When I finished my debut novel, an 80000-word monster called The Organ Grinder’s Monkey (and Book One of my Rudi and Raven Series for teens), we had just started with “The Problems”.
COVID-19 was rearing its head nationwide, though we were not quite in lockdown yet. There were rumblings, though, and it looked likely. No one quite understood what the implications might be, not then, and so I – like many others – forged ahead with my plans. After all, we hope for the best but plan for the worst, don’t we?
So once I had gone through the editing process, rewritten a few sections, added others and dumped even more, spent agonising hours over cover design and blurb writing, it was time to get my book out into the mainstream. I researched, spoke to people, got an idea of the lie of the land and then got ready to hit up some publishers and see what they thought. Like every writer embarking on the path of novelist, I had lofty dreams of multi-book deals, a yacht, and tons or adoring fans lined up at my book signings.
But…problem. The publishing world was, for the most part, shut down. As COVID-19 gripped the world and people tucked themselves away, two crucial services that I needed joined them on the shelf of things to look at and admire from afar, just not touch.
Printing was one. Distribution was another. Presses weren’t pressing and trucks weren’t trucking. Bookstores were closed. Everyone. Everyone was closed.
Two of the key services I needed, right at the time that my momentum was at its peak…gone, just like that.
So I took the entire process back to the drawing board and quick-timed some research. It looked like, at this point in time, I would get away with an eBook version rather than a paperback. It was not ideal because I wanted the whole bang-shoot, signed, sealed, delivered, and in my grubby little paws. I figured that the Internet would still run, and comforted myself with the statistic that said: 70% of book purchases today are electronic, not print.
I took that stat and held it up like a mantra. I repeated it to myself in the light of day and in the watches of the night. I gave it flesh, dressed it up in neon lights, and told myself: I can do this.
Again, I spoke to people. I joined groups. I took short courses on independent publishing and how to sell through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. I painted a new persona, I bought a domain, set up a website, opened up social media pages and started to build a brand for myself. I listened to Reinhardt, marketing guru extraordinaire and my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach. I put myself out in a way that was uncomfortable for me, and still is, because I am not massively fond of the limelight and likely never will be. I put my face on images and my home on video. I created content. I advertised. I spoke and I wrote and I engaged and and and.
And at the back of my head that one nagging voice kept saying: traditional publishing. Deals. The mainstream. A product I could hold in my hand and wrap my head around. And some wrapping paper. And put a message inside.
So when the world opened up a little and things started to look like they may return to some kind of even keel – even if it is a keel we don’t know, don’t recognise, don’t know how to work with but a keel nonetheless – I opened up those old folders again. The lists of agents, the bookmarks, the query letters, the addresses of publishers.
And I took my book down from Amazon. I hadn’t dedicated the kind of budget required for an indie publisher and never quite felt happy doing so. I formatted my query letters, I painstakingly provided the info they wanted (personal bio, synopsis of this many or that many words, two chapters of this, 10000 words of that). I jumped through each and every hoop and I sent the first ten letters out, with the required attachments, to a somewhat random selection of agents, across the world.
Stephen King, in his book “On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft” tells how, in the early days, his walls got so full of rejection letters that he took to putting them on a spike on his desk. JK Rowling talks of how her book – about a young wizard going to wizarding school – was rejected by 12 publishers.
When my first rejection slip came in, it took me a day to adjust. I put a brave face on it but I didn’t sleep well that night. I gave the idea of sleep up as a bad joke and pottered around the house instead, at oh-dark-thirty, the only company the 50hz hum of electricity in the wires and the Ghosts of Failures Past, Present, and Future.
Then I got a jar. I printed my rejection slip and put it in. I put the jar on a shelf next to a bottle of mead. I first called it my “Well Fuck You Then Jar” and then my “I’ll Show You Jar.” I toyed with “Glory Jar” but it sounds too similar to some other kind of glory-something and I ditched it.
Now it’s just the jar. Lowercase. And when the second rejection slip came I added it to the jar.
You could say, really, that I’ve arrived. I’ve finally taken my place amongst many others who have gone before me. If the lowest thing that could happen is a rejection slip, then I guess it’s only uphill from here.
Time to finish the second book. I’ve put it off for far too long.