by Marjorie Quarton
When I first thought of writing a book I had no confidence in producing anything people would want to read. So I took my (brief) manuscript to the local printer, who mostly produced posters and newsletters. The finished book (a bit of nonsense called One Dog and His Man) cost me just £1 (Irish) in 1984 and sold quickly at £2, so whatever it made was doubled. I sold 500 copies locally and thought I should rewrite and improve my work and offer it to a publisher.
A writer friend found me an agent and everything stopped for more than a year. My book was rejected again and again, making me think I should have stayed with the printer. My agent was ready to give up and I asked him to try just one more publisher. He tried the Blackstaff Press in Belfast and they accepted at once. It was out in a matter of weeks and got fantastic reviews. I followed with a sequel, One Dog and his Trials and that did well too. I turned the two books into one, One Dog, his Man and his Trials, which stayed in print for many years and is still popular.
Before I acquired an agent, I had tried to place ‘One dog’ with a publisher myself. Having no idea how to start, I thought I’d send it to the next publisher whose name I saw in print. I went to Church and noticed that my hymnbook had been published by Collins of London. I duly sent the handwritten copy to this august firm. They answered! They liked it! They said they would contact me if they wanted an animal book.
Because the book wasn’t accepted at once, I thought ‘it’s no good. Forget it.’ I was 54; old enough to have more sense, but I didn’t recognise the personal letter from the Chairman’s wife for the ‘Glowing Rejection’ it was. Before Blackstaff published it, Marjorie Chapman from Collins contacted me again, asking to have another look, but it was too late. She then asked me to write a book about a specific dog; he had been involved in the Second World War and was with an American unit. I didn’t think I could do it and turned the offer down.
Shortly after this, I was taking a book down out of a high bookcase; I dropped it on the floor and it fell open at a photograph of ‘Jack’, mascot of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the First World War. My father had told me the story when I was a child. I knew at once that I could write his story and I did (still in longhand). Corporal Jack was accepted, got good reviews, was broadcast by the BBC (British Radio) sold out in hardback, was reprinted in paperback, large print and in a book club edition. It was also produced in Braille. This lucky start really galvanised me and I wrote another half dozen books in quick succession. All did well, especially my memoir, Breakfast the Night Before, but I was almost seventy and about to retire from my life of farming and horse-dealing. My husband had died, my daughter had married and I gave her the old home and moved into Nenagh, my home town.
Then I got bored and took a job with NCBI, a charity for the blind in Ireland. I didn’t mean to work full time, to open and manage three charity shops, to do PR for the 71 shops we have today, but I did and I loved it and still do.
I didn’t write another book for seven years. When I did, it was a memoir/how to book called Part Time Writer: Notes and Reflections, for the Lilliput Press in Dublin. It is still in print and on Amazon Kindle. When I wrote it, I knew less than nothing about self publishing. I included a section, which I had to research thoroughly, but it needs lots of updating now; five years later.
I was working on a commissioned book about Molly Keane, the great Irish novelist and playwright, but things began to go wrong, publication was postponed again and again. In the end, the contract expired and I took it back.
Last October, I self-published the book, Oil and Water: Molly Keane and her World with FeedARead, a firm owned by Random House. I had no idea how to promote it, so sales have been dismal. I must recommend FeedARead, as they charge nothing to print your book. You have to pay €100 to set it up with all the big distributors, but they give a higher percentage than you get elsewhere. Buying the books back is expensive, as they are shipped from Britain and the postage tots up, but the books ordered on-line do pay. After a dismal start, I contacted someone in the US who had posted comments about Molly Keane on her website and she replied, was very interested and has promised help in the US. I hear that an editor from Random House will be reading the book shortly, so who knows what may happen.
I’m not at home with Facebook or Twitter, but it looks as if I’m going to have to learn. I prefer LinkedIn. All these new ways of publicising my book are daunting, mainly because at 83 I’m not as quick on the uptake as I was.
Before I published Oil and Water, I had a trial run with good old Corporal Jack. It is now written for the 12-16 age group and is doing pretty well. I was astonished to see it picked for promotion in Writing Magazine and it is doing pretty well. In particular, I will be having a good sale from the regimental association and am travelling with them to some of the places mentioned in the book in June.
So what next? I had a good idea for a novel, but have written only a few pages of notes so far. I no longer have much faith in traditional publishers. I do a lot of editing and have had considerable success, but I would like to write that novel. We’ll see how the other two self published works get on.
Vanity publishers still abound in all sorts of guises. Better by far to self publish than to go to them.
© Marjorie Quarton 18/05/2014
Marjorie Quarton is the author of 21 books, including Breakfast the Night Before. She has published both traditionally published books and through self-publishing. A natural storyteller, she is much admired for her talent by readers and authors alike. Marjorie’s current books are ‘Oil and Water: Molly Keane and her World’ and the teenage ‘Corporal Jack: a Dog’s life in the First World War.’ Both are available from all major distributors. Marjorie is also a professional editor. Marjorie lives in Ireland, in County Tipperary. She is also a professional editor. You can connect with her on Facebook or LinkedIn to inquire about her editing services.