NOW and again, I’ll be speaking to a number of extraordinary authors about their views on, and experiences of, the publishing journey.
Award-winning author Bill Kirton is probably best known for his gritty character-driven ‘Jack Carston’ series of crime novels, which started with Material Evidence and has, so far, run into four sequels: Rough Justice, The Darkness, Shadow Selves and, more recently, Unsafe Acts.
But there is much more to Bill than writing crime novels. He has written stage and radio plays, songs and sketches for revues, flash fiction, short stories, stories for children and books aimed at helping students to write effective academic essays and dissertations. In a former life, he has been a university lecturer, actor, director, TV presenter, visiting professor and artist and a university writing fellow.
With all this experience behind him (as well as some extraordinary talent), Bill can turn his pen to just about any writing genre. The Figurehead is a romantic crime novel set against a moment in history and The Sparrow Conundrum is an hilarious crime spoof splattered with ‘multiple absurdities’ and it is no surprise that it has hauled in two awards for Bill, so the laugh’s on him.
Bill has been traditionally published and self-published. Below he gives his spin on both:
Let’s start with the good old days, when you could only claim to be a writer if a publisher said you were by accepting one of your books. Those were the days when, among others, George Orwell, William Golding, Stephen King, John le Carré, Joseph Heller and even J.K. Rowling weren’t writers because their ‘absurd’, ‘uninteresting’, ‘dull’ ‘rubbish’ (all direct quotes from their rejections) was refused over and over again.And if they weren’t writers, what hope for the rest of us?
I was lucky, an agent liked what I sent her and a publisher agreed with her, so I was allowed into the club. Some two years (sic) after I’d first sent it to my agent, my book appeared – hardback crime novel, unknown author, fifteen quid. At that time, the mid-nineties, you could buy a small house for not much more than that (which is obviously rubbish but it’s poetic licence, so there). Anyway, it meant no clamouring queues outside bookstores. And that’s relevant because, if your agent said to another publisher, ‘This author’s already published a couple of books’, the publisher didn’t ask ‘Were they any good?’ but ‘Did they sell?’.
But those were also the days when publishers provided really good editors. Yes, they still exist and they’re vital factors in the creation of good books, but back then they had much more power and could add significantly to a book’s quality and impact.
Then along came Amazon. The result? Mainstream publishers were even less likely to take risks on newbies. But also, newbies could form their own club, an asylum run by the inmates maybe, but inmates who started using the new rules to their advantage. Amazon had made it possible to format and publish your own books as ebooks and paperbacks FOR NOTHING. It was (and is) a publishing Eldorado, but with qualifications.
First, because anyone can now publish anything, there are lots of books with glittering blurbs and five star reviews (probably granny-written) which are rubbish. Bad spelling, appalling grammar, nonsensical stories which have never been through any editorial filter. But there are also thousands of excellent books – fresh, exciting voices which challenge the stereotypes of the rigid old genres. You just have to find them.
And that’s the other bugbear – marketing. The old cliché featured the consumptive poet lying alone in a cold attic, coughing blood into a silk kerchief as he mined his soul for beauty and truth. Today, the deathly pallor has given way to a smiling mugshot and the kerchief’s been ditched for a mouse as writers sell themselves on Facebook and Twitter and plug books to ‘friends’ and ‘followers’, most of whom are doing exactly the same thing.
So is it worth it? Emphatically yes. We now have a sense of control – over our covers and blurbs as well as our stories. We can check our sales figures every two minutes if we want – and there are no middlemen creaming off percentages. And today, we know we’ll be published.
You can find out all about Bill at his website: http://bill-kirton.co.uk