Sadly this remark is made with the weight of experience, as Will emailed me yesterday to tell me that Macmillan were turning down The Last Free City. This was hardly unexpected, but even though I was prepared, the moment of rejection is a grim realisation.
Partly from a desire to explore the issues, and partly to suck up some sympathy (that means you, folks...) I thought it would be useful to look in a bit more detail at why Macmillan aren't taking the book on. Will is very tactful in his feedback, but his comments are always honest ones, so I've no reason to disbelieve him when he says:
The Last Free City is the equal of The Dog of the North in terms of plotting, setting and characterisationparticularly as this echoes my own assessment. Why, then, is such a masterpiece not bounding on to greater heights? Those who know the publishing industry will realise that commercial considerations come into play. The sad truth is that The Dog of the North has not sold very well. The Last Free City would not, therefore, be building on a successful "brand". A publisher will be prepared--indeed must, from time to time--gamble on an unknown writer, but to back a second novel where the first has flopped is playing double or quits: never a good business model.
The implications of this simple truth are nonetheless profound. However good The Last Free City may be (and realistically I'd pitch it about the same level as its predecessor) it was doomed from the start because the first book sold so poorly. There was nothing which could have made the book commercially attractive to Macmillan. I didn't help myself by writing a book with fewer crashes and bangs than The Dog of the North, but it's clear that even a more commercially-savvy offering would still have had to overcome the deadweight of its predecessor's performance.
This isn't a whinge (well, only a bit). Writers have to realise that they are operating in a commercial world, in which any artistic satisfaction they get is between them and their muse. I am taking some time to reflect, and to explore with Will what are the most constructive options for me - but one thing's for sure, that list of options does not include giving up writing.