(Sorry for the three posts in as many days. I promise I'll calm it down a bit after this.)
Sometimes, I wonder about Alice Munro. After winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, but likely not related, she retired. She didn't die, she flippin' retired. I don't like that. What's happening to all the stories that must bubbling underneath her wallpapered mind? I like to think I won't quit. I won't stop writing. I'll just keep going beyond my Nobel Prize until the day I expire. Your piece inspires me to not worry about being overlooked. Have a radical day.
Book ordered! I've never read one of your books, but I enjoy your writing on Substack so I'm sure that I'll dig your book too.
I loved this bit: These days I write the books that don’t exist that I find myself aching to make exist, the books that make me the happiest, the books I’d like to see someone pull from a higgledy-piggledy pile in a second hand shop sixty three years after my death and say, "This looks fucking weird. I think I will buy it for Joan."
I didn't buy your book for Joan though. I bought it for myself. But if I ever meet Joan, I'll maybe pass it on.
“ These days I write the books that don’t exist that I find myself aching to make exist, the books that make me the happiest, the books I’d like to see someone pull from a higgledy-piggledy pile in a second hand shop sixty three years after my death and say, "This looks fucking weird. I think I will buy it for Joan.”
Love all of this. I both wholeheartedly agree, and would like more and more writers to be honest about how publishing works. There’s a magical veneer over the whole industry that persuades otherwise discerning and skeptical people that “the book everyone is talking about” is there purely on merit. Not that it might not be good! But readers have no concept how much the books they think they should read are determined by which ones the publisher decided to inject with marketing. I followed the anti-trust lawsuit in the U.S. against Penguin Random House last year extremely closely and was *amazed* at the lengths they went not to admit the relationship between “success” and marketing budget! The judge kept pushing until they had to break and even then …
Here's to the cult slowburn successes, may we be them before death claims us.
What you say about the vertigo of the number of books in the world is true. It's why I dislike going into bookshops, and even, sometimes, libraries. I think of bookshops as the jungle I have to enter in order to hunt the prey I need to eat to stay alive.
Being a disobedient sort, I will read most anything you write(I'm sure there are limits, but I am uncertain as to what those would be) and three posts in three days is quite alright. As a famous young dude once said "Please sir, I want some more" , or something like that.
*Loved* this, Tom. Absolutely the way the corporate monolith of modern-day publishing works! "Buzz books" irritate me, e.g., the front table in a certain Very Large Bookseller's premises. 'Literary fiction' is a misnomer, much of the time, i.e, it might be fiction, but it ain't literary. The book industry's gatekeepers try and tell you what *sells* and thus what you should be writing, so perhaps you pick up a title on that front table, give it a cursory inspection because you quite liked its DJ, and then put it down after you've read the blurb. It all feels somewhat 'tick box,' and one's simply not going to fork out £25 for it.
Individuality is a greatly prized virtue, but when I glance round my lifetime's library I can't help but feel that many of its volumes would never have reached the printers these days. Sales figures are definitely no guarantee of quality.
I really rate the individuality of your voice, the laughs you raise as well as the emotive responses, and the wry commentary on the writer's situation, e.g., the "author pension plans." (*What* pension plan? sez she, dismayed.)
PS: Very cool photo.
Needed this dose of perspective, wit, and wisdom this morning. Thank you, Tom. I'm a new reader/subscriber and am most interested in your most disobedient books.
Tom , you remind me if a conversation I had with Robin Williamson , who as I’m sure you know is one of the giants of 60,s music and poetry
The Archbishop Rowan Williams had chosen an Incredible String Band song on desert island discs. “That’ll raise your profile” I remarked, to which the Unrecognised Genius replied “I hope not”
With all good wishes xxx
I love this so much, and also I JUST quoted your Joan line in MY substack -- I think about it approximately once a day <3
Really lovely piece. Thank you!
thank you for writing this post, liked it a lot
Nice perspective. Thank you for sharing it. I'm brand new to substack. Haven't even put my own blog onto it yet. After being published in four anthologies, both my nature-themed children's book (of scenes in Maine) and my novel (set in 1820s Ireland) will be published by a small press. So this is very helpful to read.
All my life, I wanted to be a famous writer. From when I was a kid. Then as an adult fiction writer and journalist I realised how much effort would be involved in marketing and I quickly baulked at the idea. I want to write my first draft, fix it up, get it edited, publish it then move on. Traditional publishing sounds like a pain in the ass unless you publish a traditional and popular book that has a bunch of marketing behind it. And, having read The Handmaid's Tale, I realised that just because a book is popular, has made a tonne of money for someone, was made into a tv show, doesn't mean it is good. I barely want to redraft, let alone talk about a book once it's done.
Hey Tom -- it seems to me that there's more room in UK publishing for the odd than there is over here -- to an outsider it looks like there are more smallish presses who might take a flyer on a weird book for Joan? US publishing has gotten so monolithic, and the gatekeeping is pretty severe (to say nothing of our total lack of arts funding. God I look at what's coming out of Ireland right now and my heart breaks for US writing -- would anyone here have published a Louise Kennedy as a 40-something chef-turned-writer? I know no one would have published Ghost in the Throat.) What's your sense of the landscape? Is it as corporate as the US? Or am I just being romantic in hoping that there are still some corners of the English language publishing landscape where someone might still take a chance on Joan's weird book?
Congrats on your new disobedience, Tom. Oh, and your book launch. You're wise to have come to the place at which you write what wants to come out of the brain attic because it's something not one other person has in there, in exactly the same way, kind of like, you know, being individual humans.
I've tried to step back to consider how publishing has come to be what it has been, at least up to the early 21st century, and that is a gatekeeper—of both capitalism (the C-word) and content. I am five-eighths deliriously hopeful that new systems for thinking about everyone getting to play in the sandbox, like Substack, will become models for democracy, which needs some gym time and buffing-up. Things like AI (which when dealing with animals has always meant artificial insemination, so I still struggle...) have no attic, no humanity, no is-ness, which happily means we get to lasso it into service to humanity instead of the other way round. Enjoyed your thoughts! Cheers, KMR
A recent discoverer (is that a word) of yours. Loving your writing, and having gone back to writing at a later stage of life, I have asked myself these very questions about publishing. The publishing world is your oyster if you are famous for making a mess of something (I'm not thinking of our former PM) and you're even got someone else to write the book because you would do such a shocking job of it yourself, but if you're a normal person with one of those books that you would love to read but doesn't exist yet? Hard work I think.