Wednesday, 11 February 2009


First an apology: this is not the Thursday light relief that I promised. That story of extraordinary and hilarious incompetence is coming, I promise (something for the weekend?) but I have a need to offload something that is seriously bugging me first.

Warning: crabbit old bat in major full swing. But with a difference. Today, I’ve had enough of criticising my fellow authors, unpublished and published - because we’re all in it together, dahlings - for things like “Inexcusable Ignorance” and general tawdry and unprofessional behaviour. I think I even perhaps once mentioned drunkenness and unpleasantness and possibly arrogance. How could I? Anyway, I’m going to turn the tables. Yes, I am. Now it’s the turn of you nasty mean editors and other forms of publisher, and even booksellers. Because you just don’t understand us, you really don’t.

I feel that in the very few weeks that this blog has been in existence, I have had many approving noises from (wonderful) publishers and (gorgeous) booksellers and I’ve accepted them all like the pathetic, insecure gallery-playing author that I am. And I would not be surprised if you fabulous, long-suffering, aspiring authors were not sitting there weeping quietly and bravely at the crap I’ve been dealing out to you, allowing yourselves to be flagellated by the likes of me. (Please don’t get too excited by that concept - it’s really not nice and, anyway, I mean it only metaphorically.)

So now I say, ENOUGH! Let’s hear it for authors, and let me send a message to those powerful, cruel publishers and booksellers who hold us in their thrall. (Just what is a thrall anyway? I don’t know, but it sounds like a very nasty thing in which to be held.)

I should start by saying that of course I know, and have said before, that very occasionally an author lets the side down by behaving as though he (or even, more occasionally, she) has a brain the size of mouse genitalia, an ego in inverse proportion to said genitalia and an alcohol habit to match the inverse proportion. Occasionally, it must also be said, authors are exceptionally rude and crass and many other unacceptable things. But APART from those few, we are simply misunderstood. And the sooner that editors and agents and booksellers understood this, the better for world peace and various other useful things.

So, let me, on behalf of my suffering writerly colleagues (to whom I apologise for all previous cruelty and mockery - though I don’t take it back, because it was entirely justified most of the time) enlighten those professionals who take such pleasure in berating us for our failure to understand the errors of our ways.
  1. It’s a real bugger being an author, sometimes. Honestly, it’s over-rated as a holiday destination.
  2. We suffer constant insecurity. (Most of us. And we hate the others, so that’s OK.) Well, how wouldn’t we be insecure, when people regularly tell us we’re rubbbish, even once we’re published? And if anyone says nice things, they’re most likely to be a) our publicity people b) our parents or c) deluded (which includes our parents).
  3. Would you like it if your work was reviewed negatively and those negative comments were put on the internet for like EVER? Would you like it if your audience went on message-boards and said a load of rubbish about your oeuvre? The fact that this ignorant rubbish is often written by people who should be asleep instead of messaging crapness at 3 in the morning, and that they can’t spell, doesn’t make it hurt less. Actually, it makes it hurt more to think that such a stupid person would care enough to have gone online to over-share - I mean if the book was just mediocrely awful, wouldn’t they just have ignored it and watched re-runs of the X-Factor?
  4. Some unpublished authors absolutely and utterly deserve to be published and have a glittering career in front of them - perhaps far in front of them but distance is like size: not everything. No one should assume that because an author has failed to be published (yet), they are rubbish. Lynn Price of the phenomenal BehlerBlog was kind enough to be fabulously, well, kind, about my writing - which is a) wonderful of her and for me but b) confusing because in that case how come I was unpublished for so almost-soul-destroyingly long? The point being? The point being that for very many painful years I had regularly and horribly assumed that I wasn’t good enough and for that long I was the person that published writers (including me, until now) and editors and booksellers often knock: the wannabe no-hoper, the deluded idiot who really should just keep on with the day job because everything else - the dream - is nothing more than a dream.
  5. We work for years and years and years (and in my case years) before we earn anything at all from our writing, because we love it are and drawn to it and driven to it and yet some (most) of us will never earn anything approaching a decent salary for it. No violins, please. And OK so some of us don’t deserve to earn anything from it, but we lay our heads and hearts (and actually sometimes lives, though I can’t claim such bravery myself) on the line in our belief that what we produce is art and matters. And what do we get for that? What we get is 96% of the world never having heard of us, 3.9% of the world messaging at 3 in the morning to say what rubbish we are and the remaining 0.1% being either related to us in some way, or pathetically undecided.
  6. We cringe in abject mortification (and some) when we go into a bookshop and our books aren’t there and 99% of the time we slink out (after buying something we didn’t want, just to make us feel there was a point in being in the shop in the first place) and the other 1% of the time we pluck up courage to ask the busy and godlike bookseller if by any chance they might consider - pretty, pretty please - stocking our book because it’s quite a good book and it’s had some lovely reviews which unfortunately you, o glorious bookseller, don’t seem to have seen but if you were to consider stocking my humble little book I promise I will come in and give up my time - free, because of course my time is free since no one’s sodding well going to pay me for it - and do an event for you to bring five people into your shop because I’m such a loser (cue more cringing embarrassment and mortification), four of whom are related to me and the other one of whom came in looking for a birthday present for his mother but got forced or confused into listening when you locked the door. Trust me, it’s AWFUL doing the “how to help bookshops sell your book” thing, unless you have a monstrous ego, which I just don’t, so I apologise in utter shrivening abjectness to every bookseller whom I have failed to help sell my books. And they are many. Oh, how often I have slunk away, worm-like, and how often you have never seen me. I have never put my books face out (yeah, I know, I’m really rubbish as an author - please don’t tell my publisher /agent /editor /daughters / dog and everyone else who relies on me to earn some money for them) or done anything remotely annoying or in-your-face - and more’s the pity, according to my publishers and my royalty statement. I am sorry, so sorry, and please forgive me and please stock my next book because it will be much much better than anything I’ve ever done and has a gorgeous cover, which you always say is the MAIN thing.
  7. It’s a real bugger being an author sometimes. Frankly, it sucks. But you know what? We love it. So forget your violins and take back your sympathy because I’m changing nothing. Sorry, but I just can’t do enough to help you sell my books because I’m too shy and pathetic and actually, you know, I am supposed to be WRITING. And you are the bookseller and that’s why you do it so brilliantly and kind of that’s why I would like to think I’m the writer in this deal and you’re the bookseller / editor / publicity person / EXPERT. And yes I KNOW I am supposed to help but please just let me go home and write. Where the hell is that garret I dreamt of for so long, and that delicious loneliness??

So anyway, calming down slightly (but not much) in the spirit of almost Valentine’s Day (omigod, better go out and buy something for him - maybe a BOOK, and if so then certainly and absolutely from Vanessa’s fabulous bookshop) let’s show a bit of a loving understanding for all those misunderstood authors out there. Yes, sometimes we're rubbish but we are trying not to be. We're doing our best to overcome our paltriness.

Yep, it’s a real bugger being an author sometimes. Which, to be honest, is why we eat chocolate. It gives us courage to brave all you scary, scary professionals. Chocolate is the only known antidote to insecurity. That and shoes.


Donna Hosie said...

Bravo for writers, chocolate and shoes!

Can I ask a question, Nicola, if I may be so bold? What do you think of authors eating other authors - and not in a good way?! I'm specifically thinking here of Stephen King's recent comments against Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson and others.
I've always thought writers should stick together, heaven knows there are enough people ready to stick the literary knife in your back, so this sort of thing makes me rather sad.

Sarah said...

I feel as if I should start a riot... and if I had chocolate, I'd send you some. As it is, I'm seriously lacking it myself.

Nicola, I'd love to read more about the years before you were published. That's a long time to persevere.

Megan said...

He, he. That's great. Chocolate for breakfast, methinks.

Nicola Morgan said...

Donna - interesting question. On the one hand it makes me really uncomfortable; on the other hand, maybe it's just honesty and legitimate. But mainly I suppose it depends on the context (I haven't seem Stephen K's comments, but I'll check them out). I think that all of us writers have to recognise that there's room for all sorts of other writers out there, because there are all sorts of readers. I don't think it's attractive to slate other professionals in public, but maybe that's because I'm a) gutless and b) not in a position to. Personally, I have kept 100% silence on the subject of certain very successful authors whom I don't rate highly ... Call me a wimp! (Give me chocolate and I still won't tell you who I'm talking about!)

Sarah - are you not near any chocolate shops? Seriously, you can't be a writer without ready access. As for the years being unpublished - I'm working on becoming a celebrity so that i can do a celeb memoir! But maybe I'll do a post on it, and the reasons WHY I was unpublished for so long.

Samantha Tonge said...

Hmm, chocolate and self-googling, the greatest vices of today's writer:)

Great post, Nicola.

Anonymous said...

I love this entry! I recently decided I want to make a concerted effort to become an actual published writer even though it's something unheard of in my family and probably unlikely to ever really take off. But I couldn't live with myself if I didn't at least try. So I've been trying to do a lot of reaseach using the internet which mostly involves trawling the net for snippets of info about everything to do with the writing business. And one thing I discovered while reading about a gazillion blogs and websites was how incredibly cruel people can be when they talk about unpublished writers. Even when they are not outrightly mean they only veil their contempt with humour. Which is really more like mockery. I think this is partly because people are horrified by the idea of slushpiles expanding because of badly written manuscriptes which take up space needlessly. Which is probably why writers, publishers and agents alike seize every chance to discourage amateur writers who none the less might have a really huge passion for their story and, really have as much right to pursue their dreams as anyone else.

I feel like the hapless contestants on american idol sometimes. You know the type that are hopelessly tonedeaf, have absolutely no clue they are in fact completely out of tune and are mocked to within an inch of their lives by Simon.

I love your website though. You are never mean or vindictive and give very very useful advice. Thanks so much for posting so regularly.

Mary Hoffman said...

Here's a link via The Swivet about what not to put in a query letter to an agent.

It's American but highly amusing and these are all real examples.

Maybe it explains why some people don't get published?

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi Mary - there wasn't a link but I'll see if I can find it anyway. Thanks for calling by in your busy life!

Sarah Hilary said...

Thank you for posting this, Nicola. It came at exactly the right time for me, having just received (an extremely nice and encouraging and LONG) rejection from an agent. Your post reminded me why I do it, and will keep doing it until something gives. And probably long after that, even if nothing gives. So, thank you.

Nicola Morgan said...

A LONG rejection is good - congratulations! No, seriously, good luck. Don't give up and certainly don't give up trying to get better and better.