Thorn In My Side


Bill Keeth and Dozy Dithererr (last seen in Write It Self-Publish It Sell It) contemplate the sheer unhelpfulness of certain commercial publishers and literary agencies

BK: When the editor of this newsletter first approached me with the suggestion that I might like to consider writing a regular column for it – well, to put it bluntly, as Annie Lennox quite unequivocally phrases it in the lyrics of my favourite Eurythmics’ number: ‘I was feeling complicated; I was feeling low’.’

DD: Heaven forfend, dear heart! Pray tell us the cause of such chagrin?

BK: Oh, you can scoff  –  particularly if you’ve never experienced such a rebuff. But what had transpired, as per usual, was that yet another commercial publisher and/or literary agent (a literary agent in this most recent instance: MacNab & MacPhail, let’s call them, given their Caledonian location) had simply, er, MacPhailed to adhere to the conditions of their own declared submission criteria as listed in the various writers’ manuals and on their company website. More specifically, despite this literary agency’s much-vaunted promise of an eight week turnaround in respect of submissions . . .

  • seven long months had elapsed wherein not a dickie bird was heard from them,
  • at which point they also MacPhailed to respond to an enquiry I then mailed to them,
  • only condescending to explain that they had actually LOST my submission
  • when the Society of Writers made contact with them at my request –
  • TWICE IN RAPID SUCCESSION, as it happens, since the Society of Author’s initial approach was itself ignored by the ignoramuses in question.

DD: So what’s new?

BK: Nothing whatsoever, old bean, other than the title of the book I had submitted on this most recent, SAE-inclusive occasion,. Because:

  • I have certainly done the Seven-Month-Incommunicative-Literary-Agent-Slog on a previous occasion; and
  • I have previously lost SAE-inclusive material to the careless, butter-fingered lot, too. Plus,
  • I have been told damned lies into the bargain. e.g. Bertha Bilge-Rat (let’s call her) who advertises her services in the current writers’ manuals (I’ve just checked the 2009 editions), despite her having assured me five years ago and more that she had retired from business!

Nevertheless, not a single one of the aforementioned dirty tricks is a new development within the realm of commercial publishing. Because here’s what the editor of The Author, in-house magazine of the Society of Authors, has to say on the subject of the industry’s generic unhelpfulness, not to say terminal rudeness, too: “Publishers and agents are . . . notoriously cavalier about what they say to the [writers’] handbooks . . . It’s not a very appealing way to behave, and not very nice.”

DD: So which book title did you submit for consideration on this most recent occasion, may one ask?

BK: Write It Self-Publish It Sell It.

DD: Hang about! Do I hear you a-right? You mean to say you’re telling me that you, Bill Keeth, inveterate advocate of the self-publishing process, actually submitted Write It Self-Publish It Sell It to a commercial entity – a literary agency in this most recent instance? If so, I think you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.

BK: Notta tall, old bean. All I have ever said about self-publication as opposed to commercial publication is this . . . ‘It is not that self-published writers, such as ourselves don’t want, don’t need, don’t deserve to be commercially published – or at least considered for publication. It’s just that we don’t intend to remain unpublished in the mean time.’

DD: Sounds like you want it both ways, if you ask me.

BK: Believe me, I want it any which way I can get it, pal. Don’t you?

DD: Ooh, er . . . That is to say, er . . .

BK: Well, look at the two instances I give in Chapter One of Write It Self-Publish It Sell It.

DD: Which are those, may one ask?

BK: The case of Billy Hopkins and Brian John. Both these writers initially self-published their novels when no commercial publisher wanted to know. Then they ended up being commercially published immediately they’d each sold a shed load of their respective self-published books.’

DD: Yeah, but you’ve already sold 2,500 books, haven’t you?

BK:  Yep.

DD: And no one’s taken your books on yet, have they?

BK: It’ll happen. It’s just got to at that rate. Because 1,000 copies maximum is probably as many as a commercial publisher would think of publishing in a first edition. (The poor things are not very adventurous, you’ll recall.) Still, the important point is that, in the mean time, I have not remained unpublished at the behest of uncaring and timorous commercial know-nothings.

DD: No. I’ll give you that. But what I don’t understand is why you’re so keen to see Write It Self-Publish It Sell It commercially published?

BK: I take it you’ve seen Aneeta’s review of WISP in this newsletter. And other reviews on Well, they’re the reason I fancy my chances. Yep. I reckon WISP could be a best seller worldwide, except for the fact that it ends up being far too expensive if I personally have to post it (inc. insurance). Postal costs alone effectively double the retail price of the book on a worldwide basis. So I really do need a commercial publisher to see to that side of things.

DD:  “Writing is about Art and publishing is about money”, as the man said. The man in question being Foster J Dickson of Montgomery, Alabama.

BK:  Indeed!

DD:  So, going back to how Annie Lennox put it in the song, how d’ you feel about things now?

BK: Gr-r-r-reat! as Tony the Tiger also says on the Kellogg’s Frosties box. Aneeta’s suggestion in respect of writing this column being just what I needed at the time – a shot in the arm! Besides which, here’s what best-selling writer Billy Hopkins had to say in support of Aneeta’s suggestion: “If someone asks you to contribute to their publication, of course you must say yes. That’s what writing is all about! . . . I am sure you will agree that you had a good time writing [WISP]. Doing the research, getting your stuff organised and then getting it all down. That’s no mean achievement. Now you are being offered a chance to write for people who are interested in self-publishing. Just do it and enjoy. When you decided to write, nobody said you were going to have an easy time of it. The joy is supposed to be in the actual writing.”

You’ll do for me, Tommy! (As the English comedian, Bobby Ball used to say to his partner, Tommy Cannon.) Or, rather, Billy will do for me in the instance quoted! Aneeta, too! And, don’t forget, the Society of Authors either. I really do recommend that readers apply for membership of the Society of Authors immediately they are published or self-published. Hang the expense: believe me, membership of the Society of Authors is as necessary as it is tax deductible!

(See and )

© Bill Keeth

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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