On the brink

(Just to add today, 13th June, I wrote this on June 1st and it stayed gathering dust as a Draft until today).

I expect we all know the feeling of being on the brink of something new.  It may be only a minor change, or it may be something enormous like a life decision.  The feeling links up the mind and the body to disturbing effect.

I experience this often.  In the last few days I’ve been on the brink of making decisions about my work as a writer.  Last year I set up this WordPress site, knowing I should do something public as a writer, having – after a long silence – self-published three books with Createspace on Amazon.  I had decided to give up attempting to clamber back into the traditional publishing world.  I would fling myself into the ocean of self-publishers and take part in all the activities – blogging, engaging on social media, and so on – necessary to promote myself, my titles, and sell some copies.

For some reason, which I’m sure I thought logical at the time, I established the domain name aliveinww2.    This is the title of the non-fiction book, one of those three on Createspace, subtitled The Cousins’ Chronicle, commentary and memoir.  It’s based on family wartime newsletters and of course some present-day cousins – at various levels of kinship – were interested enough to buy copies.  Beyond them, did anyone fork out the eight necessary pounds or equivalent dollars to buy and read this book … very few, if any.  I probably thought that by using the title as domain name I might  help sales.

I set up this WordPress site with this URL and made myself explore the world of blogging.  I began to understand just how every second person in the world thinks they can write.   People sometimes tell Peter when admiring his work, that they’d dearly love to be able to draw and paint but they can’t.  I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t think they can write.  After all, they’ve done it ever since they learnt to hold a pencil.  Of course a lot of people do realise that it is an art like any other.  You need a certain amount of inborn talent to start with, then a lot of hard work, experiential learning and perseverance.

One of the things I’ve found hard is being part of this unregulated world.  There is no quality control at all.   When anyone of whatever merit,  lack of talent or basic literacy can publish their writing, how can readers find a decent read?   I learnt about book bloggers, and decided that this would be a way to reach the kind of readers who might like my kind of writing.  A trawl brought up the name of Teddy Rose who organises digital book tours http://virtualauthorsbooktours.com.  I signed on, full of hope.  (I’m a incurable optimist).   My ‘tour’ ended on May 31st after two months.  As yet it hasn’t resulted in a single sale of the novel I was promoting.

In fact, I enjoyed all aspects of the tour save this non-sale result.  It was fun to answer questions about the book ‘White Lies’.   It started with a wild interview with very jolly Michelle Jordan’s  ‘Indie Review Behind the Scenes Maverick Moment’ Youtube video.  Teddy was a good companion during the strange tour of book bloggers.  An early one objected to be use of the word ‘natural’ for the woman she’d prefer to be called the ‘birth’ mother, and removed herself from the tour.  Apart from this blogger, the reviews  were in favour of the book, eleven in all.  I was pleased because they came from people who – I gathered – usually review novels that are easier to read at speed.  They found White Lies needed greater attention but said that it rewarded their time.  One of the last reviewers (on Amazon.com) said the story “paints a fuller picture of the emotional intricacies of adoption.”  She has an adopted brother.  “This book makes me think outside of the obvious.”   She expresses the hope that, if ever they talk about his adoption, she will “navigate the interaction with compassion, empathy and a whole lot of sensitivity.”  This comment pleased me.  I always hope that my books will nudge people to think about and see their own lives and relationships in a new way, as well as entertain them with a good story.

But how much effect, if any at all, has this tour had on spreading the word about Susan Barrett and her work?  I spent money on it.   I would have liked sales to pay for it.    I don’t expect to make money out of writing – very few authors do.  But I would like to reach more readers.   I also want to give up this business of working at promotion, and get back to writing the novel I’d begun before the bloggers’ tour.  Its working title is Greek Gold.  Today I began the third chapter.  Alex, my main character, is on the brink of a parachute jump.  In fact, he’s been on the brink since January.  I kept him there, alive in my head in that quivering moment, for the intervening months.  This morning I began to put into words my vision of the poor chap  – and he’s still not jumped after one page of writing.  I’ve been waylaid by this post because I have the idea that I will give a page of the site to writing this novel.  That might be a good way of finding the path between promoting work and writing it.

I’m on the brink of a decision.

Who’s afraid of being called elitist?

Who’s afraid of being called elitist?

I am.   I don’t want to be thought elitist.  What’s going on?

The word is used as a slur to describe those who are thought – by their accusers –  to consider themselves superior.  The elite and the elitists – so the thought goes – need to be brought down a peg or two.  Unpleasant feelings hang around the word, both for the accuser and the accused.  There was a sketch demonstrating the ridiculous nature of social hierarchy.   Three men stood in line.  The tallest, played by John Cleese, looked down on the other two; the middle one, Ronnie Barker, looked up to the tallest and down on the smallest; the smallest, Ronnie Corbett, looked up to both.  I smiled but I also squirmed.

Placing a comparison into a vertical structure induces those unpleasant feelings.  Better to remove that structure and see comparisons in a horizontal way.  X is neither better nor worse than Y; they are different.

This morning I asked a Facebook group of writers this question: does anyone consider in this group consider they write literary fiction, as opposed to genre?  The tenor of the responses could be summed up by one word that appeared: ‘dunno’.

The word signalled to me that the writer might be taking a particular stand.  Any moment, in this exchange, I expected the word ‘elitism’ to appear.  Sure enough it did.  It made me think of the trends we are witnessing in the US, UK and Europe.  Dunno is okay.  More than that, it’s expected, accepted and admired.  Down with experts.  Down with quality.  Down with the elite.

But I don’t want to think vertically.  We can see and compare different things in a horizontal way.  Categorising is useful for readers and writers.   I write literary fiction.  I don’t write genre fiction.  I’ve tried.  I sat down to write romance but found I couldn’t.  Humour and satire kept creeping in.  I admire anyone who can write what a great many people want to read.  It may be genre.  It may be the kind of literary fiction that publishers are after at the time, or is by one of the current names with a good record of sales and critical acclaim.

As a reader, I choose literary fiction and I exercise my own benchmark of quality.  What I read has to be well-written, entertaining and thought-provoking.   I aim for the same in my writing.  In recent years, I have tried to regain my foothold in the mainstream world and received enough rejections to try self-publishing.  I enjoyed getting books onto Amazon via Createspace.  But how to find readers – that’s the big question.

I’m sure there must be many writers who, like me, write literary fiction and who may have been published by mainstream publishers in the past but who are now being rejected.  I set up an ebook publishing site in 2010 to cater for these writers, but running the site was too time-consuming and too like my other job – counselling.  It was taken over but is now defunct.  I would like to find writers like me in the self-publishing world: non-genre, literary fiction writers, being rejected by mainstream publishers.  If anyone reading this considers they fit into this category, do please get in touch.

 

Phew!

How do other people manage to set up their personal websites? It is easy enough with WordPress to get a basic site up and running. But it has taken me days and days to work out how to get social media buttons onto the sidebar of this one. I fly about between screens, chasing URLs and passwords and old memos in the deep caverns of my computer and among the loose notes and notebooks on my desk. The worst of it is that I cannot reward myself with a glass of wine at six o’clock. I’m trying to lower blood pressure through diet rather than medication, so no alcohol for a while.
All these tussles and puzzles need to be gone through in order to regain my mojo for writing. I want to find new readers for the kind of fiction I like to write. In the past when I was lucky enough to be published by mainstream publishers, I received lots of good reviews. I can see no reason why there aren’t a number of readers out there who would enjoy my last three novels. But how can we find each other?
I’ve given up on getting any response from agents or publishers, and am now swimming in the crowded ocean of self-publishers, most of whom – or so it seems to me – write fantasy fiction of one sort or another, with an anything-goes kind of attitude to writing standards.
If anyone who happens to read this and is in the same situation as I am – a writer of literary fiction who has been published in the past by mainstream publishers – do please get in touch.