Spit it out

It’s better to light a candle…
than pay for electricity.

William Shakespeare said: “Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honour, I lose myself.” That, of course, was back in the days when we didn’t have honour sat-nav.

The problem with honesty is that it can disengage an audience faster than the phrase emotional rollercoaster. And when it relates to the practice of writing, well, I don’t want to burst anybody’s bubble…

Oh, go on then, you’ve twisted my arm. 

Writers, as a bunch of people, are:
– Superstitious (favourite notebook, anyone?).
– Obsessive (just one more edit and then I’m done).
– Prone to fits of frustration, depression, and utter, bloody bewilderment.
– Incredible optimists and terrible pessimists.

And why is this? Well, in my opinion, it’s because we have set ourselves goals that we have no overall control of. This is true of most of life’s ambitions, but cut me a little slack please for the promise of a good tale in a minute or so. We write, we edit and we craft away like a happy elf, only to hand over our precious literary progeny to strangers. And then we wait.

Okay, story time. Make yourself uncomfortable, blanket at the ready. Then let us begin…

30th June 2011 – The sun shone and the birds sang like angels. Why? Because an independent publisher whispered those magical words though my inbox: We are happy to receive submissions. I sent off material from my Brit thriller, Standpoint, the next day.

13th October 2011 – I ping the editor and a few days later receive this tantalising morsel: We are due to discuss at next editorial board meeting. Holy criminy, this could be the one!

23rd December 2011 – I ping the editor again. Yes, I know it’s a bit pingy, but two months is a long time to grip your tenterhooks and my fingers were beginning to ache.

10th January 2012 (Happy New Year, anyone?) – Apologies for the delay but Christmas crept up on us quicker than we expected. We are not now due to meet until the end of January but we will be discussing ‘Standpoint’ at that time. And the song that’s playing in my head is this one

17th April 2012 – I not only ping the editor, I also use the word ‘ping’ in my email. Light hearted desperation, that’s me! The next day (at least the ping replies are coming quicker) I receive this: Sorry for the delay. We are actually due to discuss Standpoint next week. Will get back to you as soon as…

16th May 2012 (I think it was Spike Milligan who wrote: The milk of human kindness hasn’t dried up, but oh Christ, it’s in short supply.) I write to the editor, explaining that it’s been a month since the last reply and a whisker under 11 months since I first submitted to them. 

I also say that I appreciate, as an indie publisher, they’ve probably got a ton of other activities to attend to, as well as day jobs. This is true, because I know from my own experience with A Word with You Press that indie publishing is as much as labour of love as it is a business enterprise. I also suggest, perhaps radically, that I’d like to have a quick chat on the phone. I figure that my NVQ in Customer Service ought to cut both ways. And, mindful that there is a story here about the challenges of being an indie publisher, I ask if they’d be interested in being interviewed for either this blog or Strictly Writing, so we can all get an insight into the view from their desk.

17th May 2012 (In the wee, small hours – say what you like about them, but their turnaround time for emails has really come to good), I receive this: Firstly many apologies for the ridiculous amount of time it has taken us to come to a decision. I’m afraid that at this point we will not be taking our interest any further. Best of luck with your search for a suitable publisher and once again sorry it has taken so long to come up with this response. 

The letters that came to mind were W, T and F. 

And so, on the basis that I have nothing to lose, and that I’m now like a terrier with a rancid bone, I have asked them: when they actually came to a decision and what factors were involved, whether they can provide me with any feedback, and why the wheels came off this experience to the point where the go-kart actually became just a large box with a piece of rope tied on the front. 

UPDATE 26 May – Despite a second ping, no response from the editor. All agents and editors have an absolute right to accept or reject work as they see fit, and they’re under no obligation to justify themselves. But it’s not unreasonable to expect them to behave with professionalism and some common decency. Why wait 11 months and only respond when I prompt them? 

FINALE 31 May – I received something more concrete from the editor. The overriding reason for deciding against ‘Standpoint’ was the feeling that it did not fit with the rest of our portfolio. We’re looking to explore outsider culture and ultimately ‘Standpoint’ does not reflect that. It is a solid idea and with a good editor will be a sellable book. However, I’m afraid we’re are not in the right place to do that for you


  1. Chloe says:

    That sucks. If only they hadn't made it sound so full of potential then you could have written them off months ago. Still, they obviously didn't hate it, so I guess that's something to take away (scraping at the barrel of this 11 month debacle of an opportunity here!). Is it with other agents too?

  2. Derek says:

    Hiya, Chloe. Yep, it sucks like a lemon tester on overtime. At this point, in the absence of feedback, I have no evidence they actually went through it in any detail – but your barrel-scraping skills are much appreciated. I entered Standpoint for the LBA Crime Fiction Competition, and also the Dundee International Book Prize. I recently sent in sample chapters to a different independent publisher.

    Here's hoping I get feedback and an explanation from the errant indie!

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