I once wrote a story based on observations I made of some friends of mine. The story evolved, and eventually I had something that not even my friends could identify themselves as, which to my mind was best. The story grew and evolved again, and after a while and quite a bit of gestation, I had in my hands a fully formed novel, suited for young readers.
It’s a tale of a kid who’s a very keen sportsman, but is outgrown by his fellow team mates. He looks to what’s around to help his shortcomings. What he discovers helps him enormously, but he inadvertently finds himself the target of bullies.
I was a target of bullies since I was very small, so bullying has become an important part of my being. Being softly spoken, gentle and kind, humble and non-assertive makes me appear weak and vulnerable in the eyes of some, so I become a target very quickly. Writing this story became for me a very cathartic experience, and I’m glad I wrote it. It became far more than just that though, and everyone who went through it, from beta reader to test subject really appreciated it. I reckoned I had something special on my hands.
Kid-lit is a tough nut to crack publishing-wise. Every other parent who’s read something to their youngster at night seems to think they can do better, so numerous publishers are inundated with all manner of works, to the point where their submissions departments will not accept children’s books at all.
Regardless, I sent the manuscript away. First to an agent, who in typical fashion rejected it without explanation or clarification why. Then I sent directly to a publisher who had an opening for this sort of thing. One morning six weeks later, an email arrived from that publisher with an approval to print. There was even a contract attached to the email. I was expecting a rejection slip or nothing at all, and instead an actual bona-fide contract turns up, accompanied by extremely favourable comments about how well it was written and how commercial it was.
The author’s dream. I was thunderstruck.
Throughout the day, I had my regular weekly medical appointments, which are never fun. I had left the contract to read that night, swimming through the day on a genuine high. None of the dire grind of serious specialists around me seemed to matter as much.
Finally I arrived home and settled down to trawl through the contract to make sure everything was in order. Uncharacteristically, I even printed it out. This was serious. I read the document, and then after my addled brain started to ring alarm bells, I read through it again.
There it was in black and white. I’m an unknown. They don’t want to publish my book without my help. They were insisting on a co-operative effort, and that included funding. They had their hand out – an astonishing sum. Far beyond anything I could have even remotely hoped to put my hand on. My high crashed. The contract was useless. This wasn’t “publishing” my book, this was printing it for me. For the same price I could have paid self-publishing site Createspace to print thousands of copies and then made TV ads to air promoting the title and paid for freight to bookshops all over the world.
I went to bed that night broken. Six weeks. Six precious weeks. Did I mention medical specialists? Yup. I’m not going into details, but I don’t have all the time in the world. Far from it. Six weeks is for me an awfully important amount of time. Submitting to someone else now, and not just six more weeks (one publisher was asking for six months!) but add weeks for the holiday season and all sorts of other things, and I wouldn’t hear from anyone until after my medical problems become centre-stage in my life, probably for months, possibly for the rest of my life, in the new year.
To my mind, the opportunity has passed. The story will go untold, quietly put away, my softly-spoken voice made even softer. My, how the publishing world has changed. I had hoped my work would reach those who would benefit from its lessons, mindfully written so as to resist being preachy or didactic, instead being entertaining, insightful, heart-warming and memorable. A publisher was vital, as kid-lit requires specific distribution and marketing expertise unavailable to self-publishing. Instead, my writing falls silent and still, vague glimpses emerging only as blog posts, observations made on social media and the occasional email. My self-published novel Terror in the Ranks isn’t selling despite efforts, my resources too limited to take measures needed to penetrate where needed to secure sales.
Continued approaches to agents go unanswered, even those advertising for new authors. Direct applications to publishers may still go out, but by the time some publishers might find it in themselves to respond, so much more precious time will have passed, and passed right into time I can’t deal with worrying about publishing books. Some publishers choose not to respond at all, as if such discourtesy is an appropriate gesture in any professional relationship.
The lesson learned is it doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, and it doesn’t matter how good your book is, even when it has already been green-lit for publication. If you’re not a hustler – and a wealthy one at that – more than you are a writer, your own book will go nowhere.
I love my creations. They are my children. I will love them always, even when it seems being good enough is still never good enough.