IT is a ridiculous book. It’s silly, it’s disgusting, it was written by a drunk and worst of all, it’s a book about a gang of kids who save a town from a scary clown. Well sometimes “It” is a clown. Sometimes It’s a big spider and other times It’s Paul Bunyan or a leper. Did I mention the book is ridiculous? Basically, It shape shifts into the things children are most afraid of and then kills them. Sound familiar? I don’t know if IT (published in 1986) ripped off Nightmare on Elm Street (released 1984), but who cares? If there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that there can never be enough stories about murdered children, am I right?
If you’ve not read IT, I suppose this is the part where I should warn you of impending spoilers but as you probably have no intention of reading IT anyway, what difference does it make? Besides, most of the spoilery bits are above anyhow. I don’t even feel bad.
“Why is this ridiculous book the one that changed your life?” I hear you not ask. Let me tell you anyway.
Before reading IT at thirteen, I had read precisely three novels: Jacob Two Two meets the Hooded Fang, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (Yes, two books by Mordecai Richler… Canada innit). Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly hooked on reading. In fact, I found the idea of sitting down with a book a fairly tedious activity, especially once the NES came out. Remember how awesome Super Mario 3 was? Why would you read a friggin book when you could play that game instead? Finding your first secret coin room… oh, MAN.
Stephen King changed all that.
Stephen King books are bad. And I don’t mean the writing is shit. Ok, yes, he spends too much time describing scenes and characters that have no bearing on the plot and maybe he does love an adverb or two (despite the surprising diss he gives them in On Writing), and oh I guess it’s true his books are way way way too long, but oh my dear lord, they’re fun to read.
When I say they’re bad, I mean they are properly off-side. Some are a bit racist, women are often battered, dudes are sleeping with their own moms and, of course, the stacks upon stacks of dead kids.
Even now, in these days of overprotective supermoms and paedomania, you can still find Stephen King novels everywhere. Book shops, airports, car boot sales, Oxfam… you name it. I found IT in my school library. In Junior High! I read it on the bus, I read it in the cafeteria, I read it on the couch at home and no one seemed to care. It was so strange. Everyone knew Stephen King books were a bit wrong, but they just seemed happy to see me reading an actual book. A tut here, the odd eye roll there, but that was it, no one said I couldn’t read it despite the grisly murders, the occultish baddies, the domestic abuse or the graphic sex. It was like discovering a socially acceptable porno mag. “Ah, is that porn you’re reading young sir? Good lad. More kids should be like you. Don’t forget to look at the tits!” You know the bit where Stan drags a razor blade lengthwise down both forearms and paints the word “It” on the shower wall in his own blood? I read that bit during church youth group while the pastor was giving a lecture on the evils of heavy metal. It was amazing.
King novels are the crack cocaine of the literary world, and IT is crackiest cocainiest. It has to be to keep you reading a book about a scary clown for well over a thousand pages. As soon as I finished, I immediately withdrew all the Stephen King novels from the library and read them all, then I went to the public library and read all of the ones they had and then when I was finished with those I went to the book store and used my own money to buy some more. Birthdays, Christmases, books had made their way onto my gift lists. I looked forward to reading the books we were assigned in school and English had become my favourite subject. I even found love for Mordecai Richler!
Stephen King is largely responsible for getting a dummy like me to read and even moreso to write. In fact, it wasn’t long after reading IT that I wrote my first story; a bit of flash fiction entitled “Barnyard Bob and his dog named Phil”; a story about a dog who has sex with his degenerate owner in exchange for room and board. It was god awful, but shit it was fun to write.
So you’ve got your finished novel. It’s gripping, the characters are suitably complex, you’ve knitted an intriguing narrative and the twist at the end rips the reader’s heart out. You’ve cleaned up the tense, grammar and narrative glitches, dropped bombs on the adverbs and you’ve saved yourself a lifetime of embarrassment by heeding your writing group’s advice to deep six the bondage scene.
You know it’s just the greatest novel since Nineteen Eighty-Four despite the fact it’s been rejected by loads of agents. Hang on, you’ve not sent it to any agents?
Step Zero: Send the manuscript to loads of agents.
If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that self-publishing should never be your first port-of-call. No matter what the self-publishing brigade tells you, getting properly published is always better. There is only one Hugh Howey. If you live in the UK, be sure to send the manuscript to The Blair Partnership and AM Heath (if, like mine, your book is sci-fi be sure to get a copy to Robert Dinsdale). TBP was very close to accepting mine, but after a very useful and productive back and forth, I decided the changes they wanted were too drastic and I chose self-publishing over making their changes.
What a colossal mistake that was.
Moving swiftly on… Get yourself a copy of the Writer’s Yearbook and send your manuscript to all the agents listed unless they specifically say they don’t accept your genre. “But my amazing book transcends genre,” I hear you say. Has it got time machines and space aliens in it? It’s sci-fi. Wizards and Orcs? It’s fantasy. Deal with it.
TIP: Most agents accept e-submissions these days, don’t waste your money on postage to the ones who don’t.
Now go ahead and submit, I’ll wait.
So you’ve got your finished novel. You know it’s just the greatest novel since Nineteen Eighty-Four despite the fact it’s been rejected by loads of agents. You’ve made their changes, resubmitted and been rejected again. Now’s the time to consider self-publishing.
Or is it? This is the point where you need to be very truthful with yourself. You need to read the comments people who’ve read it have made and ask yourself if you really want this work out there in the public domain. This is your name we are talking about and THE INTERNET IS FOREVER.
Yeah, yeah… I want to release this book no matter what!
See, I knew you wouldn’t listen to me. How did I know that? Because I am the same as you. Here are the things you need to consider:
Your book is probably crap.
The thing that no self-published author will admit is that most self-published books are crap to the point of being unreadable. If any of the following apply to you, it is almost certainly crap:
No one has read your book but you (and possibly your mom)
You don’t read much fiction yourself
You wrote it for NaNoWriMo
You wrote it for NaNoWriMo and everyone in your NaNoWriMo support group loved it
You wrote it for NaNoWriMo, everyone in your NaNoWriMo support group loved it and it’s got zombies in
Because a proper editor hasn’t gone over it line-by-line, there is no guarantee your book isn’t crap. However, having one of The Guardian’s twelve best new novelists in the country review it can’t hurt. Jenn Ashworth runs a brutally honest service called The Writing Smithy that does just that. I would recommend her services whether you choose to self publish or not. Her report is largely responsible for my book getting any agent attention at all. Want to know what one of her reports looks like before you buy?
Have a look at mine. SPOILERS (obviously) [THIS HAS BEEN REMOVED AS THE NOVEL IS IN THE PROCESS OF BEING RE-WRITTEN SOZ]
No matter how good your book is, everyone will make this face at you when you tell them it’s been self-published.
Seriously, get used to that face.
Your book will contain typos.
Listen, yeah, you think your spelling skills are, like, totally the best, yeah? Well, in Grade 9, I was in the 92nd percentile nationally in spelling. 92nd percentile. That means in Canada, I was the… uh… 92 times 26 million… divided by the square root of Pi… carry the 1… what I am trying to say is that I am a very good speller. Were you in the 92 percentile in spelling in your country? No you weren’t. I am a better speller than you and my finished book has six typos in it. Your book will have typos in it. CreateSpace (more on them below) provide an editing service, but expect to pay around £2000 for even the most basic package. I didn’t pay for it so I cannot tell you whether they would’ve spotted my six typos, but I can tell you that every time I see those six typos in my book I want to kill myself.
How many typos do you see in books that are traditionally published? Answer: Not many.
The quality of the printed book will be crap.
I got my book done with Amazon’s CreateSpace. CreateSpace is the one Hugh Howey goes on about and is by far the most popular. See that bent cover? That book hasn’t even been read. Don’t get me wrong, CreateSpace is good, probably the best self-publishing service out there. The customer service is fantastic (Americans innit), they’re interior design package is worth every penny, but the quality of a print-to-order book simply isn’t great. Also, whatever you do, do NOT pay for their Promotional Text Creation. Here is the Createspace promotional text for my book.
Pretty crap, right? Guess what. They don’t actually read your book. No one will.
“But I’m not going to bother getting physical copies made, everyone’s got a Kindle these days anyway, I’ll just save the money and go ebook only.”
Here let me show you your mate’s self-published-book-face with added ebook-only angst:
If I removed the paperback sales from my total sales, there would be almost nothing left. Going ebook-only also means your Grandma and your Uncle Cletus who’ve never touched a computer can’t give the book out to people at Christmas. And believe me, if you are self-published, these are your core readers.
Have a look at the books that won a Big Al’s Readers’ Choice award. These books are the best of the best of the thousands of books Big Al reviews on a yearly basis. Besides Wool, have you heard of any of them? Me neither.
Your book will not win any awards.
There are loads of book awards out there that accept self-published books. If they are free, by all means, fire away. The Kitschies are a great award, but they also accept books from properly published authors so you really haven’t a hope in hell. The mighty Thomas Pynchon was nominated this year and didn’t even win, so don’t be surprised when you look at the shortlist and find it doesn’t contain any self-published books. There are many others out there, like the Bath novel award and the IPPYs that charge you to enter. I would say it’s probably a waste of money, but I entered them anyway. Because, like you, I am a chump.
You better like marketing as much as you like writing.
Do you like marketing? If you’re a jaded, middle-aged writer currently typing in a stained, woollen cardie like me, the answer to that question is probably: “Hell no”. If you self-publish, you will not get any writing done for a good six months after you launch your book because you will be spending all your time making a fool of yourself trying to get your mates to buy it. And then, despite your best efforts, you will still sell very few copies. Unless, of course, you are very good at marketing and have no soul… then you might sell a few more.
Now, I know exactly what you’re thinking. I was thinking the same thing when I read all the anti-self-publishing articles before I self-published. You’re thinking: “This Cutforth guy’s book is obviously crap. There are loads of self-published books out there that are great.” Well, you could be half-right. One thing I didn’t do before I self-published (and what I highly recommend you do) is actually read some other self-published books. Since my book has come out, I’ve read two winners of Big Al’s Readers Choice awards. Well, I say “read”… I didn’t finish either because (you guessed it) they were crap.
Remember the Canadian In New Basford column we used to run in this magazine? Well, the writer of that classic Leftlion feature has been keeping himself busy over the last couple of years by penning this post-apocalyptic Manchester-based tale. Seth wakes up with amnesia to a city that has been destroyed and all around him there is a scramble to survive. Standard currency has changed from coins and notes to fresh food and WD40. The only person he has to turn to is a sadistic doctor who tortures him to try and glean some information about ‘the machine’. Oh, and the dictaphone recordings of a little girl who appears to be long lost. Eventually this mystery begins to unfold as he pieces his broken life back together. A strong debut novel, full of twists and turns. Since he left us, R T Cutforth seems to have progressed from writing like a Canuck Charlie Brooker to a young Stephen King or Dean Koontz. Long may his progress continue. Jared Wilson
A young Dean Koontz or Stephen King? Wow, that’s pretty good.
Sorry for the lack of posts in here. The book has kinda taken over my life, I will try to rectify that in the future.
My other blog site robcutforth.com is still hacked and still pumping out garbage. There is nothing I can do to stop it. If you subscribe to that blog, please delete your subscription
There are reviews forthcoming for the book. Creative Tourist, Leftlion magazine, Northern Soul and a few assorted environmental campaigner types are reviewing it. I will post them here when I get them.
I am writing for Creative Tourist again. Here is the first bit of non-fiction I’ve done in awhile… readers of my Leftlion column will recognise the style 🙂 Polari Mission at the John Rylands
Got a nice message from the uber-famous Hugh Howey in response to putting him in the back of my book.
"Rob, what an honor, man. Thanks for the kind note. And I love the acknowledgement. Not dirty words indeed.
Best of luck to you with your work. Keep writing, my friend!
So that’s quite cool. If you don’t know who Hugh Howey is, he’s basically the biggest selling self-published guy going. He’s sold millions of books and the film rights to his book Wool have been bought by Ridley Scott. Not like he needs any more help, but if you haven’t read Wool, you should. It’s immense. Industrial Revolution would not have been self-published if it hadn’t been for him. I’ll let you decide whether that’s good or bad.
If you are reading this and have a blog or a magazine or whatever and want a free copy of the book to review, email me at robcutforth [AT] gmail [DOT] com. Be honest, I can take it!
I promise I will write more in here once all the book stuff dies down!
Yesterday, Barack Obama announced “sweeping” new policies targeting gun violence in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. I put “sweeping” in quotes because if it was in any other civilised country, the changes he suggested would be viewed as “the barest of minimums”.
Banning military style assault weapons, background checks and limiting magazines to 10 rounds seems to be so obvious as to be positively silly, but this is yeehaw pow pow FUCKIN AMURICAH we’s talkin bout so any gun control is welcome. Even gun control as weak as this.
To beef up Obama’s law, I humbly submit my background check form to be completed by all gun shop owners at point of purchase.
Rob’s Gun buying background check thing
Is the prospective gun owner a member of the NRA?
No… move to question 2
Yes… GUN DENIED
Did the prospective gun owner smile like he was touching his first boob when you handed him the gun?
No… move to question 3
Yes… GUN DENIED
Did the prospective gun owner say “I’ll be back” in an Austrian accent when you told him about the waiting period?
No… move to question 4
Yes… GUN DENIED
Does the prospective gun owner think the US government bombed the World Trade Centre on Sept 11?
No… move to question 5
Yes… GUN DENIED
Does the prospective gun owner have an eye patch?
No… move to question 6
Yes… GUN DENIED
Is the prospective gun owner missing any fingers, toes or especially teeth?
No… move to question 7
Yes… GUN DENIED
Is the prospective gun owner Rush Limbaugh?
No… move to question 8
Yes… GUN DENIED
Is the prospective gun owner chewing gum or worse, a piece of grass/wheat?
No… move to question 9
Yes… GUN DENIED
During the transaction, did the prospective gun owner use the word “Y’all” more than once?
No… move to question 10
Yes… GUN DENIED
Is the prospective gun owner American or been American at any time in his life?
No… move to question 11
Yes… GUN DENIED
Does the prospective gun owner have blond hair?
No… GUN DENIED
Yes… GUN DENIED
Penalty for selling a gun to anyone that fails the test is (obviously) death by firing squad.
Go on, go read that and come back here, I’ll wait.
As both readers of this blog will know (hi mom), I, like Lizzie, have written for Mark Garner in the past and as some of you who know me personally, i.e. the poor souls who exist within my tortured little whinge-sphere, Manchester Confidential were late in paying me as well. Very late.
I’d written an article on Labour’s failed ID card scheme and after numerous, polite, attempts at extracting payment from ManCon, I sent this email to their accounts department, cc’ing the big guy himself:
—————– Hi X,
Have I done something to piss you Manchester Confidential folks off? Was it the dissing of one of Mark’s food photos on Twitter? Maybe you don’t like my tie.
Your refusal to pay me has to be a personal thing. It can’t be standard practice for ManCon to take over 6 months to pay a contributor. I’ve written for many publications in the UK, most (who are we kidding, ALL) are much smaller than ManCon, and I have never had to wait this long.
I know what you owe me is a pittance and a low priority, but I’m a stubborn bastard and I won’t go away. If you think I won’t pursue this because it’s such a small amount, think again. I will sue on principle, it’s what we colonials do. Although, I will probably write a couple more nasty emails (and maybe even a letter on PAPER) before I go that far. I am also half British, you see.
If I’ve hurt someone’s feelings over there, kicked someone’s dog, pissed in someone’s Shreddies then please accept my apology. Accept a hundred of them.
Just pay me.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Holy crap, Rob, you sound like a whiny little asshole like Lizzie”. And you’d be half-right, especially if you read that letter without irony. Mark Garner didn’t read it without irony, He gets irony. He likes a bit of spiky humour; anyone who has ever read anything he’s ever published will know this.
You’re probably also thinking “Six months without getting paid?! Jesus, I thought this post was supposed to be in support of Mark Garner” and you’d be half-right again. Six months is an unacceptable amount of time to go without getting paid for an article, especially when you factor in the fact that I had to acquire one of those fucking Labour Big Brother ID cards in the process.
What you don’t know about the above response is that this bit, while true, is a tad misleading: “I’ve written for many publications in the UK … and I have never had to wait this long.” I have indeed written for quite a few publications in this country, some of which have enormous readerships and yes, while it is true I have never had to wait six months for payment, the reason is not as obvious as it might appear.
The fact is, the sum total I’ve been offered for the dozens of articles I’ve had published in magazines, newspapers and websites in this country is a big, fat, zero. Bupkiss. Nada, nothing, zip, zilch.
I’m not excusing these publications for not paying their writers, but I know for a fact that paying writers is something many independent publishers who aren’t lucky enough to receive lottery money can afford to do. Every single issue that goes to print is a struggle and many publications operate at a loss. I have since made a conscious decision to stop wasting my time writing for free (except for my LeftLion column), which is why you no longer see published articles on this, or my other blogs anymore.
It is entirely possible that my writing is worthless and Lizzie should be paid in gold bullion, lord knows a quick comparison of the number of comments Lizzie gets on her blog and at the comments I get will tell you that there is little to compare between the two of us. Lizzie probably isn’t a massive celebrity in Nottingham like I am (irony), but still, it has to be said, she is obviously much better at this business than I am. I hope she gets more paid work, I really do, but I can tell you right now that if I were a small publisher reading her post whinging about a payment that was a mere 10 days late, I would be asking her to shove things where the sun doesn’t shine as well. Ok, well, perhaps I wouldn’t go that far.
Oh yeah, and if you want proof that Mark Garner responds better to irony than moaning and browbeating, here is his response to my email (the spelling mistakes have been corrected):
Please confirm that we owe Mr Cutforth this money.
Mr Cutforth, to short circuit the whole thing, send me a copy invoice with your bank details and I will make a payment tomorrow.
I am unsure as to whether I should apologise, we may well be able to get another of your emails which made me smile, in the nicest possible way…
The first cheque I ever received for writing in the UK followed shortly thereafter.