That was the worst easter ever...
That's what was originally supposed to be here today, but then I found this fucking bullshit (http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/may/29/self-publishing-revolutionary-reactionary-authorpreneurialism?CMP=twt_gu) and I haven't been able to think about anything else.
This article provoked a real despair in me once I was done with it. It wasn't just the content of the piece, although that pissed me off a great deal. I could write it all off as the poorly researched opinions of one out of touch old man. As somebody who regularly reads the Telegraph, I am more than capable of doing that.
What bothered me, and made me seriously consider giving up writing altogether was the comments. I know, I know -- never read the comments. It's rule number one of doing anything on the internet.
Normally the comment section of every single internet thing is made up of people tearing down the central concept of whatever that thing is. Except for my blog, of course, where I just get tumbleweeds and the distant chirping of bored crickets.
But you know how internet comment sections are, I assume you're on the internet right now you can probably find one. Pull up any article from any newspaper and check the comments. I can almost guarantee that the first couple will be from people who violently disagreed with the article, the next will mock the author personally, someone in there will drop a racial slur, a confused time traveller will wander in to demand that people vote for Ron Paul in the 2012 presidential election. Maybe in amongst all that madness, someone will make a sensible point, but even if they don't, the message is clear -- express an opinion on the internet loud enough and a tidal wave of angry maniacs will descend upon you and start yelling.
I was quite looking forward to seeing what people had to say here. For once, I could be on the side of the angry maniacs without going to a Liverpool/Everton derby! But isn't it always the way? The one time you want the internet to be the frenzied, angry mob it always is, it gets a visit from the Care Bears.
Way to go, internet, you can't even be yourself right.
The comment feed for this article was filled with an outrush of love and support for the author. People were standing up and cheering, one person likened themself to god, I'm sure if I'd have read deep enough I'd have found people jumping up and down and giggling like David Beckham had just walked out the toilet stall ahead of them.
I'm being facetious to mask my anger here, but really this article and the comments for it are all just symptomatic of a backlash against self-publishing that I just don't understand.
These people have this weird idea about what a self-published author is. They've built up this strawman in their minds who farts out a draft over one weekend, doesn't bother checking the spelling and fires it up onto Amazon expecting to be a millionaire overnight; they don't do any work to improve their writing but at the same time they expect the same treatment as a published author, legions of fans and non stop positive feedback. If they get anything less than a five star review, they cry and stomp their feet like entitled babies.
Take one of the comments from the article for example, it's pretty long and it contained a lot of quotations bwhich I took out, otherwise we'd be here all day, and I have work to do and you probably do too) but I just discovered the 'read more break' tool on here and I'm pretty excited about giving it a go, let's hope it works!
Self-publishers often respond to the quality argument by saying: ‘Proust [Dickens, Twain, etc] was self-published.’ Ergo, apparently, every self-published writer is as good as Proust. Leaving aside the false syllogism and amusing self-unawareness, it’s often struck me that one of self-publishing's problems today is the very fact that it's affordable or even free.
Self-publishing required a different motivation in those pre-Internet days. It cost serious time and proper money. Patrons or savings were needed to finance printing and distribution. Distribution often involved shoe-leather; lobbying and using your network often involved time and difficult travel. A writer had to be really, really convinced of their work’s merit before investing so much time, money and effort. That’s no guarantee of quality, but if nothing else it meant that vanity publishing was confined to a smaller number of serious amateurs.
Today it costs nothing or next to it. So any & every amateur, no matter how self-delusional, can self-publish and self-proclaim themselves to be 'a writer'. If every self-publisher had to pay say, a ‘declaration-of-serious-intent licence’ of, say, £500, before uploading a PDF, I suspect that a lot of manuscripts would be quietly tucked back into the sock drawers where they belong.
At the risk of being self-delusional myself, I wouldn't use the word 'reduced' about our readerly status as consumers.
We readers remain all-powerful. We are the gods and goddesses of the literary world. Good proper old-fashioned gods and goddesses, Nordic style, driven only by our own hubris and merciless whims. We don’t like your opening paragraph? We think you crocheted your 'plot'? We think your writing reads like a bad parody of a good writer that you tried to copy? We chuck your book in the bin. And then - here’s another revolution du jour, to borrow Orna Ross’ phrase - we go online to tell everyone why you and your book are unreadable.
(They quote someone else here who had listed a pretty impressive bunch of small publishers)
Sensible words as always from @personfacethepersonwhopostedthelistofsmallpublishersmcgee (Not their real name). Yes, hurray for small presses. They’re not new, but they are perhaps deservedly getting more general attention. All those self-publishers shouting online just remind readers like me of the importance of curators. Small and independent presses are among the best. Hurray for gatekeepers. As a reader, I want them there, protecting my time and my shelves, stopping & questioning writers before allowing them to seek an audience with me.
(They quote Will Self here when he says he doesn't "really write for readers".)
That reminds me of Etgar Keret’s comment on the (excellent) Guardian podcast Literature which disrupts reality.
(They quote Etgar Keret here saying pretty much the same thing in a slightly more eloquent manner)
Note to self-publishers: If you are not as good a writer as Keret - and most writers aren’t - don’t ever say anything like this because we will laugh at you. '
In another life, me and Thor there could be best friends, I agree with a some of what they say. Small publishers are good and I encourage their work. They always sent me the nicest, most encouraging rejection letters at least. Not only that, but Odin almost has his or her lightening greased fingers somewhere near a point when they talk about writers writing for their readers. I believe that writers should always write the books that they themselves want to read, but at the same time they need to consider things from the readers point of view. You want to make your reader love the world you've created as much as you do, and you can't do that very well if you alienate them.
But alas, aside from those two almost-points, me and Loki remain bitter enemies.
I kind of resent the implication that self-publishing is easy compared to what it was like in the past. A lot of things are more simplified, but we're still running around, using as many connections as possible to find readers and investing heavily in our work. If we didn't believe that our work was worth reading, why would we spend thousands of hours, hundreds of pounds of our own money and most of our sanity to try to get them onto a reader's kindle?
But the bone I most have to pick with Baldr is their assumption that self-published writers flant their disdain for their readers while they compare themselves to Proust, Dickens, Self and Keret.
Yeah, there are probably a few like that. I've never met any of them and I hang out with other self-published authors online, all of whom have been polite, friendly and willing to accept negative criticism. But I'm far from the authority on the behaviour of self-published authors. Maybe there is this secret cabal of self-published authors that demand the world without putting the work in, but I've never seen them.
I can only speak for myself on this matter, and yeah, I'm not that much of a vile, self-promoting egomaniac.
You might think I'm throwing a hissy-fit over some opinions online, you might even be kind of right, I am pretty pissed over this. But I'm not angry because somebody has a negative opinion of my work, because as far as I can tell, nobody is criticising my work at all here (that I know of). What's being criticised here seems to be the very notion that I'm writing anything at all. I'm just a meagre peasant, not part of the right scene and I definitely don't have the right friends. So I should leave the writing to the professionals and never attempt it ever again.
Which is exactly what the Beefeaters told me when I tried to join the royal family.
There's nothing like being introduced to your potential audience, then getting told that this audience hasn't read word one of anything you're written, but they already think you're a talentless hack with pretentions of greatness. I feel as though I couldn't challenge the prejudice of these people, even if I did write like Will Self of Etgar Keret (side note, I fucking wish) because I'm not a part of the right publishing circles and never will be. That's the sort of realisation that shakes you to the core and makes you question if you're even good enough to be writing in the first place.
And that's a fucking crappy way to feel after you've put so much into this already.
I think this is a problem society seems to have at the moment, especially here in England. Not just with writers, but with everybody. No matter what you attempt to do, you're expected to be the very best in the world after your first few goes otherwise you should just give up and never try again. I think this is just a byproduct of the uber-capitalist society that we've been steadily creeping towards these past few years. Be the very best immediately or step out of the way for the ones who are.
That's a load of crap though, everybody starts out somewhere, even the great writers that you love had a debut novel were they were still learning their chops. I get that nobody wants to spend money on a writer who's still learning, but I know myself that I have a certain standard of quality that I need to reach before I ever put a book out there and I'm certain that most self-published authors feel the same way about their stuff.
If you think my published books are bad, you should see the crap I decided not to publish.
And yeah, I do have the audacity to self-identify as a writer. It may not be my day job, and it probably won't be for years to come, but one of the lessons I took away from my Creative Writing course was this -- if you're writing, you're a writer. It's kind of an essential part of the process. Call me self-delusional if you want and maybe I feel the same way in my darker moments, but I'm working on getting there, what are you working on at the moment? *
Also, that £500 'gatekeeping fee' that Freyja advocates up there is actually quite close to what I'm going to have to pay anyway. A professional book cover will probably set you back about £200 or so, a professional editor maybe half of that and you're not going to get anywhere without good SEO which can get expensive if you're not an expert in it yourself.
But right do I, a lowly mortal, have to trifle in the affairs of the GODS!
What annoyed me probably most of all about this entire debacle was that the commentators seem to think self-publishers have a contempt for their readers, meanwhile the article itself is criticising them for being 'individual producers each catering to very narrow range.'
So we not only disregard what our readers want, we're also too afraid of them to do anything other than what the market demands?
Is it any wonder why I'm so frustrated about this? Everybody has an idea about what a self-published author is, some of them are paid actual money to get those ideas out there, and so far none of them have accurately described what we do while they all claim to be experts.
And the idea that there's only one 'self-published' genre is a load of crap too. Yeah, I'll admit there are a lot of samey stories out there, but no more so than the mainstream publishing world. Christ, just look at the top rack of the book shelf in ASDA, so many books with white covers and titles like 'NO, DADDY, NO!' If I was as closed minded as Mr. Skinner or his online cheersquad, I would say that mainstream books are in danger of becoming nothing but 'true' tales of child abuse, then I would stick my fingers in my ears and scream while you tried to argue with me.
There are as many genres of books being self-published as there are people to read them, a lot of them twisting and bending genres and tropes in ways that the mainstream publishing industry hasn't even thought of yet. I've read true stories about life in a mental institution, horror stories about sentient cats, dystopian sci-fi with a lesbian romance sub-plot and police procedurals that focus on the everyday crimes in a rural community. That's before I even get into the work of Ksenia Anske, Red Tash, Rachel Thompson and Zack Parsons and my own books, whatever the hell you'd call those (Dystopian Horror? Punk Fantasy? Action Comedy? A Bag of Shite?)
If you looked further than the end of your own nose, you'd be able to find these books. They're out there and they're great. But if you go in with the preconceived notion that it's all sexy vampires and self-insert fan fiction then that's all you'll find.
It's not as if traditional publishing is perfect either. A few years ago, a subsidiary of Penguin books offered Pippa Middleton a £400,000 advance to write a book on party planning. That's enough to start twenty six writing careers, assuming that you paid each of them a £5000 advance and invested £10000 in their marketing. That makes it twenty six times more likely that you'll make your money back and make a profit. But this party planning book, predictably, tanked in sales and I don't think that Penguin even made their money back at all. In any other career you'd be out on your arse if you lost you lost £400,000 on a bad investment -- I don't think anybody even got disciplined over this easily predictable mistake. The publishing industry, or at least Penguin, looks after their own. It is, by this one example alone, an incestous clusterfuck of an old boys network. How can any writer born later than 1980 attempt to break into that kind of market?
Self-published authors might not be rich, they might not be celebrities, but they have stories that deserve to be told, don't you think?
Now everybody go and buy my books:
(Part one: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0099RG1OE?*Version*=1&*entries*=0
Part two: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hair-Dog-Part-Two-Gallaetha-ebook/dp/B009W7FZ7K/ref=pd_sim_kinc_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1E07CANAK8QX4ZRRB7FK)
They are the greatest contribution to English Literature since the Canterbury Tales. **
* I'm aiming that at a hypothetical stranger, please don't tell me what you're working on at the moment
** Obviously I'm joking. They're two books written by an author just starting out and are probably riddled with spelling mistakes and continuity errors, but I reckon they're still pretty good. Worth a read, even if you end up hating them. ***
*** It sounds a lot like I'm just desperately trawling for readers, and I am, but you have to admit, you're at least a bit curious now, aren't you?