Way back in the mid ‘90s when giving a mobile number as your point of contact confirmed your status as a criminal, there was something called ‘vanity publishing’. And this was how, in 1996, I had my book published.
In 1992 I ran around the Cornish coast path for charity. Whilst this was some way short of being enjoyable, it helped me to prepare and get accepted for the Everest Marathon in 1993. This is still the world’s highest and most demanding marathon. It was a life-changing experience, and ultimately led to my first book.
It took a year to write, and I didn’t even bother to re-read it, let alone have it properly edited. I thought it was good; it would be instantly accepted by the lucky publisher I selected and people would flock to buy it; sadly this was not the case.
Surprisingly, it did nearly get accepted by a major publisher: I still have the rejection letter from the commissioning editor at Aurum Press who positively glowed about it but… well, you can guess the rest.
An agent did suggest a bit of a re-write, but I couldn’t be bothered, so eventually I got Minerva Press to pick it up. I paid £5000 and got 1500 copies of The Last Latrine into print. For this I got some editorial comment– well, quite a bit actually – and they marketed it well enough to get it into most of the major retailers: Dillons, Waterstones, and WH Smith, and all 1500 copies sold within a year. I made nearly £10,000 and was extremely happy.
Sadly I was unable to take up the offer of the 2nd edition at half price as they went bust.
There were, of course, some horror stories about Minerva Press; but I can only sing their praises. The rejection slips I received were a fair indicator that I hadn’t penned a bestseller, and so vanity publishing seemed the best compromise for me. But vanity publishing still had a certain stigma – when asked who my publisher was, I would conveniently slur the ‘Press’ after Minerva, in deference to that other well respected mainstream outfit; a bit like saying you went to ‘Oxford’ when you actually went to ‘Oxford Poly’ – sorry – ‘Oxford Brookes’.
But this was a real learning experience. I freely admit that I had written what seasoned writers refer to as “a first draft” and this should have been professionally edited before going anywhere near a publisher or an agent. It would have resulted in the culling of around 100 pages and a much more free-flowing and less introspective read.
If I had known then what I know now, I would have contacted someone like myself and paid a relatively small fee for editorial advice, a market appraisal and to have the MS professionally scrutinised. This would have massively enhanced my chances of mainstream publication and with that, increased the success of the book.