This has been the weirdest start to a writer’s year. The end of January saw an eight-month submission and consideration process to a publisher end, depressingly, and not entirely predictably, in a rejection, which I found in my inbox on a Monday evening. This was the outcome of the first time I had approached anyone since making the decision to self-publish, and the first time I had chosen an independent – what a loaded word these days! – Scottish outfit. The book in question, Celtic Fringe, met all the publishing criteria, had jumped through all the hoops, made it through the final editorial selection and was one of the last four books on the table at the final decision-making process. In the end, they picked the other three.
In recompense, I received a page-long rejection letter – a record, I think – which offered no critical comments on the book. The only concrete reason for rejection I could detect appeared to be the fact that the book had been previously self-published. This struck me as odd, as other publishers use self-publishing as an indicator of likely success.
The letter also told me that the decision had caused a lot of discussion and had not been easy. This cheered me up – at least it went out fighting, and good lord, that’s the first time one of my books has ever got so far in the selection process. It was possible to snatch a degree of success from the jaws of failure.
I allowed myself a day to sulk, which seemed fair. Tuesday afternoon saw me trawling through the lists again, where I spotted a publisher called Two Ravens. This generated a completely random memory – during a dog walk up on the moors above Gravir about three years ago, I had come across two ravens lying on the ground at the foot of a telegraph pole. It seemed they had landed on the wires, touched wings and been electrocuted. They looked fresh.
We have an artist friend in Harris who works with this sort of thing, mummifying the bodies of birds and then turning them into art, often encased in wood or stone sarcophagi. I immediately thought of him, went home, called him, got an excited yes, picked up a black bin bag, drove back to the moors, carefully placed the ravens inside it and put them in the freezer. A few weeks later, we delivered our grisly gift. Unfortunately, it transpired that the corpses were older than I thought – the still-bright eyes had fooled me – so they were too badly decomposed to become works of art.
This was what prompted me to click on the Two Ravens website. And I discovered that this publishing house was not in Edinburgh or Glasgow, but up at the Butt of Lewis; in other words, right in my own back yard. Two things particularly caught my interest – reviews of this outfit mentioned a quiet publishing revolution, and the fact that this was a house that was prepared to take risks.
I sent a cautious email checking that previous self-publishing would not be a deterrent to submission, got an encouraging response, and sent off electronic copies of all three books – Celtic Fringe, Royal Macnab and The Big Book of Death Sex and Chocolate.
When a reply arrived nine days later, it seemed far too fast a response to be good news. I had another memory, of a manuscript posted off to a London agency on a Monday, which arrived back in Gravir on the Wednesday, with an unmarked compliment slip – the lowest form of rejection there is. Luckily this time, the speed of response appeared to be prompted by enthusiasm rather than dismissal.
And there it was: the publisher’s letter that at last said Yes. I read it several times to be sure, but it really was true: Death Sex and Chocolate to be published in paperback, Celtic Fringe and Macnab to be offered initially as e-books.
It feels great that the books have landed on the right desk – they have their chance now, out in the wider world beyond the craft market table and website. It also feels as if it has happened at the right time; I have earned the break by working my passage. When I started out as a writer, I was over-confident and naïve, with inflated expectations of what publication would mean. Years of rejection have sanded down my arrogance; years of commercial writing have made me a better technician and ruthless editor; years of self-doubt hampered progress to the point of wondering whether or not I was really meant to be a writer. So now I have my letter that says Yes, I simply feel grateful, and vindicated. It has happened later in the day than I expected, which is humbling, but writers, like wines, tend to develop with age.
Paperback copies of Celtic Fringe and Royal Macnab are still available from this website and at the markets; Death Sex and Chocolate has been temporarily withdrawn, awaiting the new Two Ravens edition – publication date to be announced.
Thank you, Sam.