Good people of Dundee – be what you want to be!

“Good people of Dundee, your voices raise,
And to Miss Baxter give great praise;
Rejoice and sing and dance with glee,
Because she has founded a college in Bonnie Dundee” – William McGonagall

I must be brave to reprint those lines on my blog, for they were spouted by the gentleman who is considered to be the worst poet in history.

Statements with such strong absolutes make me shudder. They also make me think about how the whole self-publishing thing would work, if critics and not readers were opining and deciding whether an author’s work was sold.

I haven’t reprinted those infamous, out-of-rhythm lines here, because they had moved me to tears or filled my heart with unprecedented joy. I quote William McGonagall here merely to point out that the reader is so much more forgiving than the critic, and this is why self-publishing has been a success for many authors.

The decision-making of the traditional publishers is a long and tedious affair. The author’s work must come up expectations in more ways then one, for more people than a few. So, a work may be turned down because:

  • The story wouldn’t appeal to a big enough group of readers.
  • The story began slow and they thought that the reader would be impatient.
  • They thought that the writer didn’t have “a way with words.”
  • The editors loved the story, but other decision-makers, the bottom-line watchers, thought that it wouldn’t sell.
  • The story ended up being read when the reviewer’s senses were already jaded…
    the list would be long.

But self-publishing gives writes and opportunity to reach their readers directly. They might be handful, but they exist. These readers don’t wait for the critics to pass their judgment on a book, before they buy it – especially, when a kindle ebook is available at half- or a-third the price of a paperback. When they go through a book, they expect to be entertained; they don’t pick up a hand lens or a fine tooth comb and start dissecting the text, the story mechanics, the issues with the characters – as long as the story entertains them, they feel satisfied, because they money was spent well.

Returning to the gentleman in question – I have no idea whether the stuff he wrote was really so terrible that he was given the epithet “The Worst Poet of History.” I have no ear for music either, and by extension, I’m terrible at getting words to rhyme, and yet, William McGonagall’s deep desire to beat the odds and succeed, amazes me.

Take a moment to think about him.

He was meant to be a weaver, not a poet.

He was a born in 1925 – a weaver’s son. He was destined to be a weaver, but he wanted to become a poet. He “sold” his poetry to people, allowed himself to be pelted with stones in the local circus for money, went to London then New York to try his luck and then returned to his “bonnie Dundee.”

He was past his prime when he first realized that he wanted to be a poet.

In 1877, aged 52, he “discovered” that he wanted to be poet and lived rest of his life as a poet. Towards the end of his life (in 1899), he had earned the status of a “cult figure” and had a following of his own. 

He was rejected by the Queen.

He spent twenty-two years of his life doing he did what he wanted to do, despite being rejected by the Queen.

He was born a weaver’s son, but in his own estimation, he died a poet.

If he were born today, he would’ve surely self-published, and his readers would have then decided his fate. There are a lot of writers on Amazon and other self-publishing platforms, who don’t care if they sell, they write and publish to smile through their lives – then there are some who try to perfect their craft of storytelling, they too want to smile, but they want to be read by thousands if not millions – because they know that they have stories to tell…and they are looking for listeners.

William McGonagall teaches us something that no other author does – that a critic’s approval is not a necessary condition for an author’s happiness.

Image Credits:
By Parisian Photo Co, Edinburgh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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