★ Enough Velvet Rope to Strangle Yourself

There’s no estab­lish­ment bey­ond the people that you bump into occa­sion­ally at book launches and oth­er events; some­times they’re doing well, some­times not so well. Why not make your own club? You can put whatever music you like on the turntable. Feature a buf­fet. Go your own way. That’s what Derek Robinson has done, and more power to his quill.

The first para­graph of this art­icle in yesterday’s Guardian Review made me smile.

Some injustices cry out to heav­en for ven­geance, and here’s one: Derek Robinson hasn’t found a pub­lish­er for his latest nov­el. (This is a man whose writ­ing was admired by Saul Bellow, for heaven’s sake.) So he’s done it him­self. Jolly good show.

Here, Nicholas Lezard is review­ing a self-pub­lished book by Derek Robinson. I haven’t read the book (and haven’t heard of Robinson, actu­ally; it turns out his first nov­el was nom­in­ated for the Booker in 1971), but this para­graph brought to mind one of the myths of pub­lish­ing: that you’re on the inside or the out­side.

For the unpub­lished nov­el­ist, one of the greatest frus­tra­tions stems from your attempts to have your work read by a pub­lish­er. It can feel like the burly door­man of the Publishing Club won’t let you in. In the real world, how would gain admit­tance to such a club? You can bribe the door­man, sneak in the back way, or try to inveigle your­self into the life of a card-car­ry­ing mem­ber.

The strength of this ‘no admit­tance’ feel­ing is so strong the writer can begin to feel that, once she’s got in, she’s in. That for cyn­ic­al or noble reas­ons, the man­age­ment of the club will recog­nise her tal­ents in per­petu­ity.

A few years back, a would-be writer (who is still a friend of mine) said, “It’s alright for you. You’re in the club.” This made my jaw drop. I had been pub­lished by a bleed­ing-edge out­fit and told (I was happy to be told) to learn about self-pro­mo­tion and go and do some. I did. But I was on my own the whole time. There was no sense that I was the mem­ber of the estab­lish­ment. True, I was lucky enough for sev­er­al prom­in­ent writers — Ken MacLeod, Ian Watson, and so on — to review my book in pos­it­ive terms, but nobody sent me a badge.

There’s no estab­lish­ment bey­ond the people that you bump into occa­sion­ally at book launches and oth­er events; some­times they’re doing well, some­times not so well. Why not make your own club? You can put whatever music you like on the turntable. Feature a buf­fet. Go your own way. That’s what Derek Robinson has done, and more power to his quill.

Review: Hullo Russia, Goodbye England by Derek Robinson | Books | The Guardian

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

2 thoughts on “★ Enough Velvet Rope to Strangle Yourself”

  1. Ian Hocking’s right. (I haven;t heard of him either, so we’re quits there.) There is no ‘In’ or ‘out’. Publishing is a busi­ness where you can make or lose a lot of money, andthat’s the lens through which pub­lish­ers look at any book they’re offered. Sometimes they get it right (although Bloomsbury prin­ted only a tent­at­ive 500 cop­ies of the first Harry Potter); some­times wrong — you need only look into any remainder shop to see stacks of very good books of which some eager pub­lish­er prin­ted far too many cop­ies and suffered for it. So I have no com­plaints if
    (as happened) a dozen London pub­lish­ers looked at my latest nov­el and said thanks but no thanks. Every new nov­el is a gamble — for me, for the read­er, for the pub­lish­er. In this case, I pub­lished it myself and gambled with my own money (sev­er­al hun­dred quid to the print­er,
    for starters). Will I break even? Will I end up with a heap of boxes of unsellable books in the gar­age? Who knows?
    Life is dan­ger­ous; that’s the only thing I know for sure.

  2. Hi, Derek — Thanks for stop­ping by. Now we both know each oth­er!

    I’ve hunch you’ll break even on this one. Best of luck.

    Life is dan­ger­ous; that’s the only thing I know for sure.”

    Amen, broth­er.

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