Have you any idea how much trouble I have to go to, just to get my work published? Ignore the toil I have to go to afterwards, once I physically have books, I’m talking about the process that starts with a completed manuscript and ends with a pile of nicely printed books.
Take my last venture. Between ourselves it did occur to me that prose should be easier to publish than poetry. Let us be brutally frank, one publishes poetry because at some point it has to be done. To be a poet one has to point to some published work. Without this badge of accomplishment, the poet is merely another entertainer. Indeed you are distinguished solely by the fact you appeal to the snobbery of those who would doubtless prefer to listen to some under-dressed young lady singing, or to applaud an overly familiar ‘gentleman’ telling fart jokes.
But I have done that, I have published poetry. But it did occur to me that prose might actually sell. After all, when you look at what people buy, it does seem possible for a writer to provide for his or herself a modest income.
Indeed I am not one who wishes to make inordinately large amounts of money from my work. (Although I feel that I ought to have the chance, if only to prove that suddenly acquired immoderate wealth would not spoil me.)
So I penned some prose. Could I find a publisher? Could I find somebody wise enough to invest in the printing? Ha! Could I find anybody who’d even read the damned thing?
A lesser man, a less accomplished artist, might have been demoralised by this blow. But it struck me that if the city of Port Naain was so benighted as to not recognise fine literature when it was placed in front of it, then I was duty bound to persevere, if only in the role of an educator of my fellow citizens. So I pondered long and hard.
Then the answer came to me. I would copy out the manuscript in a neat hand and would then send the copy to Staffan Birdwhistle. I admit he’s not known as a patron of the arts. But he ought to be. After all, he has built up a considerable fortune and it seems a waste to let his wife, his mistress, and his numerous offspring fritter it away on gewgaws and baubles.
Had I merely sent it, I’d have got nowhere. Instead I sent it by the hand of Mutt. At this point my scheme nearly floundered as Mutt wanted paying in advance for his services. I’d hoped he’d accept a small deposit in earnest of my good intentions, and then accept the residue when the book started selling. Apparently this is not good business practice. So clutching my last silver vintenar in one hand and with two manuscripts under his arm Mutt approached the Birdwhistle offices. (At this point in the story I am reliant on Mutt’s version of the story, which I loosely paraphrase.)
He waited until Staffan Birdwhistle appeared somewhat rushed and then materialised in front of his desk.
Politely he doffed his cap. “Urgent package for Master Birdwhistle.”
Staffan Birdwhistle looked up from his desk. “What package?”
Mutt placed one copy of the manuscript in front of him on the desk. Then he opened the other copy. “Could you sign here, sir, to acknowledge receipt. Then here sir, and here, here and finally here. Thank you sir.”
With this Mutt bowed and faded from the scene.
He then brought back to me the copy of the manuscript Staffan Birdwhistle had signed. This I took to Silac Glicken of Glicken’s Printers. Silac was dismantling something. (Or perhaps he was reassembling it. I confess I never noticed the details.)
“Silac, my dear chap. I have a commission for you.”
I confess I was a little disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm in his response. I’d have hoped for more verve, perhaps even keenly expressed interest, but no. Instead he lay beneath his partially assembled (or disassembled) apparatus and in somewhat jaundiced tones replied, “Is there money with this commission, or is it merely something I fit in at some point in the future when time hangs heavy on my hands and I’m feeling especially charitable?”
“Money? Silac, I bring the very best. Look here.”
He crawled out from underneath whatever it was and looked at my manuscript. The back page folded out to present to his fascinated gaze quite a long document. It stated that Staffan Birdwhistle had received the manuscript from the bearer, (signed), that he’d read the manuscript, (signed), that he, Master Birdwhistle, had enjoyed the manuscript immensely, (also signed). The next signature was under a long statement which stated that Staffan Birdwhistle wished to pay for immediate printing of the attached manuscript, and had decided that 500 copies seemed a sensible number for the first printing, (signed.) The final signature was at the end, beneath where it said that the undersigned had confidence in the integrity of Glicken’s printers, so his office would honour the bill for printing when it was at last presented to them.
Silac actually rubbed his hands together and chuckled, “Five hundred copies.”
Silac smiled happily. “I’d better get on with it then.”
Believe it or not, in my desire to ensure everything went well I helped him set up the type, and laboured for him, fetching and carrying. A week later, even as the first volumes were finished off by Silac’s book-binder I sold individual copies to friends and patrons, and managed to get a goodly number tucked away around the barge before Silac thought to present his bill to Staffan Birdwhistle.
To be fair to Master Birdwhistle, he did pay up.
And after making a number of threats unbecoming a gentleman of his age and social status.
But still he did pay.
And should you wish to purchase a copy of this work, it is still available to the discerning.