We're all punks now - Simon Cheshire
|Some punks, deriding mainstream publishing
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...)