There's an old cliché in the ink stained trade from which I hail, "Every journalist has a novel in him, which is an excellent place for it."
But in 2004, when I was young, dumb and full of cum, I paid no heed to caution or wisdom. I had a daredevil idea, for a non-fiction book about jails in the USA, and submitted the proposal to several literary agencies based out of London.
Over the years, many learned figures had told me that getting a literary agent is harder than landing a deal with a publishing house; but, if you have one, you are supposedly halfway there. Little did I think that writing a book about jail would turn out to be a prison sentence in itself.
However, back then, I struck oil fast. A reputable agent wanted a powwow at his luxury offices in Notting Hill. The Old Duffer had some good news. Headline, a big-ass publishing house, wanted to option the proposal, but needed two chapters before they would give me an advance.
Now, wait just a second! No advance for my True Crime meets Travel book? I smelt a rat. All the same, I went undercover in several jails across the USA to get material for an extract. To cover costs of the expedition, I wrote a feature about the subject for the Daily Telegraph and was interviewed on the BBC. I had done my bit. And demonstrated the ability to get publicity. Now it was up to him to place it.
But there was no deal from Headline or any other such publishing house. It was horse manure. After two years of carrot and stick, I gave him the boot and spiked the project. And, in a matter totally unrelated to any business dealings with me, the Old Duffer passed away soon after in 2007.
Despite another three expeditions behind bars for the Press, I forgot about doing a book on the subject matter entirely. Then I met a literary agent at my old club in London -- a dark, pretty, Italian with a husky mafia voice. It was lust at first sight.
Mafia Lady wanted to sign me to her fancy pants agency. I dusted off the four-chapter extract, synopsis and personal bio. While she was busy selling it, and she was highly confident that it could be placed, I was tasked to complete the rest of the manuscript.
But wait, not again! No advance! What about an advance, for crying out loud? Mafia Lady told me that "in the current marketplace first time authors are not deemed worthy of an advance" and that I would have to "come up with a whole manuscript." I pointed out that it was like building a house without materials but it fell on deaf ears. Mafia Lady gave me the old industry line: publishing is in crisis, make do and mend, keep calm and carry on.
Shocks soon followed like thunderclaps. Without consultation Mafia Lady had retitled the manuscript. I queried this and she snapped, "You will have no choice about that anyway!" Then, in a moment of operatic pique, she confessed to being the rookie of the agency, a pusillanimous salesperson, who had not been able to place any of her clients' titles. Undaunted, I finished the manuscript, but Mafia Lady told me to "fugetaboutit" and deep six it with the fishes. After three and a half years of Sardinian baloney, I terminated my contract with the agency and returned to square one.
"Your father and his crazy blonde girlfriend were drunk... he hit me with an ashtray... I think he was aiming for Miles Kington."
The Emperor Penguin said that the sins of the father would not visit our relationship and asked me to reduce the manuscript to 80,000 words. I got cracking. He was pleased with the end result. But, after all that work and effort, he changed his mind and wanted me to write a Fanny Trollope book about Americans being unsophisticated. My eighty-year-old dad from Massachusetts got wind of this and volunteered to go round and beat him up again.
Nevertheless, I consoled myself with the facts. Publishing is in crisis. The role, and importance, of literary agents has greatly diminished. A third of UK titles are now self-published. The Kindle and the eBook reader have made things more egalitarian for the pre-published author. It was time to assess the eBook options. And chase up some publicity.
I put the manuscript out on Book Baby, an eBook platform. They designed the cover. I was pleased with the result. And I got to have my own title. But the hardest thing for an eBook author is getting publicity for your product. I wrote an article for VICE and that generated a lot of interest from TV and Radio outlets who wanted to interview me. Sales are steady but the book is no best seller. Not that I am bothered: writing it and getting it out has been its own just reward.
I wrote a book and it did not stay inside of me. But just when I had given up on literary agents, an email arrives from another wanting a powwow. Thank you, but no. Until I get a big fat advance, and the star treatment in some luxury Notting Hill offices, I am content to ePublish and be damned!
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