One of the other attendees at this party was Sir Harold Bailey, who was one of the most distinguished Fellows in the College's history. An Australian by birth, he was Professor of Sanskrit, and spoke an indecent number of other languages besides. It is said that, when he visited an Academy of Sciences in one of the small Soviet Republics, he addressed them, to their astonishment, in their own language, Ossetic, which even then was almost forgotten. They were so impressed that they presented him with a Cossack uniform, which he wore proudly when he had his portrait painted.
Anyway, during the course of this garden party, Sir Harold and I fell into conversation (as you do), and I remember very clearly one of the things he said to me. The gist of it was as follows: if you have spent your life studying something, you should make quite sure that you publish the fruits of your research; otherwise your time has been wasted.
This was not, of course, a staggeringly original thought. Although I do have to point out that, in those far off days, it was perfectly possible for a scholar to spend twenty or thirty years on a subject without having to worry about publishing anything. Today, of course, any academic who doesn't publish half a dozen papers a year is hardly likely to hang on to their post. And the fact that no one in the entire world troubles to read those half dozen papers is considered of no consequence whatever.
All of which gets us back to a point I made on Tuesday of this week, namely that there are a considerable number of thoughtful and intelligent people who are prepared to use the internet to give us the cost-free benefit of their experience. Another of these is the novelist Ian Irvine, and I was pointed towards his work by a commenter called L'etranger, who turns out to be a blogger in her own right.
Ian Irvine runs a web site which, as you would expect, is devoted mainly to plugging his own novels. It contains, however, a substantial amount of information which is of great value to ambitious writers, and is clearly the result of long and sometimes painful experience.
Sample, for example, the section entitled The Truth about Publishing. I was going to pick out a few juicy quotes, but really the whole thing strikes me as being so down-to-earth and sensible that, if you are even thinking about writing a book, I can only advise you to read the whole piece. I will, however, draw your special attention to Lesson 10A: You're not published until you're in print, and sometimes not even then. It runs as follows:
In a more lighthearted vein, Ian offers A Guide to Success. This was originally written for the HarperColins Voyager web site, and although there are humorous touches there is also an enormous amount of good sense.
Deals fall over for all sorts of reasons, so don’t count your chickens until they’re roosting in a thousand bookshops. Here are some of the most common problems.
There was a ‘misunderstanding’ when the publisher made your agent an offer for your book. You don’t get a publishing contract after all, or you get a contract but a worse deal than originally offered.
The publisher goes bankrupt before your book is published. If they’ve paid the advance, you keep it. If they haven’t, you’re back in the queue.
Your editor leaves or is fired and her replacement hates your book and decides not to publish it. You keep the advance though.
The publisher is having a tough time and decides that they would lose money publishing your book, so cans it. You keep the advance and, if you’re lucky, they might pay you a small sum in lieu.
The editor loves your book and offers a terrific hardcover deal and great promotion, but the sales department or the major book buyers don’t agree that it has big sales potential. You get downgraded to paperback, with little or no promotion, and your potential income and sales are massively reduced.
Your book is found to be libellous and the publisher doesn’t want to get sued, so they cancel publication, or if it’s been printed, withdraw the book and pulp it. You’ve violated your contract and have to pay back the advance, and they could even sue you for their losses.
Your non-fiction book is proven to be fraudulent, ditto.
And it is all, as I say, free. So if that doesn't persuade you to read one of the man's books, nothing will.