Saturday, 23 June 2012

We're all punks now - Simon Cheshire


Some punks, deriding mainstream publishing
          There's been a lot on TV and radio recently about punk rock. Not sure why, probably some anniversary - the media do love their anniversaries, bless 'em. I was never a punk myself, I was far too weedy and straight-laced, but I can't help feeling a certain nostalgia for an era when anyone could simply shout at a microphone, stick two fingers up at the establishment and call themselves a musician...
Hang on...
          Does that ring a bell with anyone? Might there be parallels between the punk movement of the 1970s and the self-publishing movement of the, err, what would we be, the '10s? Both were kicked off from an unexpected direction. Both caught on in a way which makes wildfire look like a 20W lightbulb. Both initially had their svengalis and their fringe pundits. Both were looked down upon by the press and the critics, apart from one or two far-sighted individuals. Both put the proverbial fear of God up their respective mainstream industries.
          Both created a bandwagon. In punk's case, every kid who'd ever fancied being famous suddenly painted their hair green and started frightening their granny. In the case of self-publishing, everyone and his dog suddenly started uploading their collected shopping lists to Amazon and Smashwords.
          Of course, bandwagons tend to overturn. Punk's certainly did. Now, figures are starting to show that slapping any old thing online for 79p isn't the money-making bonanza certain people predicted, and with a bit of luck our own bandwagon is toppling and the initial gold rush may soon be over.
          Just as punk morphed into various new musical forms, so the free-for-all chaos of the self-publishing boom is gradually morphing, before our very eyes, into a proper, long-term Independent Publishing market sector. The workers are, to coin a phrase, taking control of the means of publication. Reasons to stay with the ancien regime are getting fewer all the time. Enough time has passed for many of the technical wrinkles of 'new publishing' to be ironed out, and a consensus on most aspects of going it alone is starting to emerge (via blogs like this, for a start!)
          In the wake of the revolution, citizens, comes a brave new world, in which the writer forges a career based on their own efforts rather than on the dictats of Old Publishing's book-ista revisionist counter-revolutionary running-dog paper hyenas. What really confuses me is the way Old Publishing is still carrying on as before: diminishing advances, leave-it-to-the-author PR campaigns, microscopic royalty percentages etc. It's all a bit "Let them eat cake", isn't it? Can't they see that the attitude of most professional writers is changing? Or don't they care?
          Oh well. They can keep their Twilight and their Fifty Shades Of Euurgh! We're all sticking two fingers up at the establishment now. We've all gone punk.
          My new book, The Frankenstein Inheritance, is due out in a matter of weeks, if I can knuckle down and get the bloomin' thing finished! I'm pretty sure it's at least got a darn good story. I'm proud of it, and it's marketable, quite 'high-concept' as they say. And yet, for the first time ever, I've written a piece of unsolicited fiction which it hasn't even occurred to me to offer up to Old Publishing.
This is my baby. I'm a Publisher now. Vive la revolucion!
---------------
          I was going to end my post for this month right there, but a couple of things have happened in the last few days which have confirmed my feeling that Old Publishing really is reading at the Last Chance Saloon, and that attitudes to writers can still, even now, stink like a week-old herring.
          I was recently asked if I'd take part in a large-scale book festival for schools, in a certain distant city. Would I go there, twice, and talk to groups of kids? Sure, I said, raising an eyebrow at the fee they were offering (not so much 'modest' as 'insulting'), but keen as always to do my bit to foster literacy. I assume there'll be books to buy at each event? No, but the kids have been read one of your books in class. So there'll be press or other publicity? Not for individual authors, no, but definitely huge coverage for the festival, absolutely. Travel expenses? No, sorry. So, the cost of train tickets leaves me ahead by exactly £4.80 per event. Events which take up two days of my timetable. Hmm.
          Why didn't I just say no? Because the kids had already been given my book to read, and I'm not in the business of letting my readers down. My participation was simply assumed.
          The half-dozen publishers involved (not my main one, I hasten to add!) gushed about how wonderful, brilliant and inspiring the whole project is. Which it is, for them. It keeps them in employment, looks good on their CVs and puts their companies' names in front of influential people. The writers? They're grateful for any crumb that's thrown their way, aren't they?
          Not any more, matey.
          (To cap it all, they've just emailed me with a request to tweet, blog and mention the festival just as much as ever I possibly can. Quote "it would be fantastic if you could help us promote this unique event"... Unbe-bloomin'-lievable...)


Simon Cheshire is a children's writer who'll be your bestest friend ever if you buy his ebooks. 
His website is at http://www.simoncheshire.co.uk/ 
And his blog about literary history is at http://bookhistorystudies.blogspot.com/

6 comments:

CallyPhillips said...

I think we're about to enter the twent-teens decades wise aren't we? Your observations about punk are most apposite and it's the POST PUNK age that is the interesting one to me(where some people realised that if they learned to play their music they COULD forge a career, whether that be 'alternative' or 'mainstream') And where politics got social (to my mind) I cite Paul Weller (the young one, I'm not sure if he lost his way or I lost mine with age) as a great influence even though he's now the MODFATHER of rock, but then I guess eventual commercial success takes its toll on everyone who tastes it. And what about Billy Bragg (okay he can't sing but he has a message) and Elvis Costello (not to mention lots of forgotten bands such as The Lambrettas - anyone remember them?) Anyway, my point (such as it is) is that yes, like INDIE music before it, we are at the forefront of a new creative age in publishing and to my mind, looking forward is the best way to go. I realise I have been an 'independent' writer all my career (which explains why I didn't get the mainstream commercial success thing - and I use the word 'get' in more than one sense there!) Thanks so much Simon for reminding me of the music of my radical youth and joining the dots in such a way that the reader can focus on what's to come that's GOOD out of it, not dwelling on all the problems during the birthpangs of the new wave of publishing. And don't forget to bung a copy of your new work for review to Indie ebook (are we the NME or our day -I don't know, I never had spare cash to buy music mags in those days!)

Sherry said...

Simon - thank you! You have liberated my inner punk rocker! I speak as one who has a green vinyl copy of I'm in love with Margaret Thatcher by the Not Sensibles. And more besides. But like you I was a tame punk at the time, who hid her safety pin in her pocket.
And you are right. We are all punks now - spiky, independent, not caring about what the establishment thinks of us. Like Sid Vicious's refashioning of the vintage Sinatra anthem, we'll do it our way.

Jan Needle said...

too cold and damp and deadline kicking to write a proper response, but thanks simon - I LIKE IT! (or should i say I ******g ****g *******g
think it's really rather spiffing, old bean, you ****! geronim*

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Ah, I LOVE this post. Thank-you for pointing out the parallels which are obvious - but only when you make the connection like this. Good luck with the new book. Meanwhile, I'm off to share this on Facebook and anywhere else I can think of!

Sheridan Winn said...

Nice one, Simon! And best of luck with your festival! Sheri

John A. A. Logan said...

Couldn't agree with the militant tendencies of your post more, Simon, thanks!