Wednesday, 11 December 2013

EVERY DOG HAS ITS DAY by John A. A. Logan

A dogge hath a day.
[1545 R. Taverner tr. Erasmus' Adages (ed. 2) 63]

Let Hercules himself do what he may, The cat will mew, and dog will have his day.
[1600-1 Shakespeare Hamlet v. i. 286]

Young blood must have its course, lad, And every dog his day.   
[1863 C. Kingsley Water Babies ii.]

  
     It’s over two years now since my literary agent said to me, I can’t remember if it was on the phone or by email – “Every Dog Has His Day”
     I think by then my novel, The Survival of Thomas Ford, had been failing to sell to London and Edinburgh publishers for six months, the novel my agent had initially described as “a certainty”…hope was dwindling, I did not feel at all like a Canine which was destined to have “its day”.
     Still, it was a worthwhile thing for him to say to me, it has stuck in my brain ever since.
    Later that year, 2011, the Door to ePublishing opened, or I became aware of the Door…
     It’s something every Dog, or writer, must decide for themselves, whether they have yet had their day, or are having it, or are yet to have it…it must be something you feel inside, or don’t.
     The first time I received a cheque from a literary magazine in payment for a published short story called “The Day Billy Bear’s Mum Sent Him to Sign On”, in 1997, that was an important day.
     Likewise, 2000 was an important year.
    John Fowles and A L Kennedy chose an extract from my first novel for publication in New Writing 9, a paperback anthology of, according to page one, “the best in contemporary literature. It brings together some of our most formidable talent, placing new names alongside more established ones.”



     There were only 5 extracts from novels in the book, and only 2 from Scottish writers, myself and Alan Warner.
     The anthology was to be published by Vintage, it would be distributed by the British Council throughout “most countries of the world”, from Japan to South America, Africa to Norway. Later, I saw online that Sofia University in Bulgaria had used the book on the curriculum of an English literature course.
     The book was launched at the Mall Galleries in London. I was invited.
     The cheque for £165 came, to pay me for my novel extract.
     I paid for a bus ticket, made the 600 mile overnight trip, turned up with my Londoner friend Chae to the Mall Galleries.
     I thought Alan Warner might be there…or the other authors with stories, poems, novel extracts in the fat red paperback, Louis de Bernieres, William Boyd, Alasdair Gray, Rose Tremain…
     I thought John Fowles would be there…I had read The Magus to prepare my mind for the meeting…
     None of them were there.
     But A. L. Kennedy was.
     Me and my mate, Chae, full of too much beer, went up to her.
     “Jonathan Cape will publish your novel,” she told me. “You’re just what they’re looking for.”
     But they didn’t, and I wasn’t.
     My first literary agent took me on that year, though, perhaps thinking that I had “come close”.
     I stayed at her house, walked her dog while she was at work, sent her my second novel by monthly instalment as I completed it.
     She was certain, she said, that she was going to sell my two novels…but 18 months later it had all turned into Ashes and Dust…
And the Dog had certainly not yet had its Day.

     I regrouped.
   2002. The new Edinburgh Review editor had bought 12000 words of my fiction to be published as 3 stories, and had commissioned a further 7000-word article from me, a piece of reportage which required me to play undercover journalist for 2 weeks, exposing the machinations of New Labour’s New Deal for the Unemployed – my piece, written under the pseudonym, Donald Ross, was published in Edinburgh Review Issue 110, an edition which commemorated 200 years since the founding of the Edinburgh Review journal in 1802 under the editorship of Francis Jeffrey.
     In Issue 109 of Edinburgh Review, my short story, “Bringing Something Back” had been published, so I was invited to read this story at a microphone at the event celebrating 200 years of Edinburgh Review at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
     I was the only writer invited to read at the Book Festival that year who had not had a book published.
     They paid my travelling expenses, and a fee to read out the story for 15 minutes at the microphone, to an audience who had paid £7 per ticket for entry.
     Combined with the payment for the fiction from Edinburgh Review, the total income came to £435.
     I think instinctively this Dog knew that, since money from writing was only coming in as fragments, then this Dog better keep an eye on the fragments and count them up.
     If Jonathan Cape in London, or Canongate in Edinburgh, did not wish to validate me as a professional author, then I had better quickly set to work on validating myself, selling my fiction by piecework.
     I’d done piecework before, as a labourer pruning hop-fields in Kent during December snow and frost, or unloading forty foot steel pipes from trucks in Oklahoma until I collapsed from the heat, or as a trainer in a gym, training people for 50p an hour…the thing about piecework was, you better work fast and try not to get injured, and you better try to make sure you get the actual money…sometimes people do try to wriggle out of paying, and at that level of business you cannot afford to go unpaid…

     After the reading I did at the Edinburgh Book Festival, things went quiet.
     That happens.
     The editor of Edinburgh Review tried, as Alan Warner had tried, to get me a minimal Writer’s Bursary from the Scottish Arts Council.
     Nothing came of it. Just as nothing had come of it when Alan Warner had tried (though Mr Warner had started his own private Arts Council funding, sending me an envelope with a £20 note in it which he advised me to “waste and not spend wisely”…then later a £50 note which he described as “cash blood money” he had just received from a new book deal with Jonathan Cape).
     The Edinburgh Review editor visited Inverness and drove me to Skye for the day.
     He told me he thought that Scotland treated its writers abysmally, that in Ireland I would have had automatic government support with my 12 published short stories.
     I kept quiet and looked at him.
     How could I explain to him that it was OK, that I was just a Dog who had not yet had his day?

     In 2005, things looked up again.
     Ali Smith and Toby Litt chose a short story of mine for a paperback anthology to be published by Picador.
     Picador paid me £400, and an editor there took an interest in my novels, read 2 of them, told me the writing was “brilliant”…but nothing more came of it…I'd have to wait 5 years for the next chance...



     By 2010, The Survival of Thomas Ford was completed, a London literary agent asked me to sign a contract for the book…the film consultant at that agency, who had discovered Slumdog Millionaire as an unpublished manuscript, read The Survival of Thomas Ford and told my agent it was the best book she had read in the last 4 years…my agent told me he had told his colleagues in the office he thought my book was “a certainty”…
     And yet, some voice within me was telling me that nothing was going to come of this.
     My friends seemed to think this had to lead to something, that Logan Dog was going to have His Day after all…
     I didn’t feel it, though…and, yes, within 18 months, despite frenzied periods…the rewrite of the book when the film consultant was on the phone for 13 hours over 6 weeks…lots of action that seemed bound to have a result…despite all that, after 18 months it had all fizzled out into absolutely nothing…

     But did it? And this is where this strange idea of Every Dog Having Its Day comes in really…The Survival of Thomas Ford had been my 5th novel, each manuscript written and reworked painstakingly over 10 years…two literary agents and the film consultant, all in the same London office, had believed in the book, they had believed in that book more than I would ever have dared believe in the book…it was that BELIEF that couldn’t just be put back in the box…
     I couldn’t just go on with a 6th novel, a 7th, and then entrust them to this same system that had spat back Novel number 5…especially since the editors at the publishing houses had sent dozens of emails back to my agent, which he read out to me on the phone, stating how much they admired the book…that is what made no sense to me, they were almost apologising for not being able to publish it, blaming the system, “the bad economic climate”…etc etc

     It wasn’t that I even wanted to self-publish.
     I’d tried it before in 2003 with a paperback. It was hard to break even.
     Scottish Studies Review, which is a widely distributed journal, with copies in Harvard and Yale universities I have been told, even reviewed my paperback favourably in 1500 words I nearly memorised, but…it had been impossible to make money that way.
If I’d kept on that way, I’d never be in Alan Warner’s position, able to mail out the £50 notes…and I’d never have been able to put a sticker on the book cover, saying, At Last, This Dog Has Had Its Day!

     And it is important to have one’s day.

     So…to wrap this up, I decided, 2 years ago this month, to go back into self-publishing, but this time as ebook only, epublishing…

     Now, the important thing is, two years later, do I now feel that I have had my day…or is it like 2000 at the London Book Launch for New Writing 9…or 2002 at the Edinburgh International Book Festival…or 2005 when Picador bought my story…or 2010 when the film consultant who had discovered Slumdog Millionaire took up her support of The Survival of Thomas Ford (which was significant synchronicity to me at the time as Slumdog Millionaire was my late Mum’s favourite film)
     So, is the epublishing like all those experiences ultimately turned out…all fizzle and no pop…or as Alan Watts put it, “All retch and no vomit”…

     Well, is it?
     I’d better answer.

a)     I’ve put out 2 ebooks in two years, The Survival of Thomas Ford, and Storm Damage.
b)   Within 3 months of publishing Thomas Ford, I made £1000 from Amazon downloads in 7 days, went high up some Amazon bestselling charts, blogged about this here on Authors Electric, and was invited by the Alliance of Independent Authors to make the 600-mile journey to appear on an author panel at London Book Fair  to talk about how I did it. 
c)     3 Scottish newspapers published 6 articles about my work in epublishing
d)     I was invited to read the first chapter of Thomas Ford at an event in my home city, Inverness
e)   Both my ebooks won Awards at the annual Efestival of Words Best of the Independent eBooks Awards 2012/2013
f)    125000 downloads of my 2 ebooks on Amazon have resulted in several thousand pounds/dollars of payment
g)     There are hundreds of reader reviews of the 2 ebooks on Amazon and Goodreads

     Do I feel inadequate now for never managing to get a book published before epublishing came along?
     No. That is gone. It was there, like a chimera’s shadow, stalking me, but it is gone now.
     I think the two things that did that were
a)     Making money. Because money buys food, pays bills, even pays for more advertising which can make more money…but also most importantly (unfortunately), it is one of the definitions of professional success.
b)     The reviews from readers mean that my books fulfilled the circuit of connection necessary for that CLICK to go off inside the mind/brain/soul, signalling that communication has been achieved successfully. This seems very important, and was the worst thing about the Door of traditional book publishing being closed against me for so many years. It still makes me sad that the authors of masterpieces like John Kennedy Toole, Mikhail Bulgakov, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa were unjustly robbed of this fulfilled circuit connection in their day.

     I’m still evading the question, though…for any other dogs out there who feel they have so far been denied their day…who may even be getting teased and tantalised, repeatedly being brought to the brink of Having Their Day…

LOGAN, HAVE YOU HAD YOUR DAY?

     Ah, not yet I hope…early morning of the Day perhaps, salmon-pink dawn light breaking gracefully on my snout as I peer over the basket’s edge in search of the edge of some new vegan Bone Toy to throw at the ceiling…?
     Seriously, though, Hoping to do Better But No Complaints So Far.
     Any Dogs out there needing some encouragement not to give in, Take this Bone I’m throwing out here…Don’t let them tell you you haven’t got a chance…If a Bonehead like me can keep stumbling horizon-ward in Hope, so can Thee, Fellow.








14 days to go until Christmas and the Authors Electric Book Bonanaza!

It's from 25th-28th december. E-readers at the ready!
 










17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sirius was named the "dog star" because it was the brightest star in the constellation called "Large Dog" or Canis Major. When Sirius rose coincident with that "salmon-pink dawn light" that was a Dog Day dawning. In my humble opinion, the Logan Dog is in his ascendancy, and there're better days a-comin'! Your fans are awaiting Agency Woman!

Kathleen Jones said...

I cheered at every word you wrote John. So many 'indie' authors share your experience. May your DAY be long and bright!!!!

Dennis Hamley said...

John, you've written a lot of inspiring posts on AE but this one beats the lot. This Friday evening I'm working with a group of ex-diploma students who have stuck together and are already experiencing the frustrations you talk about. May I send your blog to them as, at the very least, a talking point? I think it may depress them and elate them in equal measure but both are salutary and necessary.

Bill Kirton said...

Great survey of what this writing game is like, John. I've always said that, apart from all the usual talents writers need to actually write, they also need stamina. You've shown us that you've got plenty. I hope (and am confident that) you'll have not just one Day but many more.

Bill Kirton said...

Great survey of what this writing game is like, John. I've always said that, apart from all the usual talents writers need to actually write, they also need stamina. You've shown us that you've got plenty. I hope (and am confident that) you'll have not just one Day but many more.

John A. A. Logan said...

Thanks very much, "Anonymous"! Agency Woman will not be too much longer now before making its appearance...in't Night Skies (!)

Thank-you, Kathleen!

Thanks Dennis, I'd be honoured if you send the blog out to your students. I hope it doesn't put anyone off trying, though!

Thanks very much, Bill!

Anonymous said...

There’s a parallel here with this week’s protest by a Nobel prize-winner in his acceptance speech in Stockholm -- about ‘luxury’ science journals favouring flash and dazzle over submissions containing important, even critical, scientific findings. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/how-journals-nature-science-cell-damage-science

Part of a reader comment beneath that Guardian piece by the same scientist:

=== An important issue here is who decides what science is important. Typically, this decision is made be elites who reward (with grants and papers in prestigious journals) people who are exactly like themselves, stifling diversity in research and also, very often, promoting the research which is least valuable to society (see Kitcher, P. Science, truth & democracy, OUP, 2003). ===

What’s most remarkable about your wilderness years is that the publishing ‘elite’ has recognised and acknowledged your excellence as a writer so often and extravagantly. Anyone can see that you are a promotable crossover artist – capable of attracting a huge, enthusiastic audience with an irresistible thriller (Thomas Ford) but also readers with rarefied literary tastes, as in your best experimental short stories. … A guess at the explanation? It’s as if there’s a famine, and people are only sharing their shrinking hoards of food with those closest to them: in the collapse of traditional publishing, the elites are favouring their own – no matter how much they appreciate that someone like you deserves a place at the table.

Now the conversation needs to jump to solutions beyond your success in e-publishing. There’s a contradiction that has to be overcome. The hordes cheering for the inclusiveness of e-books need to be every bit as enthusiastic about micropayments for writers – but, on the evidence, mostly aren’t.

It’s a mystery. Micropayments, by definition, are so puny that they are forgettable small change to the payer – yet when millions of us are making them reflexively, could finally allow scribblers who give enough people pleasure to escape the ‘starving artist’ cliché.

What will it take to get that message across?

… The latest of many attempts, from another angle: ‘If Silicon Valley knew any history, would it be encouraging the destruction of artistic copyright — as energetically as it fights infringements of technology patents?’ http://post-gutenberg.com/2013/12/01/if-silicon-valley-knew-any-history-would-it-be-encouraging-the-destruction-of-artistic-copyright-as-energetically-as-it-fights-infringements-of-technology-patents/

Dan Holloway said...

Love reading your story, John. You're an inspiration to us all and I'm so glad your day has finally come

John A. A. Logan said...

Thanks very much, Anonymous2...yes, I like the famine analogy!
This phenomenon of favouring "those like us" is really common to every group of every kind.

Thank-you, Dan!

JC said...

Being Scottish I've got an allergic reaction to 'thanks for sharing' in comments, but I do want to say thanks for throwing this bone to gnaw on. It's a sad, true, familiar tale and one deserving of your angry, snarling rage against the gap in the door that seems to invite you in but which slams in your face. Thank goodness you took the plunge - good for you and good for Alan Warner.

Ron McMillan said...

Thoroughly enjoyed your piece, John, partly because I have experienced some of the same frustrations. At one point I was the only unpublished author I knew who had been enthusiastically embraced by not one, but two different agents (working with two different books) - only to be dropped by both of them when the anticipated sales never happened - and the books died with their passing.

I had a top non-fiction editor fly to Glasgow to have lunch with me because he liked my proposal so much. He pitched it twice to his publishing meeting at London HQ, proposing a hard copy print run of more than ten thousand followed by a paperback run in the 'low-to-mid six figures' - only for the book to be rejected outright, both times, by the bean counters. It's hard to bounce back from that kind of disappointment.

Since then I have had two books traditionally published by a quality British publisher. The two books have generated, in total, less than a pub bouncer might make in a good week - and one was such a sales failure it hurts to look at it on my shelf.

So now I have gone alone, self-published a crime thriller set in Thailand that I am proud of, and whose future is in my hands, such as it is (the future, I mean). I knew it was going to be a new realm of tough, but, having been traditionally published already I naively thought reviewers/bloggers would at least take a look at my new effort. Nope. Dozens of unanswered emails to such bloggers later, I'm having to re-think the marketing stratagem. Not that I really have any.

Congratulations on your awards and self-publishing successes. I don't anticipate ever winning any awards, but I'll be doing my best to emulate some of your 'indie publisher' sales results. We've got to reach readers somehow, right?

Ron McMillan
Bangkok Cowboy
Yin Yang Tattoo
BETWEEN WEATHERS, Travels in 21st Century Shetland

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this. I'm published but with so little support from my publisher and tied to a contract with them for my next book which I will never write as long as I remain tied to them. Congratulations on the dawn. Hold its inspiration close to your heart and then, as the sun begins to rise, teach that dog to dance!

John A. A. Logan said...

Thanks very much, JC...Glad you caught that bone!

Thanks Ron!
Your experiences are harrowing, shocking...and informative..indeed.
Especially the results of going with the trad publisher, most people will be surprised at that I think.
With ebooks, though, the reins really can be in our hands.
On the rethinking of marketing stratagem, Google "Ruth Francisco Kindle Primer" if you haven't seen it already - lots of tips there which got me through first several months and created a foundation.
Have you joined kuforum.co.uk?
Ot the Goodreads Amazon Kindle Group?
Places to connect with readers online...which, yes, is what we have the opportunity to do now...
All best with it!

Thanks Anonymous...
I'm sorry you're in that position.
I hope something changes so that you get your freedom back, Books shouldn't be Hostages to Fate in this way.
Yes, thank-you, I'll get the Dog up on its back legs for a pirouette in the Sunbeams!

Ron McMillan said...

Thanks for the tips, John. After reading your blog post I downloaded The Survival of Thomas Ford and, about half-way through it, I'm really enjoying it very much. Ever more conscious of the importance of online feedback, a review will follow on Amazon.

I'll look into those forums you mentioned, thanks.

Ron McMillan
@MasonDixieThrillers

John A. A. Logan said...

@MasonDixieBooks

Couldn't find you on twitter at @MasonDixieThrillers, Ron, but found you on the "@MasonDixieBooks" one above.

Thanks very much for downloading Thomas Ford...great to hear you're enjoying it so much, will look forward to your review!

Katherine Roberts said...

This post reminds me of that TV advert - "be more dog"! After playing around with e-publishing my backlist childrens titles, I have made a resolution to be more dog in 2014.

John A. A. Logan said...

Thanks Katherine, All Best for 2014!

(Ahem...WOOF!)