Saturday, 29 January 2011

Saturday review... with Gary Murning

Gary Murning (author of the best-selling must-read debut novel, If I Never) contacted me a couple of weeks ago about his second novel, Children of the Resolution. As expected, it's another wonderful read from a writer on top of his game but very different - very different - from the previous novel. Whilst Gary handles all the big themes in his first book with consummate skill, it's fair to say that this second offering is less plot driven, focussing instead on character and theme. And big themes, too: disability, integration, alienation and - ultimately - reconciliation. Without giving anything away I'd say it was a 'must read' not just for every fan of Gary's writing but for anyone who has any experience or interest in the integration of disabled children into mainstream education. And about the well-intentioned but occasionally unsympathetic individuals who sometimes drive ideology at the expense of attention to the individual.

Anyway, that's the book. I can't recommend it highly enough. Buy it here, now. But I was also intrigued by the process of the book's publication. You see, although Gary is an author with a contract with a mainstream publisher, he chose to 'go-it-alone' with this book. And I was fascinated to know why. Here's what Gary said...

The reason I opted to self-publish Children of the Resolution, I suppose, hinges on the nature of the book itself. Whilst I think it does have considerable commercial potential, it isn't exactly what your average publisher would consider to be a commercial piece. There are niches where it would fit really well within mainstream publishing but, to be honest, I just didn't fancy handing over any control where this book was concerned. Because it's quite heavily autobiographical in places, and because I'd been working on various takes on it for somewhere between fifteen and twenty years, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted it to be. My aim was to accurately evoke the time and place I experienced in a fictional form without it being overtly fictional. I didn't want to force plot onto it. I honestly feel that most of the mainstream publishers out there would have had issues with that – and I think that may well have ended up being to the detriment of the book.

Now, in the world of publishing as we know it, the author writes the thing but, well, 'publisher knows best'. Or agent. And they both pat us on the head and tell us where we're going wrong. And then we offer up our re-writes like a devoted little puppy. But not Gary. And not an increasing number of writers. The stigma of self-publishing seems to have been well-and-truly banished and many authors - myself included - have published both with mainstream outfits and then published ourselves. For an attentive, committed and self-critical author, quality isn't going to be an issue. But distribution might be. How is Gary finding the promotional aspects of the work, without a publicity department behind him? His answer is fascinating...
To be frank, whilst Legend did a great deal regarding the promotion of If I Never, I was very proactive myself – and, I think it's fair to say, did most of the long-term book promotion. So, naturally, when it came to Children, this wasn't too much of a concern. I've managed to build up a few contacts over the past year or so – and I'm not shy :-)

Makes you wonder what a publisher offers, eh? But it's become abundantly clear over the last few years that authors are expected to do a great deal of the promotional work themselves. Unless you're a 'sleb' (in which case you may not even have written your book, so why are we bothering to talk about it?) you'll be expected to have a well-established 'author platform' (blog maybe, twitter profile almost certainly) before an agent or a publisher will consider you. And as for getting into the 'bricks-and-mortar' bookstores, have you any idea how much publishers have to pay - yes, pay! - to get into the window at Waterstones? I have, and I'm still recovering. But wait a minute. For the first time, Kindle e-book sales have outstripped those of paperbacks on Amazon. Who needs the bookstore anymore? Or even the book? I'm not going to rehearse all that 'death of the book' stuff here, but I did want to know whether 'Children' was available as an e-book. And the answer? Yes, right here. And at just £5.75, may I say it's a bargain.
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