Three weeks ago Unbound, who are my crowd funding publishers, got in touch and asked me if I'd like to come to London for a day. They had organised a meeting room and lunch at The Globe Theatre for a group of authors, some of whom they publish and some of whom they don't, and they hoped I'd come. The reason for the meeting? They wanted to ask authors what they think about the publishing process.
Yes, they did. They really did. Honestly. I stress this because, anyone who has been in the writing business for a while will be reading this with their mouth hanging open. When has a publisher ever asked an author what they want? I decided that I better cancel my plans for that day and get there. After ten years of not being asked what I want, I was gasping for the opportunity to say a few things myself - but perhaps even more interested in what other writers might say.
The day was led by John Paul Flintoff, who is an Unbound writer, and also by Dan Kieran who is a writer himself but is also one of the three founders of Unbound. Nicola Solomon from The Society of Authors also generously showed up. We were told we could ask any question we liked and everyone wrote their questions down on sheets of A4 paper. The questions were enormously varied. They ranged from the technical to the philosophical and back again.
Everyone split up into groups. You could join any group you wanted and leave it at any time. I listened to discussions about many different issues. Why can publishers never tell you how many books you've sold? Should writers put any of their work up on the internet and, if they should, then how much? How well does independent publishing work and who does it work for? When the electricity finally goes off will we be reading books for comfort of just burning them for fuel?
I met many new and interesting people, had a delicious lunch, found out plenty of things I didn't know, resolved to find ways of making my writing life more sociable and fun. The day did not, I admit, come to any great conclusion. But everyone involved went away feeling empowered, invigorated, hopeful. The victim mentality which, let's be honest, does sometimes take over when authors meet was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly we all felt that books matter and that publishing them is exciting - which it is - but that can be too easily forgotten.
However, perhaps the biggest question for me was - why hasn't this happened before? It isn't very complicated to book a room and bring writers together. Any publisher could do it but they haven't. Their general attitude to authors is Divide And Rule. Don't let the devils out of their box.
The bitter truth is that many writers are so isolated and embattled that, if you buy them a cup of coffee, they immediately feel loved and cherished. A little bit of being-kind-to-writers goes a very long way. So you can imagine how much goodwill Unbound generated by doing this. Simple, isn't it? But I don't think it has happened before.