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Writer of songs, writer of articles, writer of poems and reviews, but never a novel. So, why did it take so so long?

The long slow road to publication

Okay. I know. I’m a bit of a slow mover and unlikely to blur your snapshot, metaphorical or otherwise. And I have been really touched by your responses through so-shall meedyah, eee bah gum mail and in person - I know I am a tortoise not a hare – but I am getting there and I thank you all for your patience. But yeah. I get it. It’s taken a lot of time to get to this point. Let me explain…

Getting a publishing deal is not easy, especially if one doesn’t really want one. Unless one is famous, or has a track record in publishing already or has contacts in the business here’s what to do if you want to get your first novel published with one of ‘the majors’: Forget it! For a start, just to get someone to read it, one has to go through an agent and I don’t want an agent. Agents – like apples, like eggs – can be good, bad or indifferent but I didn’t want one of any sort. This I knew from the off. More interested in keeping ownership of my work, control of copyright etc. than fame & wealth, it took me rather longer to realise that what I was seeking was a deal that would provide good distribution more than anything else. Quite simply, I wanted to keep complete artistic control whilst still finding a way of ensuring that anyone who wanted a copy could get one. To use an analogy from the music business (that folks of my generation will understand) it became obvious I needed to set my sights on a Cooking Vinyl or Rough Trade equivalent not EMI or Virgin. Now, come on – is that really so much to ask? And by the way, unless you are a writer yourself you would be amazed just how few copies most new books sell and how little money the writer themselves make,  whoever they are with – for every Dan Brown there are a million Robert Ellands.

This be the verse and here be the thing…

In the music business, the mantra is “There’s a market for everything”. Key to this is stimulating an interest where one did not necessarily exist previously, by and large, by supporting creativity that they can see a business opportunity in, and not the other way round. And yes, I did nearly choke as I wrote that. Musicians I know will be hurling their herbal teas/Jack Daniels at their computers as they read, but folks, let me tell you: compared to publishing, the music business is a Utopian meritocracy. Yes, really!

I’m generalising of course. There are exceptional publishers and editors and agents but what I have learnt over the last couple of years, after switching codes as it were, is this: In publishing it appears to be mostly about recognising and following markets rather than creating them. The irony being that the really big hits emerge despite of, not because of, this ultra conservatism. Put simply: The best stuff is rarely the bestselling but when it is, rather than seek out more, the revenue is ploughed back into reinforcing the barricades of the frustratingly archaic filter system they have always used.

Indulge me just a little more please… This being the sphere of ‘The Arts’, it may shock many who have no knowledge of writing as a profession, that when presented with a manuscript, the first thoughts of the potential publisher (or agent) is not “Is it any good?” but “Who could I sell this to?” - artistic merit and creative potential being desirable, but absolutely and completely non-essential.  Am I simply over-stating my case simply to make you think about it? Well, yes – you know me – it’s how I roll but… Am I completely wrong? Hmmmm? Well? Am I?

No wonder so many people with a genuine talent, far greater than mine, can’t get a look in and have decided to self-publish or go with a small independent and good luck to them all I say.

There’s nothing like rejection for inspiring self-examination and I know (having met a couple) I am no genius (though I’m probably easier to live with because of that and will always do the hoovering when required). Still, I know from the statistics/damned lies provided by my website that enough of you have enjoyed reading my dribblings - and some even take the time to tell me so, for which, thank you – it means the world.

I am writing because that is what I am compelled to do now and I am surprised by that as much as anyone. However, for a long time, the majority of those I managed to reach ‘in the business’ have essentially responded – when they responded at all - in one of two ways:

  1. Your writing is great but would be too difficult to ‘place’ or

  2. Your writing is great but you need to get an agent.

The fact is that over a year or so, I approached nearly a hundred publishers with ‘Love & Light & Marzipan’ and got 4 offers. Contracts were actually drawn up with one company in May 2022 but I opted not to sign when I read the small print on how the royalties were being carved up.

But the point - if there is one - must be this: I should be writing not faffing about with agents and publishers - the irony being I guess, they are the folks who are meant to cut the faff. I have 3 other (potential) books at various stages of completion and magazine stuff to do, and really they are what I should be focusing on, not royalty percentage figures for print-on-demand sold through online sales as opposed to warehouse sales through high street stores. Which leads me to…

I am delighted that I have been able to sign up with the most excellent folks at Troubador and that ‘Love & Light & Marzipan’ is available now (officially published on June 28th) on their Matador imprint, and available through the usual sources; the ubiquitous Amazon, chains such as Watersones and Blackwells, your local independent book shop (our favourite!), plus the publisher’s own website, my website etc. So rest assured: I'm on it (kind of...)

And now?

And now I can forget all about it and start writing something new…

Big love

Rich M/ Robert E

P.S. I would like to record my special thanks to everyone who worked on the publishing side - they were amazing - Joshua, Jonathan, Kelly Et al.

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