Thinking of writing a novel? Read this first.
You know that old cliché about everyone believing they have a novel in them? Well, I’m a writer of educational resources but I’d always wanted to have a go at a novel. Faced with a very daunting birthday, I suddenly realised I’d better get on with it before it was too late. But how do you write a novel? I had no ideas for plot, genre or style.
Luckily, I have a friend who is a successful author. Write about something you know about, he advised. This was problematic. Would a novel set in the world of French teaching be likely to take off? But I do have a hobby, which is live music promotion. Maybe I could set it in the environment of small-time gigs. But how do you start? Should you have a plot in mind or just start writing? Just start and see what happens, advised my friend.
The first idea was to do a completely fictional rock biography (a bit like a serious Spinal Tap), but after a while, I realised that readers buy biographies of people they are interested in. Why would they buy a biography of someone who’d never existed? It would, therefore, have to be incorporated in some kind of page-turning plot.
So off I went to Eastleigh library (to rid myself of any home distractions) and, as advised, just started writing. Each day I would scribble twenty or so pages of longhand and then, in the evenings, read it aloud into one of those clever computer programmes that convert voice into print. It was a lazy approach, but necessary in order to fit the project into the small available window.
What emerged was a strange book, commercially unattractive because it was neither a thriller, a love story or a travelogue, but a bit of each. Actually, I was quite pleased with it. My author friend, who has no reason to patronise me, said he liked it and would recommend it to his (big) publisher. I showed a dummy to a few friends, and they seemed to like it too. I had initially only contemplated self-publishing, or not publishing at all (merely having done it being sufficient), but now I was wondering about sending it to publishers.
Well, my friend’s publisher never replied to any of my communications, and another expert I approached told me it was essential to go through an agent. Someone who works for an educational publisher I write for was very enthusiastic, saying she’d pass it on to some bigwigs in the fiction department, but nothing happened there, or indeed, with any of the agents I approached. Maybe it was because of their tradition of only accepting the first three chapters. My murder inconveniently takes place at the beginning of chapter 4. Self-publishing it would have to be, then.
It couldn’t have been simpler, really. The son of a friend designed a lovely cover and another friend converted it into a print-friendly format, and within a couple of weeks, a few hundred books arrived at my house. I had a distributor who put it on Amazon and made it theoretically available in bookshops. Yet another friend published it in a Kindle version, and several five-star reviews promptly appeared. As to whether they were all written by friends and family, I couldn’t possibly comment.
A launch party at Waterstones (local author) went very well, and the local paper did a big article (local author again), but then a void. People kept saying, ”It’s great, it’s bound to sell loads”. But how do you make people aware of its existence? It needs reviews, but I couldn’t find anyone, not even the music press, willing to review it. All emails remained unanswered and already, it seems, the tiny buzz has disappeared.
I was aware that it would be a vanity project anyway. After the huge cut taken by everyone en route to a sale, and the high cost of producing a small print run, I’m definitely operating at a loss, even if I do sell some. But just to have done it is enough, and a certain sense of achievement has been attained. To those many people who have asked, ”When’s the next one?”, the answer is, no way. I have to get back to earning a living.