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Ian Rankin Foreword


Getting into Print

The Foreword to the 2007 Writers' and Artists' Yearbook - the 100th anniversary edition - by Ian Rankin

By the age of twelve, I was ready for pop stardom.

I’d invented a group called The Amoebas, for whom I wrote lyrics, designed album sleeves, and compiled tour schedules. They might only exist on paper, but they were destined for greatness. At one point, I replied to a dodgy advert in the classified section of one of the music papers - something along the lines of "Are you a budding songwriter? We will set your lyrics to music." Though the stanzas I submitted were of the moon-June-spoon variety, their letter back to me was enthusiastic. They couldn’t wait for me to send them a wad of cash so they could get started on the tune.

Happily, my parents were reluctant to stump up: an early lesson in the pitfalls of ‘vanity publishing’.

By the age of seventeen, my lyrics had become poems. One of them won second prize in a competition, and I received five pounds. At university, I moved on to short stories, and started winning prizes with them, too. These prizes gave me the confidence to produce something longer - a novel called ‘Summer Rites’. I was in my twenties by this stage, and wanted nothing more than to be a published novelist. The first Writers' and Artists’ Yearbook I picked up was from a second-hand shop. Out-of-date as it was, I read it pretty much from cover to cover, finding it as engrossing as any bestseller.

My girlfriend was working in London (while I was still in Edinburgh). I would travel south as often as possible - usually on the overnight bus, which probably explained the near-hallucinatory daze in which I wandered around the capital. During the day, I would plan itineraries which took me past as many publishing houses as possible. Thanks to the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook, I had their addresses. I think my plan was to bump into a famous editor as they left the building. They would instantly recognise my talent and usher me back inside to sign a lucrative five-book deal. It didn’t happen. I only ever once plucked up the courage to cross the threshold - into the fairly seedy, Soho-based offices of John Calder. My nerve failed me at the last, and I told the secretary I wanted to buy some books. She was good enough to accept a cheque.

When Christmas came, so did a bang up-to-date copy of the Yearbook (courtesy of my girlfriend). I duly sent the manuscript of ‘Summer Rites’ to a publishing house - one whose exterior I’d thought acceptable on my London walks - bypassing the ‘slush pile’ by adding the Managing Director’s name to the envelope. The rejection letter - my first (of many) - arrived in time for Valentine’s Day. Eventually, that first novel was dispatched to the bottom drawer of my cabinet. It rests there still, slumbering and contented.

My next effort was called ‘The Flood’, and it did gain a publisher. Consequent to which, a literary agent came calling. She did a deal for my next book, this time with a publishing house in Bedford Square. What a thrill! Lots of publishers were berthed in that quiet, leafy region between Tottenham Court Road and the British Museum. The next time I visited, I climbed the steps and pushed open the door as an author. I half-expected to meet Graham Greene and Muriel Spark in the waiting-room.

Not that this was the end of my involvement with the Yearbook. My agent vanished into thin air one day. I turned again to the Yearbook, studied the section on agents, and plumped for one of long standing. I plucked a name from the list of directors and wrote him a letter. We met, got along, and I stayed with that agency for the best part of twenty years.

Getting into print requires nerve, stamina, luck, stubbornness and talent. Even established authors can feel as though they’re climbing a mountain. Think of the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook as your sherpa.

Happy trails.

Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin is the award-winning author of the Inspector Rebus series of novels, which are translated into twenty-seven languages.  He has also published short stories, poems, and journalism, and has written several full-length plays for radio.  He was awarded the OBE for services to literature in 2004.

Writers' and Artists Yearbook 2007

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