nothing less than Business class and find me a hotel in the hills above the studios with a panoramic view of Santa Monica and the Pacific. And if the producers don’t bite in the end then it’s back to the BBC where you may get a curled-up cheese sandwich in the canteen at media city. Or if you make it to Sky they might run to a microwave curry.
Grind these fantasies to a reluctant halt.
You’ve got carried away on the dream of becoming a fully fledged published author.
What can sometimes happen when you sign with a small, independent publisher is that you find out that they don’t actually have the distribution deals they spoke of but that they’re ‘working on it’. You see your titles going up the Amazon charts but they haven’t sold enough yet for you to get paid any royalties. They tell you they’re going to do this, that, and the other and when those things don’t happen it’s because of blah, blah, blah. I once arranged a book signing at a Waterstones store to which my publisher said he’d give me a lift. Then the day before he said I’d have to make my own way there because he’s bringing his wife and kids so they can go off shopping and there won’t be enough room in the car. Sorry, but I thought the signing was all about me? To be fair he has invested in the paperback versions of my books but I’ve had no control over pricing and taking much less in the way of royalties.
So I’m now publishing everything I produce on my own through Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords etc. Perhaps some of my experience could be put down to me getting carried away and not properly scrutinizing the contract I signed and I don’t feel badly towards my publisher. We got on well and I like him personally. I just feel frustrated that signing with him didn’t give my career the kick start I thought it would and with the reality that I’ve had to push everything. I’m now happy to publish independently until an agent comes along who can get me a proper deal with a big name publisher.
I’ve just published ‘Sorceror’ which is the first in a series featuring my new detective Jeff Barton and I’m very proud of it. I felt much better about this because I was in complete control over everything and I can monitor what’s happening to sales myself. If I want to introduce a special offer I can and I don’t need anybody’s permission.
So my friends, I mean this post to be a cautionary tale. I’m not saying that nobody should ever sign with a small independent. Sometimes the experience can be glorious and can lead to fame and fortune and recognition that you truly have arrived as the new genius in the literary world. I’m just saying that you should thoroughly look into the contract you sign and extensively research the people you’re signing with so that you know they can back up what they’re offering.
Merry Christmas everybody and wishing you all great success with your work in 2014! And keep an eye on those flight schedules to Los Angeles. You never know when you might need them.