Loanless

Trenton library

Trenton library’s automatic book dispenser

There are bad times in a writer’s life. Like the times you realise that less than 11 people in the UK have borrowed your books from libraries.

Like many sensible authors, I’ve signed up for the PLR scheme, by which means I get 9p per book borrowed in the UK. Sadly, they don’t pay out amounts of less than £1. You already know where this is going. I’m receiving nothing this year.

I love libraries. I believe in them – I’m employed in one and have had roles in a number of different libraries through my not-very-varied and not-at-all-illustrious working life – from security guard to cataloguer, I’ve seen a variety of libraries and loved them all. So it’s a personal thing that I should be falling down in the public arena.

There are good reasons for not being borrowed, of course. My book probably isn’t in most libraries – that’s the most obvious thing. I’m not prestige. I’m not the sort of author the casual reader will have heard of, certainly not to ask for. And this must be true of the majority of authors, especially those who have self-published.

All of which leads me to ask: what’s the point? Why do we put all this effort in if the rewards are so slight?

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It’s worth emphasising that this isn’t about money, though that would have been a nice bonus. It’s about the feeling of being read and appreciated. The heartbreak is accentuated by seeing all the more successful authors on Twitter with what I know to be more readers and more acclaim (and don’t get me started on Awards Season).

I know, I know, it’s wrong to compare – and I know that there are people looking up to me as if I’ve got it made; people who see me as occupying the next rung on the ladder. I’m not unsuccessful. I have a novel published and another on the way. What do I want, a medal?

I guess I’d like to be read. I’d like to be appreciated. I’d like to think my career is moving forwards.

[Note on the forthcoming novel: it’s a sequel, and sequels never sell as well as the first novel. True fact. So I’m not placing that much hope in it for career-development purposes.]

So the news about my lack of library issues has hit me pretty hard. Just… what’s the point of being a bottom-of-the-barrel author? No money, no respect, no sunlit uplands for me.

But I will keep going. I will keep writing and keep struggling to make a career as a writer. It’s still what I dream of. I still believe in my abilities in writing and in storytelling. I will go on. I must endure.

Besides, lack of library loans just means that everyone has already bought my book, right?

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The wild rumba of revenge

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Someone must own the copyright to this but I can’t track the artist down. If it’s you, please get in touch so I can credit you

So I’m due to have a book published late 2018. I’ve been working for this for over a decade: I got my first full-book request from a publisher back in 2007, I think it was. I’ve sent out well over 100 queries – maybe it’s more like 250, I’ve not kept count. A lot, though. And now finally I have the solid prospect of publication.

So why do I feel so numb? Why am I not screaming for joy, quaffing the champagne of victory and dancing the wild rumba of revenge for past rejections?

Everyone is delighted on my behalf. People keep congratulating me and it’s hard to know how to respond. Of course, good old-fashioned modesty and reserve is part of it, but it’s more than that.

Part of it is distance. Publication is a year away and I haven’t yet got to grips with the schedule; I’m sure things will get exciting as promotions happen; as events are inked in and momentum builds. At the moment all I have is the (not entirely unpleasurable) puzzle of filling in questionnaires and trying to remember what the damn book’s about.

There’s also a degree of scepticism. I have faith in this publisher (in case you’re wondering, I’m holding off from naming them at the moment because I know they’re still working on a dedicated imprint-website and they have their own schedules that I don’t want to hijack) but I know that things go wrong.

A colleague of mine signed with a small publisher in Texas only to find that it was basically a single person who promptly ran into difficulties and the whole enterprise fell into a morass of rights-issues and recriminations. Now I don’t think that’ll happen with me – I was confident enough to sign a contract, after all – but things do go wrong. Money dries up. Backers withdraw. Shit, as they say, happens.

But my reactions are more down to the fact that this one act of good fortune hasn’t made me a different person. I have a promise. I have some degree of status – eligibility to join the Society of Authors, for example – but I’ve not changed. I’m still exactly the same person that I was yesterday; still a jobbing writer who’s struggling to create and to make a career in the field I love. If anything I feel less human as a result of signing a contract, not more complete.

It just doesn’t feel real.

And I’m pretty certain I’m not alone in this. It’s not quite impostor syndrome as I’ve not yet infiltrated the circles in which I might be disguising myself. It’s the emptiness of success. The realisation that dreams are only a start, and achieving them is less than you could ever imagine.

Shepherd

Beware (again) that this business is not all it’s cracked up to be. ‘Success’ is not something you can step into, not something that can be put on like a coat. I suspect that I’ll never be successful because that pose comes from within.

Work hard. Work for your ambitions. Take your luck when it comes and keep, keep, keep on trying.

But remember that success won’t change your world. It won’t complete you. Make sure you have family and friends around you because they’re a much truer gauge of what you are than a name on the shelves. Don’t forget why you wanted to ‘succeed’ in the first place.

 

‘He’s not the Messiah…’

I’m not doing what I should be doing. I’m putting off my work, opting instead to carry on with Other Things. I feel guilt.

The work in question is, of course, my latest revision of Night Shift. As I’ve said previously, I did a rewrite for an agent and got a ‘disappointed’ (mentally converted into maybe a D minus) back. The good news is that she wants me to have another go. The bad news… Well, there’s no bad news as such, save the damage to my ego and confidence. But I’m not getting on with it. Not yet.

Writing is a job and you can’t always choose when to work, can’t summon up the perfect mood – or muse – at will. So feeling a bit down is no reason not to crack on. But writing is an emotional game. I’ve been slogging at that damn novel for far too long now and I think I need a little more time to get myself together. We all need time away from a project so we can come back to it with fresh eyes, and mine are still a little jaded. Right now I can’t face starting from scratch; can’t face drawing up proper plans, character profiles and the like. In other words I can’t face doing what I should have started off by doing.

The other factor is that I’m not – have not – been idle. As soon as Night Shift went winging to the agent back in February I pulled out Australis and set about a good hard editing. Now, again at the risk of repeating myself, Australis has been a problem child since it was a few months old. I’ve said before: it just wasn’t working. For reasons I’ve never quite been able to decipher it was – well, it was just dull.

So as soon as NS was dispatched I accessed that cobweb-covered file on the hard drive and started to rip Australis to shreds; to really get my teeth into it and tear it into its component pieces. With rare determination I attacked the damn thing and completely redrew the characters, added new ones (and a new murder) to the pot.

This has involved a lot of new writing – it looks as if most of the last half will actually be fresh, virgin words. Almost like starting over. And it’s still not finished yet; maybe I’ve another month at current speeds. And, as ever, I’m barely ahead of the pen in terms of plotting. I’m still working out where I’m going, groping in the dark with only a flickering candle spitting and spilling hot wax onto my fingers for illumination.

I’ve decided – I think this is sensible – that it’s better to finish this draft of Australis before going back to NS. That’ll mean I’m not dropping my plot-reins in mid-flow and also gives me time to read up on the flaws that made the agent ask me for more work. Gives me time to study, to think – and to not-think, an underrated exercise – and to come to the work with enthusiasm and decisiveness.

I think this is sensible. But I feel terribly guilty.

This is all part of the learning process. When you read articles about ‘How Author X first got into print,’ you meet the facts. They tell you – honestly – how they went about it. What these articles rarely tell you is how it felt on their journey. How many times they wanted to give up. How many times they stared in despondence at a blank screen – and then summoned up the will to get the hell on with it. 

It hurts. It hurts so damn much. And it’s all the worse because you know there are myriad other things you should be getting on with; that normal, everyday stuff like cleaning the house, doing the shopping, earning the wage. And, in my case, finding a new job as I Horlicks’d up my last interview.

I’m sure I’m doing the right thing by delaying my re-rewrite. But intellectual and emotional are two diff’rent worlds, and ne’er the twain shall meet.