I’ve been an aspiring novelist for a few years now and in this time have written a three-part trilogy, which explores long-term relationships, gender and society. I sent the first book, ‘Splitting The Difference’ off to various agents and distributed a few copies to friends and family. Despite huge and unrealistic expectations on my part the response was more of a whimper than a bang. Friends and family said nice things once I’d refuted all accusations of writing from life. I made the two main characters a man and a woman of a similar age and situation to myself and my partner but there all similarities ceased, for example, I’ve never been stabbed, worked with a premiership football manager or got involved with a police operation to bust a child abuse racket and my partner hasn’t been blackmailed by a would-be mistress and work colleague. The agents all replied politely saying pleasant things about the story and writing style but were basically saying “thanks but no thanks; not for us”. I then set about researching what might be done with the novel and ignoring the warnings about new writers’ work disappearing into the black hole of self-publishing, went ahead and invested money in a company that edits, produces covers, offers some marketing help and places book on various on-line book marketplaces. My book is still available on Amazon and has been reviewed eight times. The reviewers say nice things about its page-turning, highly believable and compelling qualities but that is as far as it has gone.
I still have hopes for my book though because In these days of #MeToo and academic fourth-wave (if I’m not mistaken) feminism I haven’t come across an account of what it is to be an ageing woman today that is as honest and recognisable as my story and one that does not court political-correctness, commercial gain or media popularity. Now and again I listen in to some of Radio 4’s book-related programmes. Although I find Mariella Frostrup’s tone and manner rather too middle-class and entitled I do find her series ‘Books and Authors’ interesting. I was listening just this week to a back episode that covered the new phenomenon of book bloggers. Mariella was interviewing two bloggers: Lucy Pearson, 2017 book blogger award for the London Book Fair and Moira Wilding founder of ‘Moira’s PR and Communication’ company, which, amongst other things, writes blogs for money in order to promote books. Mariella asked Lucy and Moira about the essential differences between their blogs and surprise, surprise, it came down to money! Lucy talked of her blogging as “coming from a place of love and wanting to share her love of books and reading”, whereas Moira was engaged in a commercial marketing exercise in which blogs were less “personality-led” and written in a more standardised fashion in order to sell books.
I started to think that this conversation about differently motivated book blogs could almost have been had about the act of writing novels. Most first-time novelists are trying to create stories that they care about personally. The hours and hours that are taken in researching, writing, editing, let alone marketing and promotion are given to the world as an act of love; a gamble that, in terms of probability, is unlikely to pay off. Successful novelists, their commercial gains usually assured, craft stories that generally do not challenge the status quo like their earliest works and are perhaps a little further from their original, authentic voice. Not surprisingly the gate-keepers of the literary world, i.e. agents and publishers, are much more busy in promoting established writers and so the closed-group strengthens and the somewhat nepotistic dance carries on.
By the way, I took a look at Lucy’s book blog, formerly known as ‘The Unlikely Bookworm’ and now, since her London Book fair win re-named ‘The Literary Edit’ and it is quite a slick and yes, very commercial site.