Familial fun

Dear Miss Snark,

I live in Ireland, the land of saints, scholars, Guinness, and Cork Dry Gin (really rather yummy), but alas, also a land of few literary agents and publishers. Something to do with that larger, jolly country off our east coast which hosts many of the world's major publishing houses.

I've written a literary novel, and over the last seven months, I've been sending it to Ireland's literary agents, plus many of the ones over the water to the east. Things move slowly, as you know, but I'm starting to get the tiniest bit of tentative interest and (holy moly!) a request for a
partial. Fine so far.

My problem is my cousin. He also wrote a novel--dashed it off in two months when he was supposed to be processing parking fines for Ballygobackward Town Council--and he then immediately went to a POD self publishing crowd. Six weeks later, and he's lounging around in a velvet smoking jacket and lace-trimmed gumboots, expounding to all who will listen about the hard life of a writer, and dropping "my agent" or "my publisher" or "my editor" into
every other sentence.

I've read his book. It's not the worst, although there's a good few grammatical errors, which of course get ignored by a POD crowd. But now, our families are looking pityingly at me, saying things like, "Oh, Finbarr must be the real writer in the family, as his novel was snapped up in a blink, and have you seen it, it's the one with the pretty purple and pink artwork
on the cover."

Now, you know, and I know, and all the Snarklings reading this know, that POD Vanity Publishing isn't the same thing as being published by Gill & Macmillan. But I'm getting really sick of both Finbarr, his book, and our families. Is there a tactful way I can explain the differences between vanity publishing and real publishing without looking churlish or putting
down Finbarr too much?

And if you can answer this question, Miss Manners....er... Miss Snark, then I have another pressing question about removing egg yolk from a silk cravat.

Miss Snark steps up to the plate on both questions.

1. When one's family makes noises about dear Finbarr, you wrinkle your nose, look perplexed, and say "you know, I really want to read this great novel but I can't seem to find it at the library. The librarian called it a vanity project. I wasn't sure what she meant. Do you know?"

When Finbarr makes noises about his agent, ask who it is. Purely to send flowers and choccies for congrats of course.

2. The best way to remove egg yolk from a silk cravat is with a tongue. Yours or, as is more often the case here, Killer Yapp's.


Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Oh, dear, there are some really fine agents in the UK. Consider them too.

I'm in my usual confused state, so if you have submitted to UK agents already, be kind. My brains were fried by spending the day with about 200 elemementary school kids.

...And I thought MY kids talked a lot! HA!

Anonymous said...

Just grit your teeth and keep thinking of that moment when you'll be doing your first signing in Hodges Figgis, and you can give Finbarr a puzzled look - in front of all the relatives - and say, 'I thought we could do a signing together, but Hodges Figgis says they won't carry vanity publications...'

Meanwhile, you could always put on an indulgent look and say, 'I'm so happy that Finbarr's enjoying himself so much - it's nice for him to have a hobby. Personally, I wouldn't pay someone just to print up my book, but everyone's different, and he's having such a lovely time.'

I'm in Ireland too :-). Who the heck is his 'agent'?!

Anonymous said...


If it makes you feel any better, I've had the same situation happen in my family, too. My mother called to tell me my long, lost cousin, who's a financial analyst by day, just wrote and published a non-fiction book. And despite the fact that I have a kick-butt agent, she kept insisting that I call my cousin because of course "he had the contacts to get me published".


domynoe said...

Heh. I'd probably flat out say, "Sure, it's EASY to get published when you pay for instead of getting paid for it."

But I'm witchy that way sometimes.

Okay, a lot of the times . . . .

Julie said...

Bring a writer friend (or a friend willing to masquerade as a writer) to a family gathering, and instruct them to utter such comments as, "Oh, I've heard of that publisher. They're a vanity press, right?" and "I couldn't find your book at the bookstore, but so-and-so lent me a copy. Too bad about all those editing errors." Or even, "Yeah, I considered going the POD Vanity Publishing route. But I decided it wasn't worth paying to get published."

Let your friend/accomplice be rude, leaving you an opening to calmly explain the differences between POD and mainstream.

WannabeMe said...

I feel for you. I've got a mom who thinks I'll be a millionaire when I sell my first book. More likely, I'll get into more debt trying to promote it!

Anonymous said...

Ah, let him have his happy day -- he paid for it!

You needn't let the criticism get to you, since you know better. And it takes all the pressure off if people around you don't expect much from you.

When I was younger, everybody expected me to make a Big Splash, and I was paralyzed (OK, not literally) by the fear of doing something mediocre. Only after everyone had given up on me did I have the nerve to try something that might fail. And my first book is coming out in October, from a Random House imprint.

Anonymous said...

I used to use, "Oh, yes, it's easy when you pay to have your book printed and there's no quality requirements. I prefer the traditional route that leads to success rather than obscurity."

But then, I got really tired of the SP-wonders talking up their 'authorship' when to them, rough draft meant final product.

Anonymous said...

"fine agents in the UK" would possibly be the same people the Irish letter-writer mentioned as being off his east coast.

"Only after everyone had given up on me did I have the nerve to try something that might fail."

That's about what happened to me (barring the part about the Random House contract - congrats!) - I disappointed my mother enough times with rejections that she's now grateful when I publish even a short story she can tell her friends about. That lack of expectation frees me to work on my novels, one of which is finally approaching the point of being worth pitching to agents.

My writers group has a couple of POD/vanity types (the lace-trimmed gumboots only show in their auras :D ). One is rather ashamed and has quietly moved on to writing mysteries more seasoned by the early experience, and the other seems to think her error-ridden, choppy tome puts her on a par with the Grande Dames of crime fiction. The older members of the group spend a bit of energy _tactfully_ explaining to newbies why this latter individual is not necessarily a good source for advice on getting published.

There's no tactful way to tell your relatives that Fin is full of blarney. Some won't believe you, others won't understand the distinctions, and still others won't care because the aroma of 'being published' is so overpowering to the under-exposed.

Anonymous said...

I am so averse to having to cope with my family's expectations, ignorance of the business and curiosity that I simply tell none of them anything about my writing. My mother has somehow divined that I'm writing (maybe the hours I spend clacking away on the computer provided a clue), and now I'm getting calls from my brother asking how the writing is coming along. I ignore the question and steer the conversation away, but he comes right back and asks me again. I truly resent this. I respond with "What writing?" but he can't seem to take a hint.

Gabriele Campbell said...

I love the name Ballygobackward. I wonder, does this place have a history? Preferably dating back to the early 5th century AD? Because in that case I'd like to use it for that future plotbunny of mine that happends to take place in Ireland and feature Niall Noigiallach and some other interesting characters. *grin*

Anonymous said...

Thank you from the bottom of my soiled gumboots, Miss Snark. I will practice my innocent putdowns in front of the bedroom mirror and in the cowshed.

The Cork Dry Gin is on its way. :)

BTW, Gabriele C., please don't sell Ballygobackward short! It has a long and glorious history all the way back to 5BC involving marauding vikings, mysterious celts, stone tombs, too much bloody bog, and a lot of cows.

And Ballygobackward Town Council is now proudly displaying the work of their literary son at the cash register. You can now buy a copy as you pay your parking tickets. *head hits keyboard to the sound of crying*

M Harold Page said...

Say nothing. Sell your novel. Frame and hang a photocopy of your advance.

Anonymous said...

The cousin must be very proud of the book he wrote. Congratulations to him. He made a choice of how he wanted to deliver his art to an audience. He seems content with that choice.

As a writer or an artist, you might want to examine your motivations for writing your letter, why you feel the need to degrade your cousin, his job, and a town.

One thing to consider, your cousin doesn't seem to be motivated by money or validation. Perhaps he truly loves what he does. Whether he writes well or not is immaterial if it makes him happy.

What will make you happy? Don't learn this the hard way like me.

Anonymous said...

As a writer or an artist, you might want to examine your motivations for writing your letter, why you feel the need to degrade your cousin, his job, and a town

I think poor Finbarr's cousin is not so much jealous of Finbarr's success, but rather upset that his family sees him as a failure when it's simply a matter of he hasn't succeeded yet. After all, he's chosen the longer road when his family doesn't know that there is more than one road.

He's being misunderstood and that can wear on a person's optimism.

Anonymous said...

An actor friend of mine--who played character parts all over the world for a good 50 years--once imparted this observation: "When the Yanks get together they gamble, when the Scots get together they drink, when the English get together they have tea, and when they Irish get together they fight."

Embrace your heritage!

--Irish on all sides.

Anonymous said...

Ballygobackward isn't a specific place so much as a state of mind. It's a general term for any small town in the middle of nowhere where much of the population looks disturbingly alike. I'm pretty sure that state of mind has been around since at LEAST 5BC.

And the thought of not being able to buy this book unless you get a parking ticket completely cracked me up... I'm betting Finbarr is giving out a lot more parking tickets than usual.

Pepper Smith said...

Yup. How well I know the 'disappointed mother' syndrome. I got to the point where I just didn't tell anyone I was submitting my work, because Mom was so certain that it meant I was going to be published that she'd ask if she could tell the family in the Christmas newsletter that I was getting published. Sigh. No Mom. I'm just in the slush pile. No, don't know when I'll hear back. No, I really don't want to visit the Publish America website and see what they can do to speed the process up. Or Author House, for that matter.

Grumble grumble. Just hang in there.

Anonymous said...

Our local newspaper seems to just love either vanity press or self-published "authors." If I read one more half-page-with-photo article about how Mr.Stumbling Writer or Ms.Grammatically Challenged has published a book (one even had six books under her belt in five years time), I think I'll...spit.

Do I dare write to the newspaper and tell them that those "authors" paid to be published? Or would that sound like sour grapes?

Jo Bourne said...

Just how snarky are you feeling?

It occurs to me Finbar would be the perfect person to help members of your family publish their stories of Ballygobackwards in the old days.

"What a fascinating childhood," you say brightly. "You should write a book. It's not expensive. Finbar knows how. Why ... if you tell him the story I bet he'll even write it for you and split the profits."

Anonymous said...

Don't forget to make a distinction between POD and vanity publishing. There's enough reputable small presses who use POD printing without being anything like a vanity press.

A vanity press makes you pay for being published. POD is a way for a book to be printed.