Why would you withdraw a book so soon, after so much work? Simply because of that review? Or those reviews? Why be such a coward? Why give up so soon?
In truth, reviews have played their part, but in reality there are far more pressing issues. Throughout the editing process my concern was to preserve the original, to retain who and what I was then, and to refrain from imposing who I am now on the story and text. At the time, I merely wanted to free a past work that I had abandoned along the way as I took upon a new path of my own. All of these intentions made perfect sense to me—and even, perhaps, to people who know me—but general readers have no interest in the esoteric ruminations of the author: they just want to read a good book. And, alas, Satya is not a good book in that sense.
Somewhere in the process, perhaps towards the end when I was exhausted by hours spent analysing the text, when I had moved beyond reconciling myself with a once rejected work to actually enjoying and appreciating it, some early glowing reviews convinced me that there was life for this story beyond my narrow self-interested clique. Suddenly I believed that there was a place for it in the world of literature, forgetting that it was still the work of an immature twenty year-old, still trapped in 1997, the year before everything changed for me. Forgetting all of my original intentions, I stumbled out of my depth and began pushing my novel as if it was a serious work to compete with the beautiful glossy covers on the shelves of WHSmith and Waterstones. Of course, it isn’t.
The pointed reviews of strangers have helped bring this into perspective, but the printed book spoke louder. There is nothing like holding a physical printed book in your hands. A text in the word-processor pales beside its typeset equivalent captured on a PDF, but even a page-spread proof printed on A4 paper is nothing beside a chunky, bound novel which you can hold in your hands whilst sitting in bed. It was at this stage that reality dawned in all of its full and gory glory: this was not a book ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Despite a heavy investment in proof reading, errors continued to jump out at me all over the place. Yet it got worse: now I could see how I could have restructured the work; repetitive passages were all too evident; unnecessary back-story bored even me, the author. Here was a book that had certainly stayed true to the original, but it was not a book for now, and for public consumption.
I ponder, now and then, reworking it for today, but I’m not sure if I will. All of the angst before chapter eleven could be cut out with a single stroke on the keyboard, condensing the action into a neat, short novel. I could do that, but I am not sure if I will, because the story in question is of a world far removed from the one I reside in now. Does such a story need to be told? More to the point, should it be told? That is a question to ponder, but there is no urgency now.
Rational concerns strike me now: if I were to return to writing, it would be with the blessing of a publisher. Printing your own books is easy nowadays if you have the technical know-how: print-on-demand and the widespread acceptance of eBooks have brought it within everybody’s grasp. But there is much more to publishing than printing books. Traditional, established publishers invest heavily in editors, proofreaders, designers and publicists. For the lone author, going it alone, these services are often prohibitively expensive. As a former typesetter by trade, book design has never been a concern, but the remaining skills have always been well beyond my means, for I am not a rich man. When I publish, I boot-strap: I take on a small freelance job to raise the funds necessary to pay for my work. I do not take a bank loan or delve into finances set aside for my family.
It amuses me when people complain that books are too expensive, because in reality they are too cheap. There is no real money in publishing: if you want to get rick quickly, it is not the trade for you. Publishing Satya was a clear loss-making venture: using the print-on-demand model, each copy would cost just over £5.00 to print; the book trade then demand a discount of between 40 and 55%. If you feel you deserve to be paid for your work, you might be tempted to award yourself £3.00, but alas in doing so you have priced yourself out of the market, for only established, well known authors deserve to sell books at that price, as every armchair commentator will tell you. £9.99 is apparently still too expensive for a 500-page book, so I’m afraid you will have to make do with twenty pence payment for each book you sell, which of course will not cover the cost of even your ineffective proofreader, let alone your set-up costs, ISBN, free promotional copies, advertising and postage. Those tempted to recoup their costs via the sale of their eBook editions will be severely rebuked. You might think a fee of a penny per page would be fair, but you will soon learn that all you deserve is a nominal £2.99 or nothing, 30% of which goes to the retailer. If you publish, it is certainly not for love of money.
It does not make sense to me now to invest so heavily in a potential book which may never be read by anyone: to invest in the hours writing it and redrafting it, with no clear idea if it will ever see the light of day. Yes, of course, for those of us for whom writing is a hobby, we can certainly go on telling stories for the pure love of it. But to wander blindly into serious authorship with false expectations? With time in short supply, we need to evaluate the benefits of a course of action. Do I now continue to work on the various drafts on my computer, or do I make contact with potential publishers to ask if they might possibly be interested in such a work? Why do all the work up front, when in the end it might just be thrown on the great bonfire of rejected manuscripts?
My novel, Satya, I have come to realise, is still very much a draft, even if it is much more polished than its earliest incarnation as The Beauty of the Lion of 1996. I could rework it for today. Better still, I could work with an editor to rework it for today. But for now it is going back on my shelf, to join my personal archive of good ideas at the time, beside To Honour God and others. I don’t regret revisiting that old abandoned work of mine. My only regret is losing sight of my initial goals—thinking that it was good enough to be unleashed in the wild, long before it was ready—forgetting that I was publishing for me, not for the world.