Chris Mitchell talks to Martin Millar about his pro-traveller novel Love And Peace With Melody Paradise and how setting up his own website has brought him new readers
What do you do if you’re an author who’s published several novels to widespread critical acclaim and then get unceremoniously dumped by your publisher? You’ve guessed it – set up a Web site. For Martin Millar, who’s been variously called “Brixton’s answer to Kurt Vonnegut” and “the Armistead Maupin of South London”, getting on the Net was one way of taking matters into his own hands.
“Changing publishers proved to be a very difficult thing to do,” explains Millar. “Changing publishers if you’re a medium rated author in terms of sales like myself is a bit like being a band – even though you’re doing OK, its hard to drum up interest. So it was at that point I set up my site and I was feeling pretty gloomy at the time, but I started getting a lot of communication. I suddenly felt a lot more in control of my career and I have ever since. The site’s got me a reasonable amount of publicity too”.
Originally from Glasgow, 40 year old Millar has been living in South London for the last 20 years and documented the thriving counterculture going on within the capital’s squat parties and music raves within his novels. When Millar gave the manuscript of his latest novel Love And Peace With Melody Paradise to Fourth Estate, who had published all of his previous books, they turned it down. In the six months since Love And Peace With Melody Paradise was subsequently published by the independent IMP Fiction, it’s outsold any of Millar’s previous books.
“They just didn’t get it” says Millar. “They understood it about as little as possible as it is to understand a book – and I don’t know why that is.” Certainly Melody Paradise’s portrayal of a bunch of travellers setting up an illegal festival in the country wasn’t much of a detour form Millar’s usual subject matter. But, as the rejection letters gathered together on his Web site attest, virtually every major UK publisher turned it down.
Of course, with the eventual success of Melody Paradise, Millar isn’t particularly bothered. Since setting up his Web site, he’s noticed a significant increase in sales of his books thanks to his links to various Internet bookstores like Amazon.com and The Book Place. “For an author like me, online selling is great, because my books aren’t on high street bookshop shelves half the time anyway”. He’s keen on the idea of being able to sell books direct from his site, but has been put off by the wildly differing costs of setting up credit card transactions. “It’s got to be a good thing to do,” he reckons, “but with a very small volume of sales it’s just not viable. You’d think banks would have sorted out the idea of micropayments by now.”
While a lot of other authors swear by the Net for research, Millar isn’t so impressed. “I can find a little about everything on the Net, but I still spend a lot of time at the British Library”. Where being on-line has really helped Millar has been staying in contact with book distributors around the globe, making sure his books are available in places as far flung as Australia and South Africa.
Best of all though for Millar is hearing from his fans, many of whom are abroad. With his own esoteric interests in rave music, anything to do with ancient Greece and fairie myths, the Net is a perfect place to find likeminded souls. “I think the Internet has almost come to the rescue of writing”, he muses. “You see people e-mailing furiously who would have never written a letter in their lives. I used to get a fair few letters about my books, but now it’s virtually all e-mail.” Of course, new technology always brings its own problems, and Millar absolutely hates logging on and finding he’s got no e-mail. So why not pop along to his site and send him a message? He’ll be happy to hear from you.