I last wrote about taking control of your narrative in the face of rejection, being told that what you are offering the world is deemed insufficient, or unworthy. Worse than that, it’s rejection by the exact same people whose favour you’re attempting to garner through your activities. So no wonder it smarts when it comes back with that same boiler plate ennui.
I’ve been through the submissions process a few times now, not successfully since 2017. Surely that’s a wake-up call. After receiving my last rejection letter, which was sent out by this particular agent less than two days after I’d subbed The Green Man to him, I actually laughed. I mean, at least they’re getting faster! But this was an agent I’d targetted for a while, whose reading preferences I knew, whose genre preferences I knew, and even had a bit of personal information about him, and whom I’d even met before, so I thought I had a shot. Nope. Nada.
I am afraid that I do not feel that it is right for my list, but I appreciate you sending it to me.
And that’s literally it. On your bike, son. This is a local literary agency, for local people – we’ll have no trouble here.
But it did make me think, why the hell am I doing this? Why the hell am I submitting (there’s that word again, submission – a form of self-imposed subjugation) myself to this? Is this why I wrote The Green Man? Or The Hole In The Sky? No, I wrote them because I truly believed in them. They took time and effort, and they encompass a whole range of things and ideas and concepts that enthused me and drove me and, in a temporary sense, possessed me such that I poured them out into this mad set of manuscripts. And to our them out is to set them free, and they must be set free! Books must live!
The Green Man in particular is, despite its setting and characters, at least a little bit autobiographical. I didn’t write it to make money. I wrote it to understand a few things, about me, and maybe even about the world. Maybe I’ll go into that in another post. But I wrote these things to get them out. Not to command a six-figure sale with an agent to Hodder & Stoughton, or whoever. Somewhere along the line that imposed its own significance upon my own narrative. I never tried to write a book in the expectation that it’d be a bestseller (which, given my sales, is pretty fortunate). I wrote to explore, to have a conversation with myself on a page. To try and engage with the truth.
On a recent episode of his podcast Jordan Peterson was introduced by his erstwhile colleague John Vervaeke to the notions of philosophia (the root of the word philosophy, pretty obviously) and philonokia. Both words share the same stem – philo, meaning love, then deviate. Philo-nokia, is derived from Nike, the Greek Goddess of Victory – thus the love of victory; and Philo-sophia, derived from Sophia, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom; thus, the love of knowledge. It’s funny that philosophy remains a very common word but philonokia does not, despite it arguably being a more prevalent phenomenon.
The love of victory, as espoused so thrillingly by The Unknown Prince as he sings Nessun Dorma (Vincero! Vincero! Vinceeeeroooo!) from Puccini’s Turandot, is certainly attractive, and in some sense essential. In war, in the sporting arena, you’d better be worshipful of victory, otherwise you’re nowhere. And it’s important to play these narratives out in the codified manner of, for example, sports. But it’s odd that this philonokia – this fervent love of winning above all else – should become prevalent in the field of the arts. Ok, sure, what’s Awards Season for if no the thrill of victory and backing the right horse, at the Oscars or Baftas, or Hugos, or Booker Prize, or whatever. But nobody creates their art to win. That, to me, seems to be contrary – antithetical even – to the very purpose of creating art, which is to discover the truth. And to discover the truth one needs wisdom; so you articulate that which you don’t quite understand through artistic media. You pursue wisdom because you love it. Philosophia.
Books, like art, must live. To engage with the slush pile is to admit that you’re engaging in philonokia, which is game in which, as Cersei Lannister says, “you win or you die.” Why? Why subject oneself to that?
All of which is a very roundabout way of coming to the conclusion that I am seriously looking at self-publishing The Hole In The Sky, and also The Green Man. It might seem a tad pretentious to take this circuitous route simply to arrive at what seems to be a fairly mundane conclusion, but there it is. It’s not just this realisation that I’m engaging in a sport where the winners are infinitesimally small in proportion to the entrants – a sort of Battle Royale of words – but also the need to release these works. I believe in them, and maybe somebody else does too. Hugh Howey, the self-published success story, always said that if you give people the chance to discover something, then they will. One of my beta readers fo TGM gave me feedback that was so thrilling, so overwhelming that it almost – almost – made me not mind if nobody else were to read it ever again. So what’s to say that that won’t happen again?
It’s also the need for control. As I mentioned in the last post, controlling your narrative is something that all authors ought to be able to do when it comes to the actual narrative of the book, but maybe less so when it comes to managing the narrative of themselves. At least if I choose to self-publish these books then I retain that degree of control. But the main thing is that they will develop a life of their own, rather than continually dying in the slush pile.