Three years ago, my first book, The King of Sunlight: How William Lever Cleaned Up The World was published by Bantam Press. It was a biography of an eccentric Victorian businessman, and it was a lot more fun than it sounds. The Mail on Sunday said it was “wonderfully entertaining,” the Times said it was “inspirational” and the Economist even made it one of their 2004 Books of the Year, which was very nice of them considering I’ve never read anything of theirs. You can read all about it here .
After that I decided to do something a bit different, and something a bit more related to the work I do every fortnight on Private Eye. So I wrote a comedy thriller about a serial killer who is stalking the set of "Fame Factory", an X-Factor, Pop Idol-type TV show. I was pleased with it, my agent was pleased with it, and most of the publishers we sent copies of it were pleased with it too.
If you thought that would mean they wanted to publish it, you'd be wrong.
Despite the fact that she didn't wait to finish the manuscript before emailing to say "I love it - thanks for making my journey home so much fun", one editor from one big London firm regretfully had to decline a week later. “Our sales and marketing team were not convinced,” she wrote. “Most actually enjoyed it, but the feeling was that books like this are too difficult to sell. They reckoned that Ben Elton sells because he is Ben Elton, that packaging a book that doesn't fall into one category or the other would be tough.”
Then came the response from the next publisher. “Very strong… but this would clearly be a tough book to sell.” And the next: “Really good… But comic fiction as a genre is, I think, virtually impossible to break into head-on at the moment.” And the one after that. “It’s lively and entertaining; the writing is assured – but ‘comic crime’ is a notoriously tricky area of the market to crack…” After a dozen or so such responses it came as a relief when the man from Penguin just said he didn't like it.
I sulked for quite a long time about this. But then I decided that rather than filing all 350 pages in the attic to weep over in my old age, I'd try, in my own modest way, to prove them wrong. This is where you come in.
For just £10, you can purchase a scrumptiously-bound, beautifully designed copy of what I guarantee is a cracking, laugh-out-loud read. This comes courtesy of the website Lulu.com, a perfect example of how the web is revolutionising old ways of doing business, and an idea that is going to be HUGE the second a major author with an existing fanbase catches on to it, because the deal for authors is considerably better than that offered by any of the major publishing houses (unless your name is David Blunkett).
It's not going to be in bookshops - even the good ones. You can only get it here.
Oh, and if you're so anti-dead tree that you prefer to read things on a hand-held, blue-tooth, happy-slapper, iPod-type affair, you can download it from the same place for for just £3. I'm not bothered. I still get enough for a pint.