So, you sell your novel, unagented, to a tiny publisher, and you have to do your own press, but that’s OK.
In fact, mindless optimism being an essential part of getting signed, unagented, by a tiny publisher, it’s better than OK. Handling the campaign yourself is preferable by far to handing over your work to the publicity department of a major publishing house. Sure, that way you’re only a phone call away from a sales evangelist, ready to plug this significant chapter or puff that biographical quirk. Tamsin, she’ll doubtless be called. Or Lucy. She’ll be transcendently chirpy. She’ll have leverage and be able to get your book onto the pages of the publications she wants: she’s a professional after all. But only because she’s paid to like the books she does.
You, on the other hand, can personalise the process: because who knows your work more intimately than you? Who knows better over which precious words or themes to hang the come-hither fairy-lights and signs that will gently illuminate the writer-critic murk?
It starts well. You wheedle testimonials from two of the biggest-hitting JCs in contemporary fiction. Then you draw up a list. Of critics, of newspapers, magazines, editors, authors. You say to them ‘nothing ventured and all that’, ‘bit of a cheeky one this’ and then you bury in the chutzpah some of your exclusively minted critical hooks. And they bite. You’ve immediate interest from two broadsheet reviewers, one broadsheet editor and a blog. ‘I’ll give it a go’, they say; ‘I’ll certainly consider it’. And it’s been easy. I mean it’s been so easy you wonder what exactly the Tamsins and Lucys of the world get paid for.
Emboldened, you fire off speculative e-mails to the BBC; chance an approach to a literary journal. They come back with ‘sure, we’ll take a look’. Before long Facebook’s on message; freesheets and student papers too; you’ve lined up radio interviews and the whole thing’s gathering an irresistible momentum. You start to think about the possibility of an appearance at a literary festival, what you’re going to say at the Bookseller’s Independent Marketing Awards. Accompanying your every approach is that unmistakeable sound – buzz.
And then about a month before your book comes out, your confidence slides ever so insidiously into anxiety. You start to think about what all this possible coverage may mean. Sales, sure, but peer respect and heft in the marketplace too. And with that realisation comes another: you only have one chance at this; you’re only ever going to release one first novel. This isn’t just your life you’re talking about here; this is your writing. It’s a big deal. So big that it shunts out of whack your judgement, everything you ever thought you knew about the business of promoting a book.
You decide you need to know for sure just what may be said and by whom. You decide you need to chase your ‘tentatives’, firm-up the ‘possibles’, mither the ‘give-it-a-goes’. ‘You know you said you might review my book,’ you write, ‘well are you? I mean really? Are you?’ This is not the done thing. You know this is not the done thing. It is common knowledge that editors will not be nudged, neither critics told what to criticise, nor bloggers what to blog. And sure enough, despite there being no responses to your follow-ups, you get an uneasy sense that you are blowing it. Two reviewers down, you estimate, and an editor too.
Still. There’s time for you to pull out. You should bail. Let the press do what the press will do. But you can’t stop. And it’s the intimacy that’s queering your pitch. You’re too close to the material, the precious material that means so much and more; to the consequences of the material being tossed unnoticed into the cultural pit.
Days go by. Newspapers are printed, blogs appear, you don’t. Nudges become nags: ‘When, then? Is it too much to ask when?’
By now, of course, the ears you had are closed. And having lost your perspective, it’s all you can do not to end every desperate mail with a strange-fonted, green-inked tirade. You revise your estimates of coverage (so that’s another three publications down the shitpipe then) until you’re reduced to pleading into the virtual ether ‘I did mention I was signed, unagented, to a tiny publisher? Didn’t I? Anyone?’
And the upshot is that a month after the release of your book your best efforts have been too much. All you’ve got to show for your neo-solipsistic frenzy is a drive time interview on local radio. (The interviewer hadn’t read your book.) That, and night upon night of wakeful dreams of a chirpy Tamsin, a professional Lucy...