I have no idea what I’m doing. If I wanted to be portentous, I’d write, ‘And so it begins…’ I’ve just released my comic novel, Mervyn vs. Dennis, as an e-book on Amazon. This isn’t what I’d planned. I doubt if self-publishing is the first choice of any serious writer. Even so, I’m trying to make the most of what I’ve got. So what exactly do I have? A book. Actually, I’ve got three, but Mervyn vs. Dennis is my most recent one. It’s a fun and enthralling story with a dark, satirical edge. And it only costs £1.99!
Getting Started With Self Publishing
I always believe what the internet tells me. The other day, it said the most important thing about self-publishing is promotion. As I won’t have an amazing literary agent or a great big strapping publisher to shout my name from the rooftops, I’ll have to make myself heard amid the clamour of the internet through this humble blog. Harassing random people on Twitter doesn’t really appeal so I’m hoping passers-by will stumble upon these very words you’re reading and learn a little bit about me and my novel. If you’re not a friend or a member of my family, then hello! Thanks for stopping by!
So what am I confused about? As a man who’s been good with computers throughout most of his life, I’m finally feeling technology catch up with me. I can (just about) handle WordPress but I’ve never been a massive fan of social media. I barely use Facebook anymore (too much humblebragging) and only check Twitter when I’m bored. Faced with the prospect of promoting myself through social media channels, I feel utterly geriatric. I’ve read all the usual dos and don’ts and tried not to ignore the ones that seem like too much hard work.
What to expect from this blog? It won’t all be about me. As someone who’s been writing seriously for two decades, I’ve got a lot to say about the craft of writing itself. As I’ve never managed to get a novel published, I’m not the most qualified man in the world to be imparting wisdom, but all my hard-earned knowledge is bound to help somebody. The internet, it seems, is full of struggling writers. There’s listicles all over the shop about common writing mistakes. While most of them are informative and doubtlessly helpful, they do all tend to cover the same ground as each other, and I’m looking forward to contributing my own.
So why am I doing this now? Self-publishing’s always been my last resort. After twenty years of slogging, I feel I’ve exhausted every possibility. I could write another book (I’ve got plenty of ideas) and try literary agents again, but after my lack of success with Mervyn vs. Dennis, I’m convinced that I’ll be wasting my time. Even if I sell a hundred books on Amazon, that’s a hundred more than I would’ve sold with my novel squatting mournfully in my hard drive. I’d always been determined to get an agent and a publisher but now I’ve finally accepted that’s never going to happen.
Is There a Market for Comic Fiction?
My book is great. I know that. I love it with all my heart. So why hasn’t an agent snatched me up? Who’s deluded–me or them? All I know is what they’ve told me: comic fiction doesn’t sell. Unless you’re an established comedian, your chances are slim to none. I’m sure they’re correct in mass market terms but I know there’s a readership for books that make you laugh. Not that I’m conceited enough to rank myself among them, but some of the most beloved authors of all time wrote hilarious novels: Kingsley Amis, Evelyn Waugh, Jerome K Jerome, Douglas Adams, PG Wodehouse, John Kennedy Toole, Oscar Wilde, Hunter S Thompson…
Typing out that list, I realised: everybody’s dead. The greatest comic novels of all time were written by a bunch of stiffs. And in this way, I suppose, the agents are right. There isn’t the same audience for humorous books as there is for high-concept thrillers. But why not? Everybody likes to laugh. Just look at how successful stand-up comedy is right now. A book that makes you laugh is rare, and something to be treasured. Having said that, a good comic novel isn’t just about the comedy. There’s nothing worse than something relentlessly whacky and glib. Comic novels can be sad, dark, exciting and mysterious. The greatest thing about them is that they can be anything. And that’s one of the many reasons why you’ll absolutely love my book.
Comic novels can flit between genres. Comic novels can shock and surprise you. As long as they keep making you laugh, they can do whatever they want. Mervyn vs. Dennis is a comic novel but it also tackles grim and serious issues such as racism, homophobia, mental illness and abuse. It’s even rather timely in our post-Brexit Britain. Sometimes the story is lighthearted, sometimes it’s disturbing. Sometimes the humour is slapstick and fun, sometimes it’s bleak and awkward. The central narrative is a conflict with a clear protagonist and antagonist. Organically around that conflict, mystery and suspense emerge, and some sections of the climax could be lifted from a psychological thriller. By self-publishing my book, I’m not setting out to prove the agents wrong, but to prove myself right. There might not be a mass market for my novel at the moment, but who knows? There might be soon. And you could be one of the first!