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For the unpublished novelist, one of the greatest frustrations stems from your attempts to have your work read by a publisher.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.