Islington Crocodiles by Paul Meloy

If you love short dark fiction with genuine depth, put Islington Crocodiles at the top of your list. Its third print-run is sold out so finding a copy might be difficult, however, I assure you it will be worth acquiring.

Over the course of the ten stories in the book, we’re introduced to a world where creation itself is on the verge of destruction. The heroes and villains battle each other both in the real world and in the (even more real) world of dreams.

In terms of fantasy, Paul comes as close to convincing me of other spheres of existence as any writer ever has. The breadth and poignancy of his realms left me awestruck, as did the emotions and challenges faced by his characters. It’s powerful fiction; sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking and the language – something that matters to me, as a reader and as a writer – is dazzling.

Paul Meloy has discovered a triangulation point on some great, subterranean mountain. From this pinnacle he has become a cartographer of the subconscious. His tales reveal the landscape, and even the architecture, of the mind’s deepest trenches.

Islington Crocodiles transported me far from this world. It also made me reassess what’s possible in fiction. For all that, Paul, if you’re reading this, I’m very grateful.

Because of you, by the end of this post, I will have made up my mind…

Thank you for being out there, reading, listening and commenting. I’m experiencing some kind of living-room epiphany by talking to you this way.

Since last we convened, I’ve investigated self-publishing e-books through Amazon (making use of their Print on Demand facility in case readers actually want a real book), ‘proper’ publishing through Amazon’s 47 North imprint, e-book publishing through indie publishers, getting a new agent, going direct to some of the mainstream houses through my small network of contacts and the public-backed ‘donation’ route using sites like Unbound, Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.

The funny thing is, it’s only when I report back – attempting to present it coherently for someone else – that I think hardest about what I’m trying to achieve.

Here’s what I’ve decided about the print book versus e-book question, for example: There is no versus. Any title popular enough (that’s the kind of book I’m interested in writing, in case that wasn’t clear) will appear in both formats. Not all readers want e-books only and not all readers want print books only. And stacks of people with e-readers still read print books. Suddenly, thinking about it in public like this, it isn’t an issue for me any more.

The real question is: do I use the new publishing models and possibilities to take matters into my own hands?

Answer: no fucking idea. Yet. Just need another minute or two to think it over.

What concerns me is this: is e-pubbing (self or otherwise) the best way to make a new start? Further probing (and by that I mean listening to commissioning editors when they talk) suggests that mainstream publishers aren’t interested in books which don’t have electronic rights attached. In other words, if you already published or self-published your work as an e-book, chances are the big guns won’t be interested. There are exceptions – David Moody and Amanda Hocking spring to mind. They’re not the only ones and they won’t be the last but they are still rarities for now.

What does this mean for me?

Patience. Yes, even more of the blasted stuff.

I need to wait until I’ve explored every mainstream avenue. Why am I still pursuing the ‘traditional’ route, you ask?

Because my instinct is that two of my novels have the potential to sell significantly both as print and e-books – I’m not suggesting that’s true for all of them, mind, and I understand that I may be wrong in my assumptions (after all, I’m only an author, as I mention in the disclaimer). Nonetheless, the only way those two novels will have that opportunity is if they land on the desks of editors at the bigger houses (separately – see post about multiple submissions!).

If, by some miracle, one of them is taken on it’s still a very slim chance of it selling well in print; even the biggest publishers can’t get every title into bookshops in the quantities necessary to sell novels in big numbers – but it’s still the best chance I’ve got for a result in both formats simultaneously.

I can achieve little of this, however, without an agent. I simply can’t get my work in front of every commissioning editor on my own.

So, am I going to self-publish right now? Probably not. Am I going to release my titles as e-books through an indie publisher? Unlikely. Am I going to look for public backing? I doubt it.

Am I going to get a new agent? You betcha.

And it’s all because of you.

I owe several people in a BIG way…

…and words are my only currency. So I’m repaying good deeds with poetry!

Today, I am indebted to Donna Condon, Jo McCrum, Pablo Cheesecake, Elizabeth Haylett Clark, Wayne Simmons, Kim Hoyland, Andy Remic, Jen O’Regan, Sarah Pinborough, Tim Lebbon, Mark Morris and Sharon Ring.

Among their kindnesses were: getting my work in front of the right editors, getting my work in front of the right agents, offering me money (!!!), reading/editing/appraising my work, offering me a job, reviewing my work, giving me encouragement and showing me where I can find good advice.

I’m very grateful to each and every one of you. So grateful, in fact, that I’m going to post TWO poems!

A silly one:

A Tragedy

Two vacuum cleaners fell in love,
But when they tried to kiss,
There came a dreadful squeaking sound,
Followed by a hiss,

Kissing when you’re turned on,
Can make a right old din,
Especially for two vacuum cleaners,
When they’re both plugged in.

Of course they only realised,
When it was far too late,
That their unbridled passion,
Would also seal their fate.

Their kiss became the clinches,
As first their hoses shrunk,
Then their shiny bodies,
Came together with a clunk.

Though love had drawn them closer,
Their end was sad and weird;
They sucked and sucked so madly,
That they both disappeared.

 

And a serious one:

 

Gold, Grey and Blue

Drifting
Beyond season and polarity
I know
My soul is a light obscured
My life a sky
My mind a storm
My body a guise of mist
That care and cost will pass away
As clouds on a sunny day

Forgetting bad decisions and trying to make better ones

Imagine the scene:

I’m sitting in my office, laptop open, a blank Word document staring me in the face like a psycho with a meat cleaver and all I can do is stare out the window through unfocused eyes. There’s no point trying to hide it; writing has always been more an act of will than an act of love for me and I’m finding it difficult to summon that will at the moment.

My last three novels - which total around 500,000 words - remain unpublished, you see. In fact, of the ten novels I’ve written, only three are published – MEAT, Garbage Man and a filthy BDSM novel called A Willing Pupil (by the lovely but reclusive Jacqueline Griffin who lives with her two cats Bonnie and Clyde).

This is good because it means I have a sizeable back catalogue of work to sell – mostly Horror, SF or both. What I’ve discovered to my cost, however, is that publishers don’t want to know about more than one book. This utterly stunned me, I have to say, and shows my naïveté.

A couple of years ago, I passed my agent four synopses and the four completed novels they outlined. I asked my agent to take them to market. We offered them as a kind of array of what I was capable of, I suppose. Bad decision.

My thinking was like this:

Publisher comes across writer with acceptable track record; publisher sees writer has lots of material; publisher rubs hands together and offers writer a deal. My thinking was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Here’s why:

  • A commissioning editor wants to see one book from an author. Just one. It has to be the-most-incredible, heart-on-every-page, thousand-times-redrafted, similar-to-something-that-recently-succeeded-but-different-enough-to-seem-orignal novel that it almost killed you to write. That’s the kind of book they’re willing to look at long enough to say no to.
  • A commissioning editor doesn’t have time to look at more than one book from an author. They barely have time to read the single submissions from authors/agents already piled up. Showing them four is like, a really fucking stupid thing to do – but that’s the thing about being really fucking stupid, isn’t it? You tend not to realise until it’s way too late.
  • A commissioning editor will look at the kind of multiple proposal we sent out – it’ll stand out because they don’t get many – and say to him or herself, ‘Huh? WTF? Is this guy just knocking them out? I don’t want quantity! I want quality!’ They’re actually suspicious of the idea that you might have been writing novels for quite some time: it could mean your work is tripe! I find this hilarious now (though I do tend to weep as I’m laughing).

How do I know this? Because I’ve spoken to commissioning editors about it. In person. Some of them turned down the very proposals I’m talking about for exactly the reasons I’ve stated. They weren’t to know that I did almost kill myself writing every single one of those novels. They weren’t to know that each of those novels tells a riveting, moving, terrifying tale. They weren’t to know that quality is what I’m all about. And now, they probably never will.

No, I’m not going to commit seppuku with a fountain pen, folks; it’s just that commissioning editors aren’t in the habit of unrejecting manuscripts and they won’t be getting into it any time soon.

There is good news, though. My collaborative teen novel is with our YA Agent and is almost ready for publishers to see. My epic apocalyptic fantasy – say that with a mouthful of cornflakes – is already submitted and awaiting judgement. And, of course, the rights to my Beautiful Books titles are mine again. Add this to my back catalogue, which I’ll never submit ‘as a package’ again, honest, and we’re looking at an arsenal of books.

What hasn’t changed is that I’m still faced with making decisions and no way of telling if they’re the right ones. That would be too easy, wouldn’t it?