Reinventing the Written Word

OK, that might be a slightly overblown opener, but something caught my attention so I thought I’d try to catch yours.

Just seen a link on Twitter to this article on self-publishing

And it got me thinking. This is a brilliant piece of marketing. It totally repositions the usually criticised self-published author into an independent artist beyond moral reproach. It turns “vanity” publishing into a “we the people against the machine” type uprising that makes it sound like the revolution is starting. More, the parallels it draws with handicrafts and foodiness thinly veils an implication that authors who take the route of agent / publisher are actually the literary equivalents of manufactured pop – and that is exactly where my concern goes into overdrive.

You see, I write. Obviously I write, the world and his wife writes. It is rarer these days for me to meet someone who doesn’t have literary ambition. Everyone wants to be a writer, and a lot of them seem to be really bloody good (which doesn’t explain why so many books I see in print actually look a bit rubbish. Personal taste, that’s all it is, I’m sure). There was some bizarre statistic I read recently which said that there are more wannabe writers than there are book-buyers. (By whom I mean the book-devouring public, not buyers at retailers) Whilst I reserve unhealthy doses of salt-pinches for that particular figure, the point is, the number of people churning out novels is far, far in excess of the number published in the UK each year.

And this is a good thing.

I know, I’m a wannabe writer too, surely I should be shouting from the rooftops to see more and more novels published each year, thereby increasing my own unlikely chances of dream-fulfilment. But I’m not. I honestly believe that it should be difficult, that there should be an element of luck, that not everyone who writes a book should necessarily have the chance to share it with the world.

Already, there is overwhelming choice. It’s great to see in so many ways, new novelists coming to light despite recession and certain doom and gloom prophets insisting that the printed word has a limited shelf-life, that e-books, audiobooks and other technologies will all too soon relegate printed books into the dusty archives of history. I just don’t believe it. Those of us who love reading, love reading books. Not saying there is no place for the advances of technology (far from it, in fact) but I think books have got a lot of life in them yet. And yet, whilst I am definitely keen to see a buoyant book market continue, I’m not so keen for the market to suddenly be awash with self-published books which have no quality control whatsover.

You may be screaming at the screen at the moment, telling me that I don’t have to read it if I don’t choose to. And you’re right. It’s just going to get even harder to find the good stuff than it is already.

One of the main points of it being so damn hard to find an agent, to get a publishing deal, to be heard of in the literary world is that you have to be good (or lucky, or already famous, granted) to get them. Having a good agent, or a publishing deal from a reputable company, is that it is a mark of quality, an assurance for the reader that what they’re shelling out their hard-earned cash for, and spending their even more precious time consuming, is worth it.

In a couple of years time I may well end up turning to self-publishing. I’m not even saying that all self-published books are bad – far from it. I know there are thousands of writers out there who are really, really good, for whom it is grossly unfair that their talent has not yet been recognised. Agents, publishers – they’re not always right. I shan’t bore you with the overused examples of now-famous writers passed over time and again by various agents. Because those are exceptions. I hope against hope that my faith in agents and publishers is well-founded, that they have earned their God-like position of authority over our book-babies. With their say so do worlds become and are destroyed.

Perhaps there’s just not enough room for everyone to play God.


~ by DelightingintheDetail on June 10, 2010.

3 Responses to “Reinventing the Written Word”

  1. The thing about self-publishing is that the books don’t get the marketing that those published through traditional channels do, and they therefore mostly fall by the wayside.

    Looking at it from an ex-actor’s point of view: I might have been doing something I loved, but I was losing money on it hand over fist, and thereby making a bit of a mockery of all my training and experience. Similar with those who self-publish – if you’re not earning money from your book, can you really call yourself a published author, or are you just a keen hobbyist?

  2. Completely agree – and enough well-supported books already fall by the wayside, I don’t know what hope self-published ones have. I just found it slightly strange, the positioning of it as “indie” and “handmade” when really it’s not the same thing at all. Well, I don’t think it is. Which is not to say that many self-published authors aren’t good – many are.
    Sadly I suspect that until I have enough confidence in my own work to put my own money behind it, I shouldn’t really expect a publisher to do it for me!

  3. What puts me off ‘self-publishing’ (and there is a reason for it being called ‘vanity’) just knowing from my ‘fanfiction’ experience, there are writers out there that think they are the dogs bollocks. You try to tell them (as I Beta, therefore try to give constructive criticism to help writers like myself improve) that a characterisation is off, or something doesn’t quite ‘work’ with the plot (I am not the only person who feels like this in my fanfiction realm) but they don’t ‘listen’. These are the sorts of writers that can use the ‘vanity’ publishing, to say that they are published… but it’s not been past an agent, editor etc. etc. So, as a unpublished writer, I want to take the hard route. And if I do one day get published, (she crosses fingers) I know that I’ve worked hard enough to get there, and my writing is worth paying for. (I am realistic, I don’t see myself becoming the next J K Rowling lol!).

    There is a need for self-publishing companies, certain books, small scale, even maybe local to areas, producing something non-fictional. I’m not tarring all self-publishers with the same brush… but my fear would be, in buying a self-published book, how good would it be?

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