William (Willie) McIntyre is a criminal defence lawyer and the author of the Best Defence series, a continuing saga of Scottish criminal law novels enveloped in themes of noir, wry humour, and social commentary. Having been both published and self-published, Willie is readily familiar with the ins and outs of the Scottish publishing scene.
The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors and not necessarily of The Ogilvie editorial staff.
Self-Publish and Be Damned
At the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, there was recently an exhibition celebrating the 30th year of Ian Rankin’s famous fictional creation, Detective Inspector John Rebus. One of the items on show is the first rejection letter the author received from a publisher. Brilliant. I know if I’d had Mr Rankin’s good fortune I’d be sending those rejecting-publishers a Christmas card from my yacht in the Caribbean every year. Not that I’m knocking publishers. They’re running businesses–they need to use their best judgement and sometimes they get it wrong (but, seriously, Inspector Rebus? There’s wrong and there’s really wrong).
Speaking as someone who submitted his own book (Relatively Guilty, first in the Best Defence Series) to a number of publishers several years ago, it’s the ones who don’t give writers a fair chance that annoy me. One of my first submissions was to a publisher whose guidelines refused electronic transmission–it might have been the 21st Century, but they wanted it in size 12 font on paper, double-spaced and with one inch margins. That’s a lot of ink and paper for a 95k word book. Fortunately I ran an office with a large stationery cupboard; I printed it off, put it inside a large brown envelope and placed it and my covering letter in one of those large grey indestructible plastic bags, along with a similar plastic bag stamped and addressed to me for return of the manuscript if, inconceivably, it was to be rejected. And returned it duly was… more than three months later, with a standard rejection letter. This surprised me on two counts: firstly, I thought it was a good book (admittedly, I’m biased) and, secondly, it was clear to me that the brown envelope containing the manuscript had never been opened. Unlike Mr Rankin, I didn’t keep the letter, and, although I don’t remember the date, what I do remember is that it was the day I thought, ‘Stuff this’ (or words to that effect) and self-published the book on Kindle, where five years later it remains my best seller.
Many traditional publishers complain about those who self-publish. One never hears of artists being criticised for self-hanging-paintings-on-a-wall, or would-be popstars for self-singing-to-folk-in-a-pub. Literature is different. Publishers and agents view themselves as the gatekeepers to quality, and that’s fine, so long as the gate is kept open and your book, or even part of it, is actually read by someone–and you don’t mind waiting… and waiting… and waiting.
On the other hand, publishing an e-book is straightforward and immediate. The finished product may not be quite as well-polished as it would be had it gone through editing and proofreading by professionals, but then again, one doesn’t have to hang on for months only to receive a pro forma saying how much the publisher ‘adored *insert title of book* but don’t think it’s a good fit for us’. Moreover, it was self-publishing my books on Amazon that acted as a portal for me to being traditionally published by the discerning folk at Sandstone Press.
If the ink is in your blood, you will write. Do not be ashamed to self-publish. Let the world see what you’ve written. Somebody might like it. I don’t mean to come over all Gray’s Elegy about things, but think how many potential Ian Rankins and JK Rowlings there are out there who can’t wait forever, hoping that some astute publisher will take a chance on them. Think how many budding Ian Rankins have given up on that rejected manuscript which could have made them famous, or at least could have made them a living?
Do it yourself. Publishers don’t always get it right. Mr Rankin has that in writing.