Back in the distant past (erm, 1997, more or less) I wrote a little novel called Cuckoo. I didn’t mean to write a novel, to be honest. I had an image in my head, the first in the book, of a man burning to nothing in a glass tank, and wrote it down. It bugged me, that image, and so I wrote a little bit more, hoping to unravel who he was, and how he might have got there. It took longer than I thought, almost 80,000 words, and though I was never wholly satisfied with the answer that eventually presented itself, when I looked back at it I realised I’d written a novel, almost by accident. It was quite a turning point in my life, leading me to do less and less acting (my presumed career path at the time), and do more and more writing.
Cuckoo was first sold to an ebook publisher called Hard Shell Word Factory, long before the current mainstream paradigm shift towards electronic publishing, when the ‘hard copy’ of the book was a 3.5 inch floppy disk. The book, despite being in a strange format, was generally well received when it was released in 2000, and sold well and consistently for the publisher (and, in terms of cumulative and prompt quarterly royalties, is probably the story that’s made more income for me than any other). The book subsequently sold in paperback, to a small publisher in the UK called Razorblade Press, which at the time was the cutting edge of British horror publishing. They put the book out in 2002. Unfortunately, it was their last throw of the dice, and a few months later the book was effectively out of print when the company collapsed. After a very brief period of time on the shelves, it became difficult, then almost impossible, to track down. Very occasionally it turns up on Ebay, or through resellers on Amazon and the like, but unless you’re really looking for it, you’re unlikely to find a copy.
Unless, apparently, you go to the library in the UK. I was vaguely aware at the time of the book’s publication that the book had turned up in libraries, and even saw a few copies around and about in Glasgow. At least one reader contacted me in the following years, long after the book was out of print, to let me know they’d found the book in a library and loved it.
A couple of years ago, I finally got round to registering with PLR (public lending right), which is tied to the library system in the UK. Basically, if you’re the author of a book, this is the organisation that gives you a few pence each time your book is taken out of the library. The payments are annual, usually paid in February, but the usual economies of scale apply (unless you’re a bestseller anyway, don’t hold your breath for a massive payout). Mostly, for me, they’re a happy reminder that the book is still out there, being discovered. Having just seen a PLR payment in my account (enough to supersize a Micky D), I popped by their site to have a quick look at the statement for the year.
A hundred and twelve loans in 2009 – 2010. Ninety-two the year before that. Almost a decade since the book was last in print, thanks to libraries having picked up some copies, two hundred and four new readers have had a chance to read the book.
Do I think my book from last year, Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow, has found two hundred and four readers? Realistically, possibly not (though it would be nice to be wrong). That’s the joy of libraries. If you have to shell out cash for a book, you’re more likely to stick with something you know. At a library, all bets are off, and you can take a chance on something new. In the last couple of years, more than two hundred people who’ve probably never heard of me saw a battered copy of Cuckoo on a shelf, decided it looked cool, and gave it a try. Some will have loved it. Some won’t have. You take your chances, and when you’re not paying anything, that’s so much easier to do.
This makes me incredibly happy.
It’s a crime that in the UK, right now, libraries across the country are closing or under threat of closure thanks to government cuts in council funding. If you’re there, and have a library near you, think about popping in and finding something new. When I was young, I was a frequent visitor to libraries, and because I wasn’t paying for what I read, I found a lot of authors I might never have tried, who I still pick up when I see their new titles. Now more than ever, libraries are in the ‘use it or lose it’ category of services that you won’t miss until you realise they’re not there any more. Pop in on a lunch break, browse the shelves, and see if you can’t discover something new.
Also, think about whether you can afford the fiver it will cost to drop Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow into your Amazon basket (in the US or UK, for example) because, you know, it would be nice if as many people were reading my most recent book as my first one.
Maybe later this year, I can have a look at Cuckoo, and see if it deserves another run around the block, presuming I can even find an interested publisher. You never know.
Until then, try your local library.