Well, I’ve now read the Metro review. Here it is:
Self-publishing has its successes, as EL James’s racy ebook series, initially posted on a fansite, proved. Yet there are reasons why editors and publishers exist, as demonstrated by Christopher Shevlin’s debut novel.
That’s not to say that The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax isn’t a good book – it is and Shevlin was rightly picked up by the literary agency that represents the likes of David Nicholls. However, it could have been great: the comic hero is caught up in a murder plot that unravels into a political thriller, which is by turns absurd and engaging.
Although the plotting can be confusing, the perceptive one-liners reveal an author unafraid to laugh at the concept. At one point, Fairfax muses that reading a secret file makes him feel like he’s in a film, although only ‘the sort that would be on TV on a Wednesday morning’. Yet the same page has ‘she thought Kathy new what she was doing’ – the book is full of errors. Also, Fairfax’s bumbling astonishment at everything gets wearing – surely something an editor would have ironed out.
My immediate reaction was to feel terrible because of the criticisms. But then again, I have what the NHS calls “Recurrent Depressive Disorder”, so my immediate reaction to pretty much everything is to feel terrible. I’m trying to teach myself to feel good about the good things and to accept the bad things for what they are. Luckily, I had some help in doing this with the review, because I almost immediately got this text from the wise and excellent Paul Tyrrell:
Hey Chris. Just read Metro review. Hope you realise the criticisms are totally outweighed by the “good book” comment! And nice of the critic to say you were “rightly picked up” by CB, yes? Brilliant. I may ask you to talk to the group about reviews now – sorry! Paul
Also note that you beat the Faber-published book on the same spread by a star!
I’ve had a little while to absorb the review now, and only one thing really hurts: “the book is full of errors”. The review copy I sent to Metro does have some errors in it, listed here (and including that weird “new” instead of “knew”). I’ve corrected all of these in the “full release” version of the book that’s been on sale since the beginning of August. It’s difficult to deal with this criticism without sounding petty, or as though I’m arguing with a critic’s perfectly fair point. All I will say is that doing things properly is very important to me, and that if anyone finds any more mistakes, please let me know. I’ve had two books published by big publishers, Pearson Education and Penguin. In the first of those books, the publisher’s proof-reader made no changes at all to my manuscript. In the second, the only changes were to do with house style (-ise vs -ize endings, and so on). I apologise for being petty, obsessive and defensive on this point. And I should have found and fixed those problems before 24 July, which is when I actually got round to it.
Anyway, I’m glad that Ben East thinks that the book is good and could have been great. And I’m sorry that the astonishment gets wearing – at least I warn readers in advance that the book is likely to contain a lot of it.
I also agree that publishers and editors exist for a reason, and I don’t have anything against them. I wonder whether, if the book had been taken up by a big publisher, it would have been much different. From what I hear, more and more publishers look to agents to do most of the editing work – mine certainly did a lot for me. I get the impression that, for big releases, publishers still put a lot of time and effort into editing. But for some other books, I hear that many of them do a surprisingly small amount.
We will never know. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I risked having my feelings hurt and put the book out myself. I’m glad that some people like it, and I’m sorry for its shortcomings.