Bryony Allen at BBC Suffolk
Publish or be damned
By Andrew Woodger
Suffolk teacher Bryony Allen has struggled to get that huge publishing deal for her first novel, so she's had to go down the 'vanity' publishing route, although it isn't costing her any money. Strangely enough, her book's about an OFSTED inspection.
A school standards inspector is found dead in the staff room. Most of the teachers fear they may be responsible, the plot thickens and a few shady secrets from the corpse's past emerge.
That's the starting point of Bryony Allen's novel Mystery, Deceit and a School Inspector.
"It was a reaction from when I had a really bad OFSTED at a [previous] school," said Bryony, who now teaches at Gislingham Primary in mid-Suffolk. "Because it really can totally wear you down.
"It was all very much pre-determined before they came to the school. That was in the old days - the system has changed.
"Writing it was a way of letting off steam, asking 'what if..' and taking it to extremes really!"
Getting your name in black and white
Publishers get sent thousands of uncommissioned novels of course, so the chances of someone reading your work, liking it and paying you for it are quite small.
"I did do the initial sending off of synopses and chapters but, after about seven or eight rejections, I gave up to be honest. I think everyone's looking for the big advance, but realistically you're not going to get it unless you're JK Rowling or Katie Price [aka glamour model Jordan].
"The letters do tend to be very standard, but polite. They'll say it's not the sort of thing we're looking for or their list of authors is full at the moment.
"I do think there's a lot of luck in it. I do sympathise with publishers - it must be disheartening to read through 200 pieces of rubbish to find one good piece."
A rubbish reader
One person who has that job is Meg Davis of MBA Literary Agents. She's represented Daniel Depp (brother of that actor bloke), Simon Scarrow (Norfolk-based author and writer of Roman military fiction) and Anne Perry (historical detective fiction).
"It's basically something I love and something I think I can sell," said Meg. "There's no point in someone coming up with a Harry Potter wannabe.
"It needs to be something I can easily describe to a publisher who's usually overworked and not necessarily concentrating. If they're rubbish, the public soon find out.
"I tend to like the sort of slightly mad stuff. My colleagues are better at the more straight down the line stuff. I'll do crime novels, but the more unusual sort.
"I once got shouted at by my partner because I put something aside after the first sentence. Having read thousands and thousands over a couple of decades, you do get a sense as to whether it's any good.
"At the moment it's really difficult to get a publisher. Booksellers have put the squeeze on the publishers, and it usually takes about 10 years for a published writer to catch on."
The literary agent's cut is 15%. The author will see around 7.5%, so for a hardback that translates to around £1.50. For a paperback, it's around 70-80 pence.
It's a sin
And that's where 'vanity' publishers come in. You can be charged several thousand pounds to see your work in print, but Bryony went for a different sort of deal with the publisher Pneuma Springs - she hasn't had to pay anything upfront.
Gratuitous picture of Jordan
These self-publishing houses may sell the books online, but they won't market them in the same way that 'real' publishers do, unless you pay them a promotion fee as well. And then you'd probably ask yourself if the marketing was going to carry the same weight as a campaign by, say, Penguin.
"Although you've got your book to show to your grandchildren, you need to have someone pushing it for you," said Bryony. "It is just for the enjoyment of writing - it's a release and a bit of fun."
Bryony's paperback sells for £6.99 and she'll get 40% of that.
There are other ways of getting your work noticed. The Arts Council sponsors a website called You Write On, which allows writers to develop, get feedback, reviews and ratings. Big name publishing houses such as Orion and Random House and agents then take a look at some of the higher-rated entries.
And, just in case any of you would-be authors are feeling despondent, Meg Davis said that in the age of the internet and e-book, the paper version does have a future:
"Of course it does. Always will. We've seen so many technological changes since books were first written down in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago.
"I can't really see that digital versions are going to eradicate book-reading altogether."
last updated: 09/07/2009 at 15:50
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