Sometimes I start to wonder whether self-publishing may not be such a bad idea, when I find myself asking the cat: What if it really does just come down to a question of marketing?
Here's part of a rejection email that I received from a UK publisher last year:
"Our reader liked your manuscript and we seriously considered it for our list but in the end we felt that we would have limited success in trying to commercially market it in the current climate."
That's when you really want to get on the phone and discuss things, argue your case, try to work out how they know in advance how the public might react to the book. "Look at all the lousy decisions you made last year," I would say, nicely. "This year you could take a gamble and it might just pay off. Discover me!"
But no. You don't ring. You know you're not supposed to ring and try to change their minds. You are supposed to stay rational, calm and professional. Just sigh, then moan, then get on with it.
The email that I refer to did give other clues: the fact that the main character is a New Zealander, and the action takes place in France not the UK, complicates the mix. I drew the conclusion that the publisher thought it would be difficult to market this to a UK audience. This has been hinted at by others - mostly UK agents - who've looked at the manuscript.
That is why I am now trying New Zealand publishers - no response yet from the first publishing house that I've approached. I hope they won't see the book as too "different" to what they normally publish. If these NZ avenues are exhausted without success, the question of self-publishing will certainly have to be an option. Could I make a go of it myself, if it's just a question of marketing?
(Of course, it may be something more than just the marketing and commercial considerations. The story may be crap. The main character may be totally unappealing. The writing may have nothing going for it. I do ask myself these questions all the time, despite the nice comments I get every now and then.)
On the subject of which books are printed in which countries, and which books readers of certain nationalities are likely to warm to, I was pleased to read a recent blog entry from the head of Macmillan, Richard Charkin:
"Every now and again I feel moved to do an update on Macmillan New Writing, our programme for finding new fiction talent which was memorably described as a Ryanair (cheap and basic) concept in Charlotte Higgins's piece in The Guardian. The publishing business model is quite simple. If we can avoid losing money on individual titles the occasional discovery will allow us to make a modest profit overall. We've managed the first part of the equation successfully. All the titles have performed decently but none of the authors has 'broken out' into the really big time. We think we may have found our first mega-seller..."
The book he was talking about here was Never Admit to Beige by Jonathan Drapes, an Australian writer. Yes, that's right. A UK publisher has struck rich - well, kind of - by publishing a story that takes place in Australia, written by an Australian.
Whew! Stories from Down Under can work here then! Although, I mustn't overlook the fact that this is about a Brit who goes to the Gold Coast. Mmmm. Hold that glass of champagne, Mr Shameless!
No, hang on a minute! My story takes place in France! What about doing a translation? Publish the book first in French? That could be a very good marketing line: "New Zealand writer breaks into print by publishing first English-language novel as a French translation."