The Self-Published Author’s Worst Enemy: Identified

When I was a kid in the playground at school there always seemed to be one big kid of above average height and girth who was nobody’s friend in particular.

Let’s call him Big Boy.

Big Boy was, as I say, bigger than most of the other kids, certainly those in his own year. I don’t mean a mature, manly sort of big. If anything, Big Boy was running to fat –  a sort of Mummy’s boy, writ large. Unkempt in the main (joke: mane?), Big Boy had big fat cheeks that were just asking to be slapped, and elephantine knees, too. Facially, he consistently affected the gormless half-smile of an idiot, causing his mouth to hang open in a lop-sided sort of way. A squint and buck teeth would have been a distinct improvement in that they’d have made him look tougher than he was.

Nobody liked Big Boy. They just put up with him, though they respected him, of course. This is not to say there was anything about him to be admired. No, Big Boy was respected simply because he had the power to hurt people in much the same way as a runaway horse is bound to tread on anyone who gets in its way. In fact, this is precisely the manner in which Big Boy would mete out punishment to all and sundry. Because he never got in a fight as such. Yet on a daily basis, as he’d hurtle across the playground on a horizontal trajectory, he would invariably collide with someone less fortunate, or fall bodily by accident upon some individual of a less than dominating dimension. This brought him the reputation of being a bully. Yet, if truth be told, Big Boy was nothing more (or less) than an unthinking, unimaginative, ungainly, unprepossessing, gormless, great galloping galoot of a kid. And I wouldn’t mind betting there was a Big Boy in every school playground worldwide. Not the same Big Boy, just a similar one – or, anyway, a Big Boy as near as dammit to the Big Boy I knew as makes no difference.

You’d be standing there with a couple of pals maybe, minding your own business, thank you very much – at which point Big Boy would lumber into sight, change direction on a whim, and come bounding towards you and your inner circle with those great, lollopy, bounding strides of his which so resembled the unstoppable forward motion of an unspecified pachyderm.

‘Hey, Thingy! Guess what!’ Big Boy would blurt out, pausing red-faced to suck much-needed air from your personal airspace: ‘Guess what, Thingy!’ Big Boy would gasp again, his gob agape.

Because Big Boy never did know your name, did he?

And Big Boy doesn’t know your name to this day. Which wouldn’t matter very much at all in the greater scheme of things, if not for the fact that you, dear reader, are nowadays a self-published author, eager to place your wares in the book stores. And Big Boy – horrible to relate! – Big Boy is nowadays the biggest bookseller in your neck of the woods. By which I mean to say, that Big Boy (as you knew him of old) is only the biggest bookseller in the country of your birth – theUK, theUSA, or wherever else you happen to hang your hat, or your head, as the case may be. I say “hang your head” because – well, unfortunately for you in your present capacity as a self-publisher, you are bound to have an indigenous Big Boy to cope with, though dependent upon the country to which you owe your allegiance, this will not necessarily be the same Big Boy that I have had to cope with. Which is why I use the name “Big Boy” as a generic term, thereby affording mercantile anonymity to the true culprits in the matter. (Their name is legion!) What does remain the same, however, is that, whoever your national Big Boy happens to be, he is bad news for the little guys still.

Why ever should this be so? Why is it that you, self-published author that you be, may depend upon it for a fact that Big Boy is bad news for you? Well, the top and bottom of it is that Big Boy (aka the biggest bookseller in your neck of the woods) is mortgaged up to the eyeballs and has shareholders, too, so he needs to make a stonking great profit or he’ll go to the wall. In which cause, of course, Big Boy would as soon be selling toilet tissue as books – and proves it by doing exactly that in the shape of all those glossy coffee table books and stocking fillers being ghost-written and commercially-published every day of the year on behalf of celebrity non-writers such as serial honeymooners of the silver screen, photogenic gardeners, TV chefs, hunchfront mod-elles, broadcasting builders, footballers’ womenfolk, billionaire sportsmen and the like. Because it just so happens that Joe Public very much prefers to throw his hard-earned money at hardback/softback toilet tissue as opposed to spending it on your self-published masterpiece. Or so Big Boy professes to believe.

Okay, so Big Boy has heard of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, too –  and he’ll certainly be the first in line to stock the latest thrillers, bodice rippers and, in season, titles by Booker-lauded types. But carry a comprehensive list of fiction titles? No way, José. I mean to say, F, Scott Fitzgerald will maybe get a look-in, but Sherwood Anderson won’t; and there’ll be shelf room for Webster’s Dictionary, though not for Ambrose Bierce . . . So when it comes to stocking a self-published book by a local author? Nah, I don’t really think so, do you, pal? In fact, I know so. Because knowing I’d be writing this article today, I ventured into my local Big Boy this morning where, as I say, there is a dearth of Bill Keeth’s books and – here’s a thought to conjure with (and something of a comfort, too) –  a similar famine of books by Martin Amis, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Nick Hornby, Will Self and Jeanette Winterson, too.

To be concluded next month with: The Self-Published Author’s Worst Enemy: Dealt With.

May 2009


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, http://www.novelnovella.com.

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