Gardens have timescales quite different from ours. Owners depart, ampoule and new people move in, [...]
Getting your words into printCreated by Charlotte in Being You, Learning
Self-publishing’s easy now. Why not turn that scribbled novel or childhood reminiscences into a book? Bring in oodles of cash, like E. L. James. So say put-your-work-into-print companies. But as someone who’s been self-publishing for more than twenty years, my view is slightly different.
I never set out to do it. As a garden-loving stay-at-home mum, I wondered who the people were who ‘became’ plants, like the rose ‘Dorothy Perkins’, and lovely cottage pink, ‘Mrs. Sinkins’ – who was she? Two years’ research followed into the stories behind some 100 plants, whereupon I tried to get publishers interested. No dice. So I thought, ‘Stuff it – I’ll do it meself.’
Back in 1991 that meant establishing an imprint and ISBN, paying for, storing and despatching the books, trying to get reviews, answering the telephone, invoicing, paying in cheques, VAT returns – Yikes! Luckily ‘Who Does Your Garden Grow?’ was a success, and was reprinted twice before the rights were eventually sold to an American publisher.
At last there was time to write a novel with a gardening background – Scoffing the Primroses. Eventually, accompanied by test readers’ enthusiasm, that did the round of agents and publishers. How naïve. I wasn’t aware that who you know is what really matters in the book world. No-one wanted even to look at a novel written by someone without contacts. (Agents and publishers do get swamped by would-be authors, so some weariness is forgivable. Cronyism is not.)
It was back to my own imprint, and the book was duly produced. A light-hearted story, that still leaves something to ponder, cannot constitute a ‘good read’, the literati sneer. Be serious! But John Carey, Oxford’s Emeritus Professor of English Literature happened to read Scoffing the Primroses, and said it lit up his day and stayed in his mind. I blessed him for that. There were other enthusiastic reviews, and people bought multiple copies to give to friends, especially if they needed cheering up.
Even so, it went out of print until last year, because I needed to concentrate on researching and writing a humorous exposé of contemporary art, for all those who greet the Turner prize entries with, ‘You must be joking!’ Fiction again (to avoid litigation) Art and the Revolutionary Human Fruit Machine entertainingly reveals what the media dare not say, in a story about a wonderfully talented artist who takes on the money-centric world of modern art and has the last laugh. Published in 2012, it’s clearly struck a chord with readers, who’ve been writing to say how much they enjoyed it.
And yes, it’s under my own imprint. Print-on-demand, ebooks and the internet mean it’s never been simpler to produce a book, bypassing publishers and agents. So should you do it?
Well, in some ways things are more difficult. Too many books were published before, and with thousands of self-published titles added who’s going to know, or care, about yours? Amazon may list the title but we mostly buy books we hear about, and publishers not only pull strings but spend fortunes on publicity. Be realistic. There’s only little old you to promote it, and even if rip-off print companies are avoided, prepare to spend money, not make it. Against that, a book is somehow special, written maybe for the family, the local community, or just something of you that won’t get chucked out when they clear the house. With luck.
In years to come, when people marvel at the con trick that was ‘contemporary art’, and ask, ‘Why were people so gullible?’ Art and the Revolutionary Human Fruit Machine will prove conclusively that not everyone was.
by Alex Pankhurst, Earl’s Eye Publishing