A write old life.

Dougie Brimson. Author, screenwriter, serial moaner.

My Life as a Literary Leper…


As some of you will know, the Edinburgh Literary Festival is fast approaching.

Regarded as possibly the foremost festival on the calendar, it brings together authors and ‘thinkers’ from across the globe and over a week long period, stages all kinds of events ranging from impassioned debates to creative workshops. Now although I have never actually been, I mention it here for a very specific reason.

A week or so ago, I stumbled across a website which provided a guide to getting published. It was written by someone who described themselves as a ‘literary coach’ and was quite informative but actually contained little or nothing that any published author could have provided free of charge.

However, what did interest me was a list of services provided for potential authors and a range of prices charged for those services. It wasn’t cheap but I guess if you are desperate to get into print, you will do whatever it takes, or costs.

Anyway, seeing these prices, I researched said ‘tutor’ and discovered to my astonishment that they had a backlist of… well I hesitate to call it a list at all. Let’s just say it was less than five…a lot less. From what I can gather, their sales haven’t exactly set the world on fire either.

Initially bemused at how someone was getting away with earning between £25 and £50 an hour teaching about writing when they seemingly have so little actual experience of it, further research uncovered the fact that they will be at Edinburgh taking part in a variety of literary events, many of which involve informing the public about the process of getting oneself into print for the first time. At which point I shook my head and went back to doing something more constructive. I’ve been around publishing long enough to know how it all works. If your face fits…

Now I don’t say this through any sense of hurt or indignation, but it is a fact that in spite of having written 13 books (most of which are still in print), sold many thousands of copies around the world and as the person widely regarded (wrongly in my opinion) as the father of the genre known as ‘hoolie-lit’ I have only ever been invited to one literary ‘do’ in the UK and that had been organised to complain about the appalling PR provided for their authors by my publishers. Aside from that I have never been asked to talk about anything relating to my experiences of publishing let alone give my opinions on either the industry or writing generally.

I used to ponder the reasons for this quite a lot and I always thought that much of it stemmed from my reluctance to play the ‘networking’ game that seems to be a part and parcel of publishing these days. After all, just like the TV and film industries, publishing tends to be more about who you know rather than what you can actually do.

However, the real reason was explained to me in extremely blunt terms by a very famous and very working class Cockney female author who said to me at the aforementioned literary event, and I quote; ‘look at all these fucking snobs. I feel like I should be walking round with a tray of drinks’.

Yes, that’s right, snobbery runs through the literary world like a cancer and in terms of a clique, it makes the freemasons look like a youth club.

To be honest, I always kind of understood why they might be reluctant to invite someone like me in. After all, I write primarily about the world of football hooligans and to those who don’t know me, I probably appear as if I can’t string two coherent sentences together! I’m also prone, as you may have gathered, to saying things as I see them which doesn’t always go down well.

However, in recent years I have begun to consider another possibility. One that might not actually be as personal as I always suspected.

You see I write for a particular market and that market is me and people like me. In other words, working class lads. And ‘lad-lit’ is something that even as a concept, the publishing world have never grasped. Indeed, I have lost count of the number of publishers and agents who have discounted the very idea.

This has always astonished me. If the phenomenal output of authors such as Chris Ryan, Andy McNab and even Jon King don’t fall under the banner of ‘lad-lit’ where does it fall? After all, the core readership for books such as Bravo Two Zero or The Football factory is hardly the average housewife or teenage girl. It’s men!

The question of course, is why does the publishing world seem so desperate to steer itself as far away from the tag as is possible? Given that the industry is in such turmoil at the moment, you would have thought that they’d have looked at the success of ‘chick-lit’ and given serious thought to how they could service the other 50% of the population.

Sadly, if they are looking at all, the only answer they seem to have come up with is to pump out ever more pallet loads of sports or gangster related autobiographies which is great if you are into that kind of thing but not so great if like me, you regard 90% of sportsmen and gangsters as relatively uninteresting. However, the fact that they cannot or will not look beyond these increasingly bland and repetitive genres is, in my opinion, entirely down to anti-male snobbery.

You may laugh at this but trust me, it’s something I have heard referred to many times over the years and it’s that there is a belief within the publishing world that ‘blokes don’t do books’. The truth however, as ‘hoolie-lit’ conclusively proved, is that they do.

Quite why this incredibly patronising view of male readers continues to impact on the industry escapes me but from where I sit, there is a lot to be said for the idea that publishing is still a somewhat elitist world and the last thing it wants is to become infested with working class oik novelists who, perish the thought, might actually manage to become popular. I know that is a contentious accusation but think about this; can you imagine a ‘chick-lit’ author with 13 titles and a quarter of a million sales to her name failing to attract invitations to literary events? No, I can’t either.

I am convinced that this fear of dumbing down (and trust me, that’s how it’s perceived) has the literary establishment running scared of ‘lad-lit’ and that is a tragedy. Not least because there are some great male authors who if given the chance, could actually forge a decent career for themselves by providing some fabulous and inventive popular fiction for male readers. OK, they might not win any Booker Prizes, but that’s not what it’s about at all.

You see somewhere along the line those individuals who make editorial decisions seem to have forgotten two fundamental points about their industry. Writers write fiction to entertain and publishers publish books to make money. And key to that, as a great man once said, is that you should stop giving them what you think they should have and start giving them what they actually want.

If someone could actually grasp that simple concept and put some money into supporting male authors, the future for the publishing world might be slightly more positive. And who knows, I might actually get invited somewhere!

Now that would be something!

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4 comments on “My Life as a Literary Leper…

  1. Dave Brimson
    August 10, 2010

    Perhaps they didn’t want to give you the satisfaction of rejecting their invitation.

    Seriously though, why worry about it? It’s unlikely you’ll make any inroads into those circles unless you start writing somthing like:

    ‘The Gay Firm’
    A sensitive portrayal of a reformed hooligan, who transcends an abusive upbringing and a life as a member of a notorious gang of Football Hooligans to become one of the foremost gay activists in the UK.

    Or how about

    ‘The Milwall Mullahs’.
    A shocking tale of the conversion of a Hooligan Gang by MI5 as part of a Right-wing plot to discredit Islam.

    You just have to learn how to play the game, Dougie.

  2. Dougie Brimson
    August 10, 2010

    You only need to learn how to play the game if you actually want to play the game. And if I did want to do that, there are far easier ways to go about it.

    But then I wouldn’t be me would I? 🙂

  3. Crazy Horse
    August 31, 2010

    Could the said person have been writing under a pseudonym, and so be quite successful??

  4. dougie
    August 31, 2010

    Er… no. Unless they used a false picture of a writer who has actually been published. Albeit just the two times by a very minor publisher.

    Do you have some kind of beef you would like to share?

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This entry was posted on August 9, 2010 by in books, moaning, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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