Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Down And Out In Padstow And London
I wanted to thank you for all the great feedback I had to my post ‘Pitching Confidential: How Not To Get A Food Book Published’ on my failure to get my book about training to be a chef published. There was some brilliant advice and ideas, and I went through them in turn to check them out, and I thought I’d give you an update...
The first major decision I made was to write the book (and future posts on this blog) under my real name Alex Watts, rather than Lennie Nash. When I wrote the book - and much of this blog - I was working as a journalist for Sky News. There were contractual regulations, and rules about what you could write on blogs and other social media, which is why I invented the pseudonym Lennie Nash.
Now I’m freelance, I’m free of those obligations. So I thought it would be less confusing (and require far less explanation in the long run) to write under my real name, which I’d wanted to do in the first place. I’ve kept Lennie as the main character in the book, mainly because it’s a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, and I’ve grown attached to him and it seems fitting somehow.
Going back to your recommendations, I checked out unbound.co.uk - which describes itself as a revolutionary new publishing method where readers choose the books they want to see published. Authors post their work on the site, and readers pledge monetary support in exchange for getting their name printed in the book (not a particularly novel idea - Dickens and Thackeray published a lot of their work by subscription in the 19th century) and when there’s enough funding it gets published.
Sounds brilliant. A sort of democracy in publishing. But the catch is 99% of the authors showcased are well-known writers or TV personalities, which rather defeats the purpose of finding new, quirky books that wouldn’t otherwise get the green light from a publishing industry which seems to have lurched towards all things celebrity.
Unbound say they don’t have enough staff yet to roll it out to ‘new’ writers, but plan to at some point. So unless you’re ex-Python Terry Jones (the first author to be published on Unbound), and already have books, operas, TV shows and the odd film to your name, you haven’t really got a shout.
Unbound said they would only consider authors who already had an agent (oh, why did I part ways with my agent?) or had books published, and could supply their ISBN numbers as proof. But they did recommend trying jottify.com - a website where writers show off their work and get feedback and gifted ‘inkpots’ (don’t ask) from fellow strugglers, sorry scribes.
I put the first chapter of my book up there, and was amazed how easy the publishing system was to use. I got a few comments, and the feedback was good, but it was hard to get noticed unless you bought up scores of ‘inkpots’ (don’t ask) to plug your work and give people a fighting chance of finding it on the site.
Meanwhile, I still looked at traditional, albeit painfully slow, publishing methods. I took your advice to send it off to Anthony Bourdain’s new line of books with Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins, and home to Bukowski, no less, so I wasn’t confident. Bourdain is to publish four or five food books a year written by chefs and other industry insiders, but I haven’t got high hopes, and HarperCollins didn’t get back to me on how to get the manuscript to Bourdain in the first place, and nor did his agent. One for the no hope file, I think.
I also approached another agent to see if they’d take on my book, and got another extremely bleak assessment of the current (and with book sales the way they are, probably future) state of the UK publishing industry, and its continuing obsession with celebrity.
“It sounds as if your previous agent tried his/her best for you with all the right publishers. The marketplace is exceptionally tough at the moment and publishers are really only taking on what they are convinced will be sure-fire hits,” they said. Which was politer than bugger off, at least.
Most of your advice was about getting my book published as an eBook. People said you needed to demonstrate you had a successful, self-published first book, and had generated some sort of following, before a publisher would give you any kind of advance on a second.
It seemed the way forward for now, and Lulu was highly recommended. Then I came to my second major crucial decision - the title. My former agent and her publishing pals hadn’t liked my original, rather depressing title of “Diary Of A Failed Chef” and wanted to go with “Yes, Chef!” arguing that was a common utterance in the book, and a theme the reader would quickly be familiar with.
But I hated it, even more than My Booky Wook. It was hardly the most original title, and sounded like something you’d call a banal TV sitcom set in a quaint manor house kitchen in middle England. I pushed for “Down And Out In Padstow and London” instead, hoping it might give an indication of the attempted humour within, and some indication of what it was about. The agent had offered me a peace pipe, saying she’d send that off to publishers as an alternative title.
But publishing under my own steam meant I could ditch Yes Chef! and go with Down And Out In Padstow And London. I signed up with Lulu, hearing tales about how some writers had managed to publish their eBook in just one day. But I wasn’t so confident, which was just as well really because the process did involve an unbelievable amount of tedious formatting.
However, it wasn’t as much as I’d feared. And after three days of hair-pulling and medicinal whisky-supping, I finally managed to publish an eBook - and will get round to the hard copy version later. Lulu warned that it would take some time before it was accepted on to Amazon etc (and pointed out that over 50% of Lulu’s eBooks are rejected by the online retail giant because of chapter formatting issues).
But mine seemed to work okay after a number of attempts, and I’ll just have to see whether it gets on to Amazon and other retail outlets. But here it is anyway if you fancy reading it - and for just £1.99 ($3). Go on, you’ll get an amazingly warm feeling knowing you’ve kept me in noodles for another day...
CLICK HERE TO BUY ON KINDLE, IPHONE, IPAD etc...
CLICK HERE TO BUY ON LULU...
Here's the book blurb:
Down And Out In Padstow And London is a humorous account of what really happens behind the scenes of both Michelin-starred restaurants and lesser establishments - and the extraordinary, larger-than-life characters who inhabit them. The book begins with Lennie Nash's decision to give up his job as a journalist, aged 40, and a fateful meeting with Rick Stein, when the cheffing door is opened.
There follow stints in the kitchens at Padstow, a failed audition for Masterchef, work as a commis chef under a crazed ex-football hooligan, 16-hour shifts as a kitchen slave in a gastropub, and the rigours of the Fat Duck. Unable to keep up with the younger chefs around him, he gives up the dream and returns to office life, only to find the itch starting again...
The book is aimed at the umpteen armchair chefs and foodies who would love to learn the trade first-hand from the professionals, braving the stress, 16-hour days, and low pay of kitchen life, but are far too sensible to do so.