Two things I learned from this process:
1. Publishers are no longer prepared to spend time and money on editors knocking a new writer's first work into shape. Literary agents are now having to do a lot of the work editors used to. My agent worked with me on five full drafts of the book, with various tweaks and nudges taking the number of drafts to eleven in total. So if I actually start making money off this thing, I'll have to find out what her percentage would have been and start handing that over. But I do feel the rewrite process made this a much better book, so I'm more than happy to do that, obv'sly.
2. Having experience as a scriptwriter is useful, but by no means a guarantee that you'll get published. Scriptwriters tend to be more proficient with dialogue and structure than first-time writers, and probably better at pacing too. All of which is a step in the right direction, but still only a step.
So, after eleven drafts, there came a point where I felt I'd pared the book back as far as I could, or at least as far as I could without it becoming something else and any further expenditure would probably be better spent writing an entirely new book. Or a script, which might actually contribute towards paying for the mortgage I seemed to have picked up since I started the first draft. In the old days, this would have been the end of the line. These days, however, you can get a copy printed up on lulu, so suddenly, this thing you were writing exists as an actual physical object, and as a scriptwriter, that's a feeling you really don't get very often.
So the book arrived, and it was great that it was a book, and I could hold it, but I hadn't done the layout very well, and it wasn't a cover so much as some words on a background, and before I knew it I was talking to my brother in law about making it look just a little bit more professional. So he sorted out the layout, and did a great cover, and suddenly it looked like something that wouldn't look entirely out of place amongst other, you know, bookish type things.
However, it still didn't feel right putting it up for sale when all people had to go on was the blurb, and then, by a strange coincidence, just as I was about to start writing this post, I saw Cory Doctorow's article in the Observer: "My Bright Idea" in which he says:
"I give away all of my books. [The publisher] Tim O'Reilly once said that the problem for artists isn't piracy – it's obscurity. I think that's true. A lot of people have commented: "You can't eat page views, so how does being well-known help you earn a living as a writer?" It's true; however, it's very hard to monetise fame, but impossible to monetise obscurity. It doesn't really matter how great your work is; if no one's ever heard of it, you'll never make any money from it. That's not to say that if everyone's heard of it, you'll make a fortune, but it is a necessary precursor that your work be well-known to earn you a living. As far as I can tell, these themes apply very widely, across all media."
Which is pretty much what I was going to say about putting the book "The Cabinet of Curiosities" up as a free pdf. Or rather, four pdfs - what I thought I'd do is split it into four parts, give each a blog post and allow anyone who was interested to read it for free. Then if they like it, they can follow the link to the right and order a physical copy. I'll putting up the next bit each Monday.
Here's part the first: