Part of my list of the fourteen London publishers Robin shopped 'Beirut'
to - pretty much a 'who's who' of publishing. One by one, I got to cross 'em off...
I started writing Beirut - An Explosive Thriller in late 2009, just after a reader working for British literary agent called Eve White rejected Olives - A Violent Romance after a ‘full read’ with the comment that it wasn’t dramatic enough. Right, I thought. If you want dramatic, mate, you can have it. It wasn't until I'd done with the book that I realised I had created precisely the type of novel I'd set out to spoof with my first attempt at a book, the amusing Space (although I have to point out that Space's first Amazon review cites the book as almost entirely unamusing!).
I finished in June 2010, but it wasn’t until spring 2011 Beirut was picked up by literary agent Robin Wade, who signed me on the strength of it.
Now, for the uninitiated, getting signed by an agent is quite a deal. Step one is typically a query letter which may lead to a request for the 'first three', which is the first fifty pages of your book and a synopsis. If this pushes more of the right buttons, an agent will ask for a 'full read' - by this stage you're very close to the top of the slush pile - let us not forget agents in the UK will receive something like forty brown envelopes full of someone's hope a day. If an agent signs you, you're bloody well made. They're not charity cases, these boys, they're running businesses with that most admirable of objectives in mind - making money. An agent signing you means they think you have commercial potential in the 'competitive market' they all remember to mention in their rejection letters.
I can't begin to tell you how much hope was packed in my heart as Robin touted Beirut - An Explosive Thriller around the London Book Fair. But I was giddy with it - 250 rejections from agents later, I was actually in with a chance here. Robin faithfully reported back on the reactions he got back from each editor. To a man, they rejected it. What's more, it took them seven months to get around to it! The rejection that hurt most praised the book’s qualities but noted the editor in question ‘couldn’t see it selling in supermarkets’.
It was that reaction pushed me over the edge into self-publishing. "Low key"? The book's an adrenaline soaked catalogue of machismo lunacy and violence! Caviling apart, there was clearly a major change – and massive contraction – taking place in the world of ‘traditional’ publishing and it wasn’t favouring a new author writing hard-to-peg novels about the Middle East.I was clearly wasting my time at the gates of Gormenghast castle. It was time to pack up my motley collection of carvings and take them to market myself."There are lots of elements to it that I like – there’s an austere, almost Le Carre feel which I like and the author can clearly write. The dialogue and plotting stood out for me in particular. I’m afraid though that it is – for my purposes – a bit too low-key; the ‘commercial’ bit of my job title requires me to pick out titles which are going to appeal directly to supermarkets and the mass-market, and I feel that this would be too difficult a sell in that context. "
The whole process had wasted a year. I lost little time in getting Olives into print in December 2011, with a view to following with Beirut the next Spring. In retrospect, this was silly - the whole wearying cycle of promotion sucks down time, as does editing and polishing - publishing Olives taught me an awful lot, not the least lesson being that there are readers out there. I'm not kidding - up until that point it had been about me and my books. Now it was about them and my books. Meeting readers, talking about the characters, their motivations and feelings with complete strangers changes the way you write, it really does. And then Beirut went off for editing and I started getting permissions, readying different files for print, Kindle, and ePub formats.
It's all taken pretty much a year. but a year better spent than one waiting around for publishers to think of new and inspiring ways to say no.
So on December 1st, at 7pm, the Middle East print edition of Beirut - An Explosive Thriller will launch at Jashanmal's book store at the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai. If you can't wait, or you're not in the UAE, you can buy your very own copy from the outlets listed here. The launch is going to be a lot of fun and I'll share details as I confirm things, but do mark the date in your diary!