Sorry it's got no pictures this month, but if you want to feast your eyes, why not visit one of the Galleries - I've put up this month Discovering Crockett's Galloway and Glenhead should keep you busy!
Publish and Be Damned.
I have come to the conclusion that the only thing worse than being an unsuccessful writer is being a successful one! Trying to figure out the intricacies of the contracts between writer and publisher - especially with multiple titles in multiple forms and selling in editions of varying prices is not the kind of job a writer signs up for. No wonder agents handle that kind of thing. But there are all kinds of traps for the unwary. And being hoist on one's own petard seems very likely. I think that speculation in research is inevitable. We can’t escape it, but we should admit to it!
Over the past few months (among many other things) I’ve been looking through the Hodder & Stoughton correspondence and I continue to do so, but this post is very much a work in progress post.
Here’s what I have to share at the moment…
It is most likely that Crockett was ‘introduced’ to Hodder & Stoughton through William Robertson Nicoll, who had championed him to T.Fisher Unwin (who used to work for H&S before branching out on his own)
These days H&S is still a large publishing outfit. They came from a ‘religious’ publishing background (there’s not time here to go into the intricacies and implications of religious publishing in the 19th century)
The first Crockett book they published was ‘Ione March.’ They then took ‘The Banner of Blue’ in 1903 after some considerable back and forth regarding the serialisation rights (again, too long-winded to go into right now.)
Then in 1905 they took ‘Maid Margaret’ and the ‘Cherry Ribband.’ Both of these might fall into the historical romance category.
In 1908 they published ‘Deep Moat Grange’ and ‘Princess Penniless’ which were more contemporary novels, as well as ‘Rose of the Wilderness’ (contemporary set in Galloway) and ‘Seven Wise Men’ (an out and out religious story)
At this point they contracted him for his next 3 novels of ‘historical romance’. I haven’t yet fathomed out exactly which thee were by they published the following:
Love in Pernickety Town
Anne of Barricades
Tatter of Scarlet
Hal o Ironsides
And posthumously The Azure Hand in 1917.
Sounds perfect doesn’t it? But as with everything, there are layers to the story. You need to have a basic idea the way that mainstream publishing worked in Crockett’s day.
The author was paid an advance (in Crockett’s case this was quite substantial – initially £500 per novel which reduced to £400 per novel in YEAR) This sounds great – but you have to bear in mind that it is offset against sales. And more specifically against the author’s royalties on sales. Crockett’s royalties tended to be 3/4d (that’s three farthings) per copy sold, so you can do the math (if you remember £sd system) and work out how many copies of each book he had to sell to make up the advance.
If (and when) he didn’t make the advance, the monies were offset against future publications. Not only is this an administrative financial nightmare for someone to work out, but it means that you can get into the position of being in quite a bit of debt to the publisher and therefore essentially doing some kind of writing on tick to pay off your debt. Crockett got into this situation. Now what I don’t know at this point is how much Crockett started writing to ‘suit’ the publishers or to second-guess the ‘market’. And how much ‘advice’ he was given by publisher and/or agent on what he should write.
Crockett’s detractors tend to suggest that this is one reason that his latter work is bad, or not up to scratch or something. I disagree, and the crux of my argument is that we need to see the writer as a professional in this context. Crockett was a professional writer and it’s not my experience (or indeed likely) that writers (or other professionalos) get worse at their craft the more they practice it. But success bring expectations and writing to pay off money you’ve already spent can mean that what you write becomes compromised. We need to ask ourselves what and where the compromise is.
I think that Crockett had to adapt to write for a ‘target’ audience which might not have been his first choice. But the work he writes (and I’m talking from Deep Moat Grange onwards) is different from… and yet he can still pull The Smugglers, The Moss Troopers and Silver Sand out of the bag. Crockett always experimented, always tried new things. He acknowledged this in his speech at Dalbeattie in 1906 when he said:
I do not need to tell a Galloway audience anything about the rotation of crops. Suppose for a moment that year after year for ten years one of you sowed only one kind of crop. What would be the consequence? The soil would be exhausted. Moreover, before that even, the landlord's patience. (Laughter.) Now, so with books, which are the crops of the mind. You cannot go on producing the same kind of crop. After each book is finished the brain becomes something like cold boiled turnips. To recover its elasticity, to strike fresh that unexhausted soil, one must try a new crop —something as different as possible from the old. There are, besides, for the professional author, not one landlord, but many. Editors and publishers who out of their wisdom desire such and such a crop, and will only pay according to their needs.
So one should realise that novels such as Deep Moat Grange and Princess Penniless aren’t written for the same readers any more than they are written from the same conviction. My suggestion is that right through his life Crockett did still write (and get published) novels which seem to be very personal and close to his heart, but he is also worked to hire and to my mind it’s to his credit that in these more formulaic works he manages to keep his own unique voice and humour coming through.
How we ‘read’ his work depends on our own understanding of the man and his work as well as of the time. For me, Sandy’s Love shows Crockett having quite a dig at the whole publishing ‘industry’ and knowing that he’s had to sell off a vast part of his library to clear his ‘debts’ I’m not surprised. We need to remember that writers are people too. They have lives to live, families to support, problems to deal with (in Crockett’s case a long period of ill-health which, had it been widely known might have threatened any chance he had of getting published again – with all the financial implications that might have)
But my ‘insight’ is really all so much speculation. We can never fully know what happened ‘back then.’ I am piecing together from correspondence, contracts etc and trying to make some sense via the texts themselves but they offer insight and smokescreen in equal measure.
Islay Murray Donaldson outlines a lot of this in her biography and I’m also talking with Richard D. Jackson who has probably forgotten more about Crockett than I will ever know. And I’ll keep on talking, keep on researching, keep on speculating and keep on sharing. I’m not giving a definitive or authoritative view at this point that’s for sure. I’m just sharing the journey with those of you who are interested.
Cally Phillips, May 2015