Jumping the north/south hurdle

Jonathan Lee
Opinion - Books Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Jonathan Lee could not get his voice heard in London. So he set up his own imprint for northern writers

Being a northerner was always going to be a hurdle as far as reaching out and trying to land a publishing deal. I didn't expect it to be such a large hurdle, however. Of course, there are successful authors out there that are not based in the big smoke, but in general terms these individuals are the exception and not the rule.

But in my opinion the story begins a little earlier than this. First and foremost, we all have to spend time sitting down and mastering our manuscript. In my case, my first novel took just under three years. If you are like me, then you won't be a beneficiary of a distant rich uncle's estate. And so, during the time we put together our masterpiece, we have to survive somehow. This will undoubtedly mean working, and so the time that we have to write diminishes. Throw in a few children and well, time is limited to say the least.

Once we have finished, in most cases our manuscript will head to London for agents to pore over, and depending on whether they are having a good or bad day (it really is that fine a line) they may or may not ask to read more. If they've argued with their partner that morning over Coco-Pops, you can kiss goodbye to them enjoying the rom-com manuscript that has just landed on their desk. Out of the thirty agents I wrote to, I think that only one was based outside London.

As expected (if not, read Stephen King's On Writing), my manuscript was rejected almost across the board by the agents that I submitted to. One or two showed a little interest. But nothing to excite me to the point of even nearing a publishing deal.

And all the time I couldn't help but think that if I were in the places where the agents were, hanging out at the book signings or book talks that pepper the capital on a near daily basis, I might be able to get a little further. I felt that if I could somehow get to see these people, and tell them my story, perhaps they'd see that it was worth spending a little more time reading my work. A few of the agents asked whether I could 'meet for coffee' and have a chat generally. Of course, I would have loved to. But, aside from geography, there was life to deal with. And a quick coffee, with a somewhat non-committal agent, meant clearing a day off work with my boss. It meant 300 miles of travel. It meant expenditure. It meant getting someone to do the school run. That coffee was an exercise in life management for me.

If only I had been closer to where it happens, maybe, just maybe.

As is always the case, it's who you know. Being in South Yorkshire, I didn't know anyone. Not in that world.

And on top of this, even if we have succeeded in getting someone to represent us, we have further geographical issues to deal with. How many times can you feasibly decline an invitation to drinks 'after work' on Friday in Camden? How many times can you say that it is a little difficult for you to make lunch on a Wednesday having been invited the night before? How many times before your agent focuses their time on somebody who is based locally, somebody more inclined to drop in to last minute invitations having only given up an hour of their day?

Of course, it shouldn't be like this. It shouldn't be about who knows who or where somebody drinks. It should be about the quality of the manuscript. The writing. The, ahem, product. Really this is all that matters. But, sadly, those of us who write from further afield have a far more difficult job of being recognised.

That's why ultimately, we set up Hideaway Fall. A Yorkshire-based publisher. A publisher which specifically targets quality writing from people in the north. We define the type of submission we are after quite tightly, so we can bring out one or two quality titles a year which really make readers sit back and say, 'Wow'.

We also deal direct with the individual who gave up three years to create a manuscript. We don't deal with agents. Who better to tell their own story than the individual themselves?

We are not about who you know. Or where you lunch. And we are certainly not about what is selling right now in the marketplace (be it wizards or love-struck vampires or anyone who has a YouTube channel with more than half a million subscribers) - we are about quality writing and quality stories.

Most authors will generally write what they know. Not always, but generally. Choosing authors from the north of England, who have experiences totally different from those who reside in the city, will ultimately help the market, by diluting the product that is churned out by the big publishers.

Ultimately, we truly believe that quality writing will shine through in the end.

And being in London shouldn't matter one iota.

Broken Branches by M Jonathan Lee is out on 27 July (Hideaway Fall, £8.99).

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