Researching publishers and editors in depth, honing letters and email proposals to them, assembling different forms of synopsis and samples, dealing with the comeback (or lack of), and negotiating with publishers over the past nine months, has been hard work. It has also occasionally been stressful: the arrogance and offensiveness of some has beggared belief even by today’s standards. I’m afraid to say that with one or two I was driven to repay them in kind. I shall be revisiting John Dewey’s comments and George Orwell’s essay on the subject and comparing them with my own experience in a future post. The personality obstructions have sometimes been dire.
But altogether it has been a much more varied and positive experience than I was expecting. After all, I had three offers from quite big names, even though these offers turned out to come with conditions that I could not accept and the publishers never considered compromising on. The most impressive publishers were the three or four who responded immediately, asked for samples or the whole thing immediately, read them promptly (in one case, even, over the weekend), then sent me civilised emails explaining in detail why the book wasn’t for them. The reasons they gave made impeccable sense, but I couldn’t have foreseen them, so I don’t regret the exercise.
Most publishers take up to three months to reply (I think this is just about acceptable), or don’t respond at all. Since January, I have approached 43. I have had 15 rejections, 3 acceptances, and applying the three-month rule I’m sure I am now never going to hear from 16. That means I have nine still ‘in hand’. Some of these are actually quite promising, but as my last proposal went out on 14 September I may not know what the outcome is until the middle of December…
All things conspire, then, to get moving with Plan B. The book MUST and WILL come out next year, the 150th anniversary of George’s birth (2 December). It would be terrific if one of the nine commercial/academic publishers took it on and met that deadline, but in case they don’t we must start work on the alternative now. The groundwork has been done over the last few months. Younger heads have persuaded me that if ‘publishing’ means ‘putting it out there where people can read it’, then Kindle is the cheapest for writer and reader alike and, even, the most effective. I feel no sentimentality about this. Yet it is undeniable that the biography has old-fashioned-book-biography aspects to it and ought to have a hardback edition. Printers, publishing outfits and binders have been researched for that and I shall be visiting some of these soon for firm quotes.
So the present Plan B is to produce a limited edition in hardback to the very highest standard, then to go with Kindle, assuming the illustrations can be fixed. Kindle, of course, are run by Amazon, and if a customer doesn’t want an ebook but a paperback, they will produce it. There seems no point in my publishing it in paperback, as that will never encourage anyone else to bring it out in hardback, and Kindle/Amazon is cheaper anyway.
I take this opportunity to thank all those who over the past few years have encouraged me to self-publish and recommended ways of doing it: Anthony Cross, John Dewey, June Goodfield, Robert Jeens, Patrick Marber, James Muckle, Harvey Pitcher, Andrew Tatham, Carole Welch, Anthony Werner.
The timetable for Plan B is to have the self-publishing all set up by the middle of December so that we can go if all the commercial/academic approaches have failed by then. This means we are aiming to bring the book out by the middle of 2018, giving us the marketing hooks of the 150th and the centenary of the end of the War.
Well…all I can add is: Watch This Space. I will report on progress every so often, whilst continuing to blog weekly on a wide variety of topics. This week I have completed the first draft of the last thing I shall ever have to write for the book: the Acknowledgements. On my last count, there were 243 institutions and individuals to thank. At 2759 words it is almost another chapter. I do hope it does not have to go through as many shreddings as the blessed Introduction.
I shall continue to visit Waterstone’s, Heffers, newspaper book reviews, the Web etc on the lookout for possible publishers, but I think it is now statistically unlikely I shall find any. Yes, I admit: I am relieved that proposing to publishers is over.