This will be the first guest spot in a while, so who better than fellow Hirst scribe and good friend, J.T. Wilson… I’ll allow him to introduce himself.
The Indie Chart
Hello, I’m JT Wilson, and in 2010 I had the novel ‘Cemetery Drive’ published by Hirst Publishing. It’s been twelve months since I proudly announced my first foray into published writing and in that time I’ve been on a journey where there’s been a lot of laughs, a lot of tears, a lot learned, and a lot of clichés written in the pre-ambles to pieces. So what have I learnt from my life on an indie publishing house? Here’s some of it. Please don’t take this as any sort of guidance or advice: I never said I was a role model.
1. Being published doesn’t immediately mean a one-way ticket to stardom
I held lofty dreams as I wrote ‘Cemetery Drive’ that I would march into my workplace one day with a huge advance contract and announce “So long, suckers! You’ll see me holding the Pulitzer!”or something. When the publishing deal was agreed, I dusted off my speech and wondered if my employers would even get the Pulitzer reference. Perhaps not. Of course, things don’t pan out like that. I realised that I would have to sell somewhere in the region of 10,000 copies to be able to indulge in writing as a career. At last count, I’d estimate sales to be about 150. Still, I’m not alone here: Robert Rankin was still working as an artist and carpenter when the Brentford Trilogy was published; Franz Kafka never did quit his job; and a friend of mine had a book published through Publish America only to receive a royalty cheque for $1.86.
2. Everyone is a writer
When I was publishing stories on LiveJournal and quietly hacking away at ‘Cemetery Drive’, the only other author I knew was the prodigiously talented Die Booth, whose artwork adorns the cover of my book. Suddenly, however, I announced the publication of ‘Cemetery Drive’ and everyone’s an author. Here’s a family member who has always wanted to write a novel (by the way: if you want to write a novel, just, y’know, do it). Here’s a work colleague who’s writing romantic comedy on the quiet. Here’s a professional wrestler who’s already had a cookery book published (I swear I am not making this up). Here’s a guy you wouldn’t think could string two sentences together who writes poetry. It’s bizarre how many fellow authors show up. And that’s before you get to the amount of authors who are with your publisher and doing amazing work.
3. People who have no interest in your book are apparently fascinated at the prospect of a sequel
It’s all very well being a writer and shutting yourself up in an ivory tower where you can write books about being a writer who shuts themselves up in a dark tower, but unless you’re Stephen King, this shit won’t wash and you have to engage with the public in the hope of hoodwinking them into buying a copy of your book. Book signings mostly involve talking bollocks with other authors under the guise of selling, then going to get pie-eyed with the authors/publisher/whoever to toast a successful day’s work, but there are parts of talking to the public too, of course: engaging with your audience and all that. Bear in mind, of course, that unless you’re Dan Brown or JK Rowling, the public in general won’t have a clue about the content of your book so be prepared to explain the plot many, many times over the course of the day. Other people will always be able to summarise your plot better than you will: feel free to steal their summaries for your own use.
The most interesting thing I’ve found from the signings I’ve done, though, is that people will always ask “is there a sequel in the pipeline?” or similar. This is shortly before wandering off, not buying your first one. As nobody who asks this question at signings has ever bought my book, I have no idea what the correct answer is to this question. In my case, the true answer is “I’m writing another book, but it’s not a sequel to this book” but the correct answer could easily be “No, I’m retiring from writing after this” or “Yes, this is the first in a 487-part series.”
4. Nobody will ever appreciate your art as much as you do
The funds for the publication of ‘Cemetery Drive’ were generated by people pre-ordering the novel, which is a massive risk for a debut novel, of course: people are buying the book on the expectation it’ll be good because they think you’re witty or incisive or smart or hot, one of those things anyway. And when they actually read it and like it, and can prove this by quoting segments or lines or plot parts, that’s a shock, although a shock that’s good for your ego.
But as much as people will love parts of your book, people won’t love or even understand all of it and your favourite character or segment might get totally passed over in reviews, brutally edited out of the audio version, and generally unloved. It’s the same as being in a band- you might enjoy playing a four-minute bass solo, but that doesn’t mean everyone else will.
A related point, although perhaps not enough to note separately, is that no matter how long you agonise over whether someone will notice the blatant reference to their characteristics or even their name, you’ll get away with it about 99% of the time. But then, I once played a song called ‘Sarah’ at a gig where the Sarah who the song was about was present, and she never raised it, so draw your own conclusions.
5. A bizarre combination of ego and shyness can occur in some situations
I used to go into Waterstones and look at where my book would conceivably be (next to Jeanette Winterson I’d hoped) on the shelves. Now it’s actually in Waterstones I can’t go in and look. I want to know what people think of my book and have reviews on the website and all that but I’m too shy to pry too much. People have pretty much only said nice things about it and that’s good and all but surely someone didn’t like it? Like who? And why? And yet I can’t bear to ask.
6. Anything is more exciting than work
Whenever I’m asked “what made you decide to write the book?” I don’t know how to answer the question and look away, mumbling awkwardly about compulsion. There isn’t a conscious decision to write. I wrote ‘Cemetery Drive’ because I felt that I had to, and that I had to before the idea withered and died. When I then expanded the story outside of the novel with additional parts, it took an entire week and I was convinced that I’d gone completely insane but I did it because once I’d thought of it, I had to do it. The second and third novels, which are in semi-complete stages, are being written because I feel that I have to write them. Of course, with no deal to write a second book and no clamouring demand for it, this necessity to write exists only within me. Still I am compelled because I am compelled to write.
But on the other hand, writing can be massively frustrating and tedious as soon as it feels like work. Whenever I had some free time, I’d work on the book, but if I didn’t feel inspired, I’d just end up reading Wikipedia. Tonight, I was supposed to be editing 20,000 words out of ‘Cemetery Drive’ for the audio version and yet here I am writing this. The comedian Dave Gorman, out of ideas for his novel, learnt about Googlewhacking and wasted his publisher’s advance on meeting Googlewhacks rather than ever writing one word of his novel. If writing seems hard, it won’t get done.
In the second of this series, which will be published no later than 2016, I’d expect, I’ll be reporting back on my life on the bestsellers’ list, having a £12million film script and fretting over which yacht to buy. Stay tuned, reader.
‘Cemetery Drive’ can be purchased directly from the publisher, or from any good book stockist. An eBook version is in the pipeline (really? Joe asks.Yes, says Andy, I know things you don’t. :p).