The Commercial Publishing Pits


Does that rejection slip you received say absolutely nothing about the quality of your submission?

It occurs to me that I am making mention of newly self-published author Tim Keogh [Nothing But Blue Skies] quite frequently at present. (N.B. “Timothy”, if you’d care to look up his read-at-one-sittingMan City football reminiscence on Amazon.) Not the only reason for this is that he reminds me of my self-published former self just a few years back when anything in the world seemed possible now I was a published author at last.

‘I have managed to place my book with Waterstone’s,’ he writes exuberantly. ‘When I told the lady at the till a major branch of theirs was stocking it, she immediately said she would take five copies.’

The good news was reported thus since Tim had previously reported to me an earlier brusque rejection by this same Waterstone’s branch when it had been his first port of call as a self-published author. This report had in turn prompted me to recall my own first ports of call with Every Street in Manchester proudly in tow, only to be curtly dismissed from one book shop by the only male member of staff suffering from terminal PMT and by a pit bull in a frock from t’ other.

To date Tim has shifted 400 copies of his book.

How well I recall my own ambition at that stage. A 1,000 copies sold was my absolute be-all and end-all. For one thing, it is certainly as many hardback copies as a commercial publisher would dream of publishing in a first edition by a new writer. So a 1,000 copies were bound to arouse interest with a commercial publisher, weren’t they? Just as a 1,000 copies sold, had seen Billy Hopkins and his originally self-published debut novel Our Kid raised to best-seller-dom by a commercial publisher who had initially knee-jerk rejected him as per the norm.

(Briefly, what happened in Billy Hopkins’ case is that film producer, John Sherlock, reading his self-published book on holiday and, enjoying it immensely, heartily recommended it to a personal friend in the publishing game. And the rest is history.)

Yeah, like as if. (In my own case, I mean.)

Because, with 2,500 copies sold to date, I have had no such luck – and this despite my debut novel’s being shortlisted for the Portico Literary Prize alongside works by authors of national renown. And similar bad luck would appear (in one respect at least) to be replicating itself in Tim Keogh’s recent experience.

‘I received a rejection,’ says Tim, ‘from a commercial publisher who says this: “If you have sold 400 copies, you don’t need our help. Some of our writers have struggled to sell 300.”’

Now what the heck is that all about?

Well, before I contribute my own disdainful four-pennorth to the debate, let me remind you, if you will, of the positively mind-boggling personal experience of another self-published author, Bob Binnalong (let’s call him), who – as he revealed to a meeting of the Society of Authors in London back in 2007 – had found himself constrained to sell no fewer than 30,000 copies (repeat 30,000 copies) of his own self-published novels before a commercial publisher condescended to sign him up.

‘Well, there’s good news for you, Dai!’ you say?

Ah, but is it? Because here’s where I intend to stick my oar in, suggesting a really bizarre reason for the commercial publisher’s reticence as experienced by Tim Keogh more recently.

Despite the happy prospect of being commercially published at long last, Bob Binnalong soon found he faced another daunting problem. Namely, would Big Boy place an order for Bob’s commercially-published novels?

(Readers of this column will perhaps remember Big Boy from two previous articles of mine. Big Boy is the biggest book buyer in Bob Binnalong’s, Tim Keogh’s, YOUR neck of the woods and MINE – a whimsical spoilsport of a book buyer who holds the budding author’s selling-power as his personal fief. Yep, Big Boy is the guy who sends Katie Price’s books everywhere and new writers to the wall.

And so, as Bob Binnalong further reported to the Society of Authors in 2007, Big Boy UK did not place an order for Bob Binnalong’s books . . .

Which, in turn put paid to Bob Binnalong’s hopes of nationwide, certainly worldwide distribution . . .

Which, in turn, saw Bob Binnalong’s books being distributed mainly in that part of theUK(South Wales, as it happens, Dai) where he had long since been distributing them as a self-publisher, though with this difference . . .

As a self-publisher, Bob Binnalong had been earning £5 from each book sale; commercially-published, alas, he would henceforth earn nobbut a tenth of that!

So, as I tentatively suggested to Tim Keogh, maybe what his reluctant commercial publishing contact really meant to say was this:

“This book of yours will sell all day long in Greater Manchester book shops and other sales points, Tim. But, given Big Boy’s dog-in-the-manger attitude with regard to the books titles he’ll condescend to stock and those he won’t – Well, this is likely to foul the sales process up if we’re looking for wider distribution out of area, nationwide, then worldwide.”

In other words, Big Boy’s whimsy would perhaps mean that whoever commercially publishes the book in question will have to work a bit harder than usual. And, of course, that would never do.

July 2010

Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website,

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