The Reasons Why - by EJ Barnes
I have spent the last few weeks rushing about promoting my new print book for children, and while that has been a lot of fun, it also means that progress on my planned e-book, The City, has almost ground to a halt. I’m feeling guilty hanging out on a blog for e-book authors when I have yet to launch my own e-book.
So maybe this is a moment to reflect a little, and to explain why I decided to go down the e-book route. I’ve heard it suggested lately that publishers feel “threatened” by authors publishing their own e-books, as if authors have turned their back on publishers. But in my case, as with many, many authors who have chosen this option, it is not a case of rejecting traditional publishing. It is a matter of trying to find the best solution for this particular book.
I began writing The City a long time ago, for no better reason than I wanted to write it – more here. It was ambitious, on an epic scale, and I had no idea then if a) I could ever finish it and b) if it would be published if I did. At the same time, I was working on shorter, humorous, contemporary stories for children, and eventually one of these, Jessica Haggerthwaite: Witch Dispatcher, was published. It did well, and I published two more titles for the same age-group with the same publisher.
But still The City nagged at me. I kept at it, and was given a confidence boost when, having submitted some chapters almost on a whim, I won an Arts Council England Writer’s Award of £7,000, judged by Matthew Kneale and Jackie Kay and presented at a reception at the National Portrait Gallery. Listening to Jackie Kay reading out extracts of my book to the gathering, I felt more than ever it was something I must complete – and also that it was something others would want to read.
So I kept at it, and three years ago I found I had, not one book, but four. However, along with my huge satisfaction at having completed it, I also found myself in a new, more awkward world. The era where publishers were prepared to splash out on trilogies or quartets of epic fantasy novels by relatively unknown authors was plainly over: what was wanted now was a standard length “stand-alone” novel with the potential for a sequel, should sales justify it. I went as far afield as writers’ conferences in Santa Barbara and San Jose to test the waters, but the message was the same. I did call a couple of agents, but received dusty answers. I was not sure what to do next.
As a children’s author I have an agent: but there is no point in her representing a novel which is not within her field. The prospect of wooing another agent...and then a publisher...filled me with dismay. In the meantime I tried to revise The City, turning it into the shorter, stand-alone novel publishers supposedly wanted. I wasted a great deal of valuable writing time on that task.
Finally I reached the moment of truth: you cannot change a four volume epic into a single stand-alone novel of a quarter of the length. At least I could not, without spoiling what I had created. And I could not face the task of sending it out to agents and publishers, when the constant message was that this was not what they were looking for. And then I became aware of the e-book revolution...
It is exciting to have control of the e-book process: but it is also hard work and intimidating, for I am well aware that I lack many of the skills that publishers possess. Were somebody to make me an offer, I would certainly consider it! With a reading public immersed in George Martin’s “Games of Thrones” or Neal Stephenson’s hefty “Baroque Cycle” it’s fairly clear that the appetite for extended journeys into other worlds still exists – indeed, is sharper than ever.
So am I doing the right thing? Should I continue on the e-route, or have I given up on traditional publishers too quickly? What would you do? What would you recommend? And would you like to make me an offer...
Just in case, here is something to whet your appetite.
They had been travelling in the thickest fog, but now, suddenly, it lifted. The moon was the palest disc in a sombre sky, casting its bars of light upon the sea. But it could not calm the waves, where they beat against the shore, their white spray swallowed by the shadow of the rocks. Nor could it light the looming walls and towers that rose, darker than night, out of the rock and into the winter sky.