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e-bookGuest blogger Kieran Mathers‘ plans to self-publish his debut fantasy novella have hit a bump in the road…

Last week I spoke about the Guardian Master Class I attended, and how useful it was to learn how to pitch a book to a publisher successfully. I highly recommend classes like this – they’re a really odd mix of grim reality (getting work published is really hard) and sunny optimism (you’ll be alright if you don’t give up) but they always provide useful contacts and experience.

Case in point – at this latest class, I met my first ever literary agent.

Thus far, I’d always pictured them as ogres. They were the brutes outside the Fortress of Publishing, wielding their clubs of despair to crush the dreams of those who want to gain access.

I could have not have been more wrong.

Keys on a typewriterNatalie from Christine Green (a small London based agency representing half a dozen authors) took the time to disabuse me of the notion that agents live to disappoint people. They need to represent writers because it makes them money. The only reason they don’t represent more people is because good writing is apparently quite rare.

Being all enthusiastic I asked if she wanted my novel The Witch but was told they weren’t looking for genre history, so that was the end of that. Then I spoke of my self-publishing plans, and the advice I got was very interesting.

She told me that, from a marketing perspective, a new author has a very useful advantage. People are always looking for ‘new voices’, and so a new writer has the advantage of being fresh. That’s why a first novel like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas can sell absolute shedloads. Publishing houses know this – it’s a crucial marketing tool.

And what happens if you’ve self-published before you’re picked up by a publishing house? Ah…

Open BooksNatalie asked me why I was choosing self-publishing over the conventional model, which gave me real pause for thought.

I feel that I’ve been writing for long enough now that I need to get published, and I had chosen the easiest route to publication (zero per cent chance of refusal, remember?) But if I truly believe in my own work then I shouldn’t be afraid to put it to the test before I send it out into the world. If it doesn’t work out, self-publishing will still be an option.

So what have I done? I’ve submitted The Darkness Embraces to Hydra, an imprint of Random House specialising in fantasy and sci-fi novellas in e-book format. They got into a lot of trouble recently for offering a profit share rather than an advance model, but since they accept unsolicited manuscripts and my work sounds like exactly the sort of thing they’re looking for, it seems worth the risk.

But right now, I’m afraid that self-publishing would damage, rather than help my writing career.