by KJ Bennett
by KJ Bennett
E-publishing is very strange. After a year and a half or more of hard writing, editing and re-editing, the writer commits to e-publishing and ends up with a product that he can’t actually hold in his hands. Except on an e-reader or, maybe, a memory stick.
This was how I felt when I first published Pike’s Quest on Kindle. There was no launch party, I didn’t have friends and family clamouring to obtain the first signed copies. Heck, there was nothing to sign: every time I approached them with my marker pen, they hid their Kindles and ran.
I actually felt quite isolated, what with the stigma attached to self-publishing. People tend to act as if they are interested in the fact your book is ‘out there’, but as you walk away, you know they are whispering, “He’s desperate ... he’s been rejected by so many publishers ... it’s not a real book ...”
So why did I do it?
I have been writing fiction all my life. I wrote my first full novel in 1998 and, frankly, it was a good idea, badly written. Then I wrote another, and another, and a screenplay, and a few short stories (I’m not very good at short stories) ... quite a lot of stuff, really. I sent masses of samples off to publishers and agents, and no one wanted to read it, let alone publish it.
Then, back in 2008, one of my cousins in Australia was running a website for members of my extended family to make contact with each other. She suggested that we write an on-line novel: each participant would write a chapter each, and once the last person had written his/her part, it would go back to the first person and the cycle would start again.
My brother Paul Hennessey came out with the original premise for a story set in a medieval village in England, and the main character would be called Pike. His father was a fletcher (an arrow maker) and there were a few other bits and pieces that Paul mentioned. I wrote chapter 1 and changed many things from Paul’s initial idea. The story went off in a very strange direction and I didn’t really like what happened. The upshot is that I used the first part of my opening chapter to start the novel. At the same time, I was writing a short story for a local competition. I used the premise of Pike’s Quest as the basis of the short story: it came thirteenth out of fourteen entries – not a good start. BUT, I wrote the first chapter again for another competition and it got 2nd place.
I then spent the next year writing the rest of it. I happened to meet a publisher named Barry Cunningham – he used to work for Bloomsbury, and is the man who signed JK Rowling (Harry Potter) to that company. Barry left Bloomsbury and started a company called The Chicken House. He agreed to read Pike’s Quest and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, he didn’t think it was suitable for his readership due to the complex word play and humour. He was very supportive and urged me to submit it to other publishers.
Pike’s Quest was rejected by only one other major publisher (she didn’t even read the manuscript), and one independent publisher who just didn’t like the ecological theme. In the UK at least, most publishers will not accept book submissions unless they come from literary agents. Most literary agents do not take on new clients unless they already know them or they absolutely love the book – liking it a lot is not enough: it has to be true love, perhaps leading to babies and, ultimately, an acrimonious divorce. OR, if you are a celebrity with no writing talent whatsoever, an agent may decide to sign you up and do a deal with a publishing house to create books using ghost writers to actually do the hard slog.
I spent a small fortune sending my sample chapters of Pike’s Quest to agents. Unlike my previous attempts, the agents started writing back to me, praising the work but giving me reasons they couldn't take me on. One agent told me, in writing, that it was the best written submission she had seen for months: she really liked the characters (they were “charming”) but she didn’t like the story! Others told me they really liked it, but they didn’t know which publisher would take on a comedy/fantasy.
In early 2010 I met a lady named Marlene Johnson. She is the managing director of Hachette Children’s Books. I explained the plot and humor to her. She told me it sounded hilarious. Then she asked me what age Pike was supposed to be. He’s sixteen for most of the book. Marlene said that the book would have to be aimed at boys aged thirteen years, because they are “aspirational”, and therefore she could not publish it, as "You can’t sell books to thirteen-year-old boys." Apparently, in the UK, reading is not cool, and thirteen-year-old boys don’t buy books. This was news to me: my son was a book addict when he was thirteen, and still is at sixteen. Most of his friends are also bookworms. I wonder if any thirteen-year-old boys bought Harry Potter.
I decided, then, that I’d have to take matters into my own hands. In October 2011 I published Pike’s Quest as a Kindle e-book. I don’t know how many thirteen-year-old boys have bought or read it, but I do know that readers of all ages have enjoyed it. Nearly all the reviews on Amazon UK and US sing its praises.
I didn’t set out to write a ‘Young adult’ book. I still don’t regard “Pike’s Quest” to be one – it’s suitable for nearly anyone of any age over twelve years. Most of my reviewers seem to be in their forties, fifties and sixties.
I have now published it in paperback. I have, at last, held a tangible copy of my book in my hands, and I loved the sensation. You can order the paperback version through Amazon – UK, US and all European sites.
I may never get rich by self-publishing, but at least I’ve taken the initiative – and I have readers.
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Genre - Fantasy / Comedy
Rating - G
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