It's been a long road. I first set out to write a full-length novel in 2002 odd, the result being the highly amusing but - in my opinion - unpublishable novel Space. This was to be the start of a very nasty writing habit indeed - I had decided, for reasons I have mostly forgotten, that I wanted in print and that was to that. I'd keep slamming into the brick wall until I got what I wanted.
It doesn't quite work like that, of course.
Space was undoubtedly funny, but agents kept saying things like 'We don't get humour' and 'Humour is a hard sell', whilst universally acknowledging they found it highly amusing. Which is, you have to admit, funny. So I set out to write a serious book and that became Olives, my first 'real' book. Olives is about being a foreigner, a tourist who becomes embroiled in the events we all see on the TV when we're sitting down comfortably. It's about love and betrayal and it's set in Jordan, a Jordan where the good guys and bad guys are really hard to tell apart and where the next lie is just around the corner.
Olives is a book very close to my heart indeed. I followed it by writing Beirut, a testosterone-soaked spy thriller with thousands of sizzling gypsies, which landed me an agent (after something like 250 rejections) and a chance to get my work slid under 24 of London's most editorially respected eyeballs at the London Book Fair this year. They all came back with variations on 'no' - a process that took an incredible, destructive seven months to wrap up. No the British reader doesn't understand the Middle East, no we don't feel this will sell in supermarkets, no it'll take investment to break, no it's not quite for us, no we don't do war zones (Jad, get that certificate ready!) and so on.
All of this has been happening as the world of publishing is being not only transformed, but torn apart by the Internet. The Kindle alone has driven a stake right into the heart of 'traditional' publishing and I have long resisted the blandishments of friends like revolutionary barricade-manning author Dan Holloway even as I watched authors turning to new formats to find their audiences as traditional publishing invested minimally in supermarket-friendly romcom slapped out in trays of 3 for 2 deals. I held out. I wanted the validation and scale traditional publishing could give me.
Except as I have travelled further down this road, I have come to realise not only do I not need either of those from traditional publishing - they're not on offer in any case. On the validation front, getting an agent to sign me up was validation enough - but it goes further than that. Today, self publishing isn't vanity publishing, it's not the exclusive preserve of unreadable memoirs and books by nutters (although, let us be clear, there are plenty of those out there). It's not only part of the mainstream, it's driving millions of sales. There has never been so much choice for consumers, so much so it's actually a challenge to work out what's good, bad or ugly out there. Validation comes not from being picked by the gatekeeper (let us not forget, over 98% of books in print sell less than 500 copies) but from selling books to people who like them. If I'm truthful with myself, I don't need a publisher to do that any more. I can do it, as Celine Dion tells us (repeatedly and to my invariable irritation) all by myself.
As for scale, I now know enough published authors who have found they are forced to market themselves because their publishers are putting them on the backburner, who have trudged weary miles to earn back their paltry advances and who are bitter, dejected and generally pissed off with the whole demeaning and disempowering experience that publishing in the Age of Fear has become. I know authors who have been completely disassociated from their work, who have given up any ownership of the look and feel of their hard graft only to find the result, crass and unimaginative, has been shunned by the book sales team because there's something sexier in that month's basket. And the book sales team is what puts you on shelves, not editors.
And, actually, when it comes down to it, I want my cover to be designed by Naeema Zarif. I don't want to give that up. And I want that 'difficult' scene left in. And I want to let my work speak for people, not pander to their vanities.
So Olives is finally (seven years after it was first written) going to be a tale that gets told, not a manuscript locked in a dusty filing cabinet. Whoever buys it, however many people read it, it'll at least get the public airing traditional publishing denied it. And if just two people read it, that's two more than would have read it otherwise.
I'll be documenting the road to self publishing as we limber up to the launch of the book, just because it's been quite fun to self publish in the UAE. Olives, a violent romance, launches at the Sharjah International Book Fair on the 20th November 2011 with an evening event at the Fair. More on that later. For now, I'm busy working to try and get multiple editions ready for multiple platforms, including a 'booky book' print edition for the Middle East which has been made necessary by the fact Amazon et al won't sell us content online. That alone has been a story worth dining out on, I can tell you.
Oddly, this has all meant that I have once again become a publisher, having joyfully escaped the world of publishing some fifteen years ago...