I published my debut novel on April 16th of this year, which entailed clicking the Publish Your Kindle eBook button on the Amazon direct-publishing web site. There was no book launch with espresso martinis and fragrant people telling me they loved my ending (the dirty birds). The manuscript had taken a very short four months to write back in 2016 and then a very long two years to batter-edit to precision. Every word ended up being exactly what it should be and in the right place, every theme was researched thoroughly, every character was darkness and light, and all unnecessary darlings were throttled. For fans of the original film of The Dark Crystal, I felt my essence had been squeezed out of me in oily droplets.
Unfortunately, the twenty-six publishing houses that the agent sent it to didn’t feel the same way. Well, I know that thirteen of them didn’t feel that way, because the other thirteen didn’t respond to the submission. We had high hopes for this high-concept yet high-body-count literary thriller, but after a year of waiting to be rejected, I couldn’t do it anymore. I parted ways with my beloved agent, feeling that both our hearts were cracking after the hard work we’d put in, though perhaps she was just exhausted from editing the best-seller the agency had at the time (jealous curse). So I took control of my manuscript myself, which meant sticking it in a computer file labeled SM. The folder didn’t even get the full title of the book because looking at it would have been too painful.
I’m quite the accomplished introvert, which seems to be pretty common for writers. I have an embarrassingly small number of friends, embarrassing only when I think about it because otherwise I’m happy with the amount I have. I’m also only a couple of years away from fifty and have three kids under 11, and I was born about ten years too early to be really that interested in tech and social media. Plus, I fall asleep at 9.35 every evening. I am literally the worst person to self-publish a novel. I decided to do it anyway.
A month ago, I took the manuscript out of its warm file and transferred it to Amazon through the easy enough Kindle Direct Publishing process, sincerely hoping that once it was out there, I’d find closure and could concentrate on the psychological thriller that I’ve already written one paragraph of. The Amazon system asked me how much I wanted to price the book at – a million pounds, of course, sorry, euro, old Irish punt if you have it – and of course I set the price to zero, offering the book for free in a giveaway that, according to writers’ forums, can help to generate reviews. Within a few days, I’d received two brief reviews on Amazon and one rating, not even a review, on Goodreads. And I have to say, they thrilled me. That feedback alone would have capped everything off because, as far as I can tell, all three individuals are strangers – they’re not my sister making up fake accounts, and I know this because she’s older than me and even worse at computerish things. Three people I don’t know enjoyed the book enough to click on a web site they didn’t have to and let me know that they liked what I wrote. Thank you, dear strangers; I’ve enjoyed your feedback as well. When it comes down to it, I did it all for you.
And then I did another thing, and I can’t remember why. I blame the extreme optimism of our species, that reckless hope that has both killed and pushed us for 200,000 years. I should have just left the book on Amazon and been happy with its tiny life – the exciting start, turbulent middle, Florida-retirement-home end. But I just had to see, I had to find out what the work would look like to a professional reviewer, someone who reads hundreds of novels a year and knows how to describe what they feel towards a sentence. Whereas the publishers had turned down the book for various reasons (e.g. “The IRA is a challenge in the UK market,” smiley face), a detached reviewer wouldn’t have to think about marketing concerns. The book would either be crap or not crap, and I should think about either taking up ceramics or writing the second paragraph of that psychological thriller. But, Christ, I don’t even know how I had the balls to look for a review after so many rejections. Thirteen/twenty-six publishers had passed, yet here I was, driving myself to the firing squad again, towards a Kirkus review.
And that turned out to be interesting – see here.
(c) Siobhan Finkielman
About Starving Men:
Michael Gleeson didn’t want to be a killer, but history gave him no choice.
Dublin, 2019: Michael is a well-respected psychiatrist – a quiet man, a good friend, and a useless cook. He’s also a Republican sympathizer who spends part of his professional life counseling former members of the decommissioned IRA.
Michael always thought this would be enough to satisfy his Republican heritage, but when the highly skilled yet deeply disturbed Turlough O’Sullivan enters his office, Michael sees an opportunity that the demons of his past won’t let him overlook.
Haunted by childhood tales of the gruesome history of the Irish people under British rule, Michael persuades his new patient to help him track down the living descendants of the worst men in Ireland’s history – Cromwell, Trevelyan, and other figures whose names still send a shiver down the Irish spine.
But Michael’s plan for a bloody revenge doesn’t go unnoticed, either by the IRA or by the Irish and British police forces. He soon has a young Irish detective on his trail, an officer who becomes obsessed with stopping the unknown serial killer who is out for an historical revenge that she can’t understand.
Starving Men is a gripping literary crime thriller set in contemporary Dublin and London, inspired by the horrors of the Irish famine, the Great Hunger.
Order your copy online here.