Allan Mayer’s Weblog

Coming Out

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Coming Out

So you are sure of who you are, and what you want to do. You know there’s nothing wrong with it- you’ve been doing it for years for God’s sake. All you have to do now is to tell someone.

You go over the scene so many times. You are in that familiar living room but the walls seem to press in and each breath feels like you are aspirating in a pool of warm sweat.

You practice the words, imagining the gasps, the incredulity… the laughter.

‘Mum… Dad… Sweetheart… I’ve something to tell you: I’m… I’m… AN AUTHOR!

It’s time to unleash your creation upon your first readership- your friends and family, which is not an easy thing to. You have laboured long and hard on this, it is your baby, you’ve grown attached, and will be upset if anyone tells you it’s ugly. But be brave- better a friend tells you than a publisher.

So ask them to be honest, and to make any marks on the manuscript in a different colour to what has been used by previous readers. Ask them to comment on the plot, characters, anything they liked or didn’t like. Ask them if they feel that it reads like something they would buy from a book shop, and if it doesn’t, why not.

You will be surprised, regardless of how thoroughly you have revised and proof read your work, just how many typos and spelling mistakes will still be found. A spell checker will pass ‘there’ or ‘their’ as correct, regardless of its context.

I even say to people that if they get so far in and think that it’s drivel to stop and give it back. LIFE IS TOO SHORT.

Fortunately, so far, no one has done that. Remarks have tended to be very encouraging. As I sat watching a football match at the city of Manchester Stadium I got a series of texts from someone who just had to know that her favourite character would survive. As it turned out, Manchester City lost and the texts turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the afternoon.

(Here’s an old football joke for you:
Football fan 1: City lost today.
Football fan 2: How do you know?
Football fan 1: It’s Saturday…)

Don’t feel obliged to make every change suggested by your readers. They, like you, bring their own presuppositions to the piece. But if several people make the same point this probably is a big indication that you need to rethink.

So go through it, making the alterations you agree with, remembering that each one may be keeping you that little bit further away from a publisher’s rejection pile. If you think this sounds tedious, how must it have been before the invenion of the word processor?

When you eventually get published (oh yes, positive thinking is essential,) you might want to give the people who helped you a credit.

My book is a thriller, of sorts, so I made a point at first of only asking people who I knew read that genre. After all, they were doing me a service, so I wanted them to at least get some enjoyment out of it.I asked my Wife, my Father and Brother to read it, but not my Mother, as she wouldn’t have got past the (necessary and appropriate) strong language. Which brings me onto another difficulty which you might find in sharing your work with people who know you…

What you consider to be your well-written and objective exploration of a neglected corner of the human condition may to someone who knows you come as an appalling revelation that you are a disgusting pervert with a mind like Satan’s sewer.Don’t laugh- it came as a great shock to Iris Murdoch’s nearest and dearest that some of her subject matter was in her head, so it does happen, even to the best of them. I once told a colleague who had read my novel that a great deal of it was based upon real events. She laughed and asked me if I was referring to the scene in the factory toilet (at the beginning of Chapter 3, which you can hear on YouTube.)

So think carefully- is your work a processing of reality through your imagination, or is it a confession of your warped psyche and a series of clues about where the bodies are buried?

Depending on your answer, your next step will be to send a sample of your work to an agent (in the first case literary, in the second, government.)

And you though it had been hard getting to this point…

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