Time for the Book Doctors

December 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

A few unknown writers are lucky, their unpublished manuscripts land on the desk of some publisher who is so enthralled by what he reads that he is straightaway on the telephone making arrangements to fly to India to meet the writer (The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy). Perhaps we should take these stories with a pinch of salt. No doubt there is a bigger gap between reading the manuscript and booking a flight.

To us, unpublished writers, such stories might be happenings in a foreign land. We send our manuscripts to publishers or to literary agents: to say that no one is excited about them is, it seems, to understate the matter. No publisher wants to read more than the three chapters sent. Even if they do praise them, they defend their lack of interest in reading the entire book by saying they cannot imagine a market for it.

We, unpublished writers, must embark on a different kind of offensive. We will win a prize in a literary competition: we shall come to everyone’s attention. We will no longer be an unpublished author but an award-winning one. We shall have a tag line, at last. Twenty competitions later: two other novels started and eight to ten short stories written, and over £200.00 in entry fees and related expenses spent, we find that we have realised none of our ambitions. We are just as obscure, just as unpublished, but even poorer. These results are not such to give us confidence. We might even be obliged to draw some unflattering conclusions: we cannot write.

Literary agents, apparently, think nothing of unsolicited submissions and deem them fit only for the rubbish bin. If unpublished writers write such rubbish, why are we, competition entrants, not winning all the competitions we enter? So we do not believe these literary agents: the world is not teeming with hopeless writers. Or perhaps the truth is that we are even more hopeless than the hopeless writers.

What next?

We have tried to get published, as an unknown; we have tried to win a competition and failed: is it time to stop writing? Are we a little slow on the uptake? Or is there yet one more thing we can do? We have not sought professional advice. When we seek professional advice, we pay for it. That is the hard part. We had hoped to earn some money from our writing, but now, contrary to all our hopes, we must pay someone to read our book. (People have to be paid to read our books.) Will it be more money thrown away? Of course, we have these fears, but we remind ourselves how much time has been ‘wasted’ already. Perhaps we must now ‘waste’ money. Money, in theory, can be made again but lost time is lost forever.

Last Christmas the children’s book I had planned to send to a literary editor turned out to require more work. At the end of August, eight months later, that work had more or less been done. I have yet to reread it all. I daren’t! I might discover once more that it is far from finished.

So at the end of August, on a wave of inspiration, exasperation or utter delusion, I began a new novel. A new one! Maybe I do need professional advice of another sort. Hugh Walpole wrote the very readable Mr Perrin and Mr Traill in three months. Wouldn’t it be something if I could write a novel in three months, as opposed to three years?  My idea for the book was not new, about five-years-old, and I felt: There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.

At the end of four month­−I am not as good as Hugh−I fancy, I see the finishing line. Who knows it might be a mirage? In any event, this is the book going to the literary editor not the children’s one. I hope it will be an interesting experience, and not a matter of paying hundreds of pounds to be insulted.


The book is untitled, at the moment. The germ idea: St. John, tried and executed for a murder he did not commit, returns some fifteen years later, a ghost, to help two ‘unsuspecting’ detectives solve the case that is about to be reopened.





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