Monday, March 28, 2005

Far too much about me

A recent commenter on the GOB has asked for a little more information about me; in particular he requests info on how I started my publishing company, Kingsfield Publications.

Good grief.

Well, there is a bit more about me on my Blogger profile -- see column to your right. By the way, if you look at that page, be aware that the user stats are out of date (Blogger's problem, not mine), and the 'recent posts' aren't very recent; again, that is something that Blogger tell me they are working on.

Should you wish to know even more, go to the Kingsfield Publications web site, where you will find a Links page. And the first link there is to a site devoted to my 'career' as a writer. The information given on that second web site is intended mainly to be of interest or value to book trade and media professionals. General readers of the GOB will, I suspect, find more there than they could possibly wish to know.

Incidentally, I must do something about that photograph. It is ten years out of date -- or maybe fifteen. Of course it is standard practice for authors to use photographs which take ten years off them, but in this case it is the result of sloth rather than vanity.

Here are a few remarks about fiction-writing 'careers' in general, and mine in particular, which may be of interest to the ambitious ones among you.

First, be aware that, even if you fight your way through the thicket of indifference and find a publisher who wants to publish your stuff, said publisher is going to want you to stick to the same genre and style as were used for your first book. This is even more true if you have a big success.

What readers want (it is said, and certainly believed by publishers) is a brand name. Readers want to be assured that if they pick up a book by John Grisham or Danielle Steel it is going to be the same sort of book that they read by that author last time out.

What this means for writers is that, even if they are able to make a living as a writer, they will find themselves forced to go on writing the same thing over and over. This can be very tiresome. Agatha Christie grew so weary of it that she took to writing occasional novels of a quite different kind, under another name (Mary Westmacott).

In my case, I had some success in writing crime novels under my own name (the Spence books). But after I had done three of them I found that I really didn't want to do any more. Until I retired, a few years ago, all my writing was done in my spare time, after a fairly demanding day in educational administration. This meant that any writing that I did in the evenings had damn well better be fun; and churning out the same sort of book, time after time, was not my idea of fun. Which is how I came to 'throw away' -- if you will -- a promising career.

What I ought to have done, if I was anxious for greater success in terms of cash and reputation, was to go on doing more of the same. I might then have been able to generate some television interest and might have become as famous and successful as, say, Colin Dexter, with his Inspector Morse books.

So be warned. Choose your genre early and well, and be sure that it is something that you would be willing to spend a lifetime at. In my own case, I have done all sorts and kinds of different books -- everything except a western. I haven't regretted it at all, but it has limited my earnings. I have not become rich and famous, but I've had more enjoyment from writing than I would have done otherwise.

As for how I began Kingsfield Publications...

Well, as part of my professional life in education I was involved in running a small university press, which published academic books. I also had overall responsibility for the management of the same university's internal printing department. These two experiences, over ten or fifteen years, meant that I developed a good working knowledge of printing technology and book publishing, in addition to what I already knew about writing books.

When I retired I intended to go on working in the traditional way, offering my work through a literary agent and being published by mainstream publishers. However, because of pressure of work I had not done any fiction for a good few years, and when I started again my agent found that modern publishers were not particularly interested in someone of my age: they were looking for younger talents, preferably ones who looked absolutely drop-dead gorgeous in a black mini-skirt.

At the same time, fortunately, I realised that huge changes in printing technology meant that it was now possible to print and distribute books in new ways -- what is called print on demand, or POD. So rather than continue with the frustrations of going the old route, I went down a new one.

Setting up and running a small press is theoretically a fairly straightforward business these days, requiring extremely small amounts of capital when compared with the costs of even ten years ago. However, before you rush into it, please remember that when I started I had the benefit of a good working knowledge of both publishing -- from the publisher's point of view -- and the printing trade.

Another point to remember is this. So far, everything that Kingsfield has published has been my own work, written under a variety of different names according to the type of book it is. In principle, I may one day start to publish work by other writers; but that day will not come soon. In the meantime, the KP site carries the following announcement:
A note for writers: To avoid disappointment, please be aware that Kingsfield has a full programme of books planned for the next two years and is not in a position to consider unsolicited submissions.
Believe it or not, that means what it says. So please, for your own sake, do not send your masterpiece to me. I do not read and advise on mss, not even for money. For one thing it is a difficult job to do well, and for another I really don't have the time or the inclination.

If you really can't make any impression on agents and publishers, and are dead keen to see your work in print, the best option, I suggest, is not to set up your own press but to publish your work through one of the many firms which now offer to do the job for you at a modest cost. Of course, these firms vary from the fully reputable to the totally fraudulent, and you will have to spend a long time on research. But then quite a lot of the work involved in writing is sheer drudgery, so you should be used to it by now.

One UK-based firm which looks as if it offers a reasonable deal to authors is Matador. One or two writers who have done books through this firm have subsequently landed deals with mainstream publishers.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your quick and no-nonsense respone to my query. I spent the first 35 years of my working life in newspapers, so I do appreciate straight-foward answers. I continue to be amazed at the many different paths that lead to the same destination -- publication. Your GOB efforts are greatly appreciated.

Vince Vawter

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your comments about having missed out in the "wealth" department yet still enjoying what you do--I do believe you mean that. Many writers say the same thing, but spit the words out with considerable venom behind the words.

As far as Print on Demand, it's the "Wild West" of publishing, with some good books coming out--and many just plain awful ones as well. I only wish there were some control over the quality. But then I can certainly say the same thing for what's coming out of the "traditional" houses as well.

Suzan Abrams, email: said...

Hi Michael,
After reading and shamelessly enjoying several of your entries, I've reached a position however,where I'd be terrified to send you any manuscript! Still, it's nice that you're fully booked for 2 whole years.
What you were saying though about the genre bit, was very interesting.
My friend, Rani Manicka who had her first book - a family saga in an exotic location - published by a top company in London, had to fight through hell and high water, to get her second novel (Touching Earth) published while set to a completely different theme. Clearly all the authorities in question in England, Europe (where her works were translated) and the USA wanted another Rice Mother. She got her way at the end, after much difficulty and is now considered by her publishers, fondly no doubt as somewhat of a rebel! But the US refused to take on her second book as a sign of protest and is now waiting to buy her third as a replacement for an earlier 2-book deal.

Kate Allan said...

I found your blog from a link posted by author Anne Weale on uknovelists e-mail loop.

You are right with what you say about author brand names etc, but what if what you want to write isn't really published by anyone?! Are you not better off trying something different?