Self-publish and be doomed

NORMAN GILLER’s odyssey as publisher of his own book took an unfortunate turn this week, and he is not proud of himself
I sold my journalistic soul this week, and I am ashamed of myself. As a self-publisher, I over-ruled myself as the writer and agreed to allow my book, The Lane of Dreams, to be censored.

Before they would consider stocking the book, a history of White Hart Lane, Tottenham asked to see a copy. Back came the response: “In view of some of the content, we are unable to sanction it.”

I tracked down John Fennelly, their Head of Publications, who told me politely but firmly: “We do not consider it appropriate to offer for sale in our store a book that is critical of our chairman.”

Here’s just a little taster of what Tottenham objected to:

If in 2007 you were a reader of London’s only paid-for evening paper, the Standard, you would have discovered that the depth of feeling against the Daniel Levy-style of leadership could be measured in fathoms. It reached the point when the newspaper and all its reporters and photographers were banned from White Hart Lane after a series of searing columns by confessed Spurs fan Matthew Norman.

Armed with a lacerating vocabulary that would have led to many challenges back in the duelling days, Norman wrote in one Levy-levelling column: “He can act like an imbecile of a very rare order indeed.”

Now that is going for the jugular, and the sort of crippling criticism I dare not put my tongue or pen to. You must weigh for yourself if the criticism was justified, but one thing for certain is that Tottenham showed poor judgment in banning the newspaper.

For this old hack with traditional Fleet Street principles, freedom of speech and freedom of the press is much more important and vital to our society than anything that happens on a football field.

I think I deserve your applause and appreciation for being such a principled and noble defender of our hard-earned freedoms.

But you won’t find a word of it in the book.

The Norman Giller I used to be would have told Tottenham that there was no way in a million years that I would alter a single syllable. I would rather have faced a Dave Mackay tackle.

But I called a meeting with myself, and the publisher in me told the writer: “It will make no economic sense for us to have the book banned by Tottenham. We need the sales that the club shop will give us. Easing out about 100 of the 85,000 words will not devalue the book in any way.”

Weakly, meekly the writer in me gave in, and the book – the censored book – will go on sale in the Spurs store. Humble apologies to Voltaire (“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”). Don’t blame me. Blame my publisher.

Publish and be damned? (Duke of Wellington). Publish and be doomed, more like.

The Lane Of Dreams has become part of a great adventure that includes a head-to-head sales war with the redoubtable Harry Harris.

I have known, liked and respected Harry since his local newspaper days, before he developed into arguably the greatest football news gatherer of his generation. I was chief football reporter on the Daily Express when he first came into the business, and I am glad I had got out before he started shovelling scoops by the lorry load.

We have come out with identically themed books, and Harry launched his Down Memory Lane at a Mayfair bash on Wednesday. His Green Umbrella Publishers are orchestrating a vigorous promotion campaign, but I am going to try to hang on to their coat tails.

I tried to spike the launch by almost giving away my book as a £2.99 try-before-you-buy download, with everybody purchasing it getting my £18.95 book in electronic form before it’s traditional paper-and-ink publication at the start of next season.

Fighting dirty, I leaked gossip of the “book war” to another of the outstanding newsmen, Charles Sale at the Daily Mail. I was following the dictum of old boxing promoter Jack Solomons: “All publicity is good publicity, provided they get your name right.”

But Harry has got off to a flier, and his book is already showing in the best seller lists while I am still in the starting blocks.

For anybody out there interested in going down the self-publishing road, be careful, be diligent and plan every step well in advance of publication.

I thought I was being clever by worming my way into discussion groups on Facebook, which has 22,000 registered Tottenham supporters. Each time I tried to drop the subject of my book into the debate I was warned I was breaking rules.

I knew I would not be able to get a mass email to the Facebook members, so I painstakingly drew up a list of 200 I had “met” during group talks.

Then I set about contacting each one in turn … reached three of them and was then blocked by a drop-down page that accused me of trying to “spam”.

It is going to be harder than I thought to get my book into the public domain before publication. Perhaps Voltaire is punishing me.

I was appalled by the Steven Downes story that freelance sports reporters are having to take cuts in their match reporting fees.

When I tunnelled my way out of the Express in 1974, the Sunday Mirror’s chirpy Cockney sports editor Tony Smith told me at my farewell party at The Albion: “I’ll pay you fifty quid for a Saturday match report, and we’ll give you a first class rail voucher and you can charge for a coupe of taxis. We will also lob you a few extra quid for any stories you can give us.”

Thanks to some skilled hey-diddle-diddling with my exes (and Tony Smith’s blind eye) I was picking up a cushioning £75 a week for that one day’s work.

Now it is reported that some match report fees are as low as £45, and there is not even guaranteed fare money to get to and from the venue. That derisory fee is the equivalent of less than £25 in the 1970s.

I wish I could think of a way the freelances can fight back, but if they withdraw their labour they will be left with nothing in their pocket and the newspapers will no doubt cut and paste from the web.

I would like to think the staff writers will stand up and fight on behalf of the freelances. But I will not hold my breath.

There again, who am I to preach? I’m the bloke who sold his soul for a few book sales. I deserve to be kicked by Dave Mackay and haunted by the ghost of Voltaire.

And perhaps meet my Waterloo. Yes, publish and be doomed.

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