Guest Column: So You Say You Want A Revolution?
By Declan Burke of Crime Always Pays
The publishing industry is in a state of chassis, if I can misquote Sean O’Casey, the Amazon-Macmillan slugfest being the latest example of how the writer and the reader, inarguably the most important elements of the publishing food-chain, are being ill-served by the intermediaries. Writers want to write, readers want to read … it should be easy, right? Nope. Readers are still getting their fill, given that (according to Henry Porter, below) “during the worst recession for 80 years, book sales went down last year by just 1.2% in value and only 0.5% in volume.” On the other hand, writers are having advances slashed and contracts torn up, this when they can get published at all.
A good friend of mine, and a damn fine writer, who shall remain nameless lest the publisher that keeps him on the breadline gets a whiff of sulphur, has advocated on more than one occasion recently that like-minded writers should get together and set up a co-op, akin to the United Artists studio of early Hollywood lore. In theory, it can be done: e-publishing and print-on-demand are just two elements of contemporary technology that allow writers to circumvent the publishing circus and go straight to readers. Okay, it won’t be happening today or tomorrow, but there’s a momentum building that suggests it’s becoming a distinct possibility in the near future. Hell, a media-savvy band of writers that rides the environmentally-friendly ticket (e-pub and POD = more Rain Forest) could discover that Green = the green.
First problem: self-publishing is vanity publishing, right? Leaving aside the fact, as @stevemosby pointed out on Twitter last week, that all publishing is vanity publishing, the idea that it’s bad to have the courage of your convictions appears to be limited to the publishing industry. Quoth Simon Crump on the Guardian Book Blog:
But surely that’s a business model, a standard template for ambition? The conviction that what you’ve got is good enough to release into the wild and stands a reasonable chance of selling is at the heart of launching any new product.
Pausing only to declare an interest, in that I co-published THE BIG O with Hag’s Head, and self-pubbed CRIME ALWAYS PAYS to Kindle, and that I’m thinking of self-publishing in the near future, we’ll move on swiftly to the aforementioned Henry Porter, also on the Guardian Book Blog:
What worries me is the loss of income for writers in what is a pretty healthy market, the loss of good editors from publishing houses and the disdain for writers by retailers – people who depend on them. If they are not careful the core talent of the book trade may well combine in new types of ventures – collectives and transparent relationships where writers and editors go into business together on a 50:50 basis and are enabled by web platforms, ebooks and print on demand… disintermediation of a more radical sort.
Heady stuff, folks, in theory at least. But I’m genuinely curious: as a reader (and all writers are readers first and foremost, or the good ones are anyway), what’s your take on the self-published book? Does it come freighted with overweening ambition and reeking of talentless desperation? Or is there the possibility that a self-published novel might simply be one that doesn’t fit the industry’s current requirements? Is there, for that matter, the possibility that there’s a small but perfectly formed audience out there hungry for novels and authors that don’t fit the industry’s current requirements?
I’m not a fool, and these days I certainly can’t afford to be parted from my money by investing in self-published novels and author co-ops and similar fripperies. And yet there’s a part of me that keeps nagging on about how now is the time to get in on the ground floor with self-pub POD, before the big companies wise up and move in with faux-indie offshoots and sponsored writing collectives and the like. Or is it already too late?
I read this post by Declan over on his own blog and thought it would make a good read on a somewhat chilly Friday in February. Editor