For the third time this spring I sent off four copies of my latest book to enter a local literary competition. The first time, three years ago, I was quite sure that the quality of the work, its local roots, deathless prose and professional publication values would shine forth and guarantee at least a place on the shortlist. When it wasn’t on the shortlist, I actually wept. The following year, with another book out, I tried again, but by now I was a little more realistic about how things work and my expectations were lower. Just as well, as there was no mention on the shortlist. This year, my hopes were higher again, as the subject of the book happened to be of interest to one of the judges and I thought this might make a difference. Wrong again. When the shortlist was emailed to me last week, I scoured it again, and again in vain. Disappointment, yes, I admit it, but not as acute as before, and quickly overcome as I settled to polishing the new book. Will I enter this book for the same competition next year? Probably not. Patience is not my strong suit and after a string of rejections I tend to think, ‘Sod it,’ and move on. It was the same when I was looking for an agent, some years ago. Initial high hopes, born of ignorance about how things actually work, were quickly dashed, and after a dozen or so rejection letters I decided to go it alone. I’ve enjoyed doing so, and sales have been remarkably good in both paperback and electronic formats, but I would still have relished the buzz of feeling that someone out there in the book business thought highly enough of my work to offer to represent it and me.
On a day to day basis as I tour the readers’ groups and WIs of West Cumbria I get wonderfully positive feedback from people who read the books and love them, and I know I should be content with that. But, but, I would still love someone who knows about books to tell me that mine are worthwhile, and why they think so. ‘Get over it, Ruth’ I say to myself. Get on with what matters and stop fretting about being ignored. I do, and I have. The second draft of the new book is coming on splendidly, sharper, clearer than before as any second draft should be, and the feedback from my Editor was more positive than any of the others, and she knows about books. But she’s also a friend, so does that count?
Even four years into the self-publishing business, I’m still irritated by the assumption that anything self-published is of poor quality. I joined the Society of Authors partly because they take account of an author’s sales, to distinguish serious self-publishers from others, and membership of the SoA, alongside writers like Philip Pullman whom I revere, means a great deal to me. But I’m still looking, unsuccessfully so far, for someone to review my books and provide one of those pithy quotes you find on book covers, the ones that make you feel it must be worth reading.
I accept that the need for recognition is linked to ego, and to a competitive urge to prove something to oneself and to others. I still think it’s OK to blow your own trumpet a little if there’s a reason to do so, but I can’t stomach some of the excessive self-promotion that others seem to pursue. And it’s obviously not enough for me to get great feedback from my friends, or my readers. I don’t want a Booker prize, but it would be so comforting to have someone whose work I respect tell me that they’ve read my trilogy and value it, for whatever reasons. While I wait for that I shall ‘bash on rewardless’ and put the pursuit of recognition back in its box, out of sight, and not let it distract me.