Monday, 15 February 2010

Writers doing it for themselves

Up until very recently, nobody thought that writers could, or should, take control of their own destinies. The last ten years have changed that view. When I worked as an editor in a publishing house, way back when I was the editorial newbie in charge of reading my slow way through the slush pile, a not particularly affectionate term for the mountain of unsolicited manuscripts that slumped precariously on the editorial floor, it always struck me how deferential writers were to the publisher - as if they really did have the power to confer publishability upon a work.
By what authority did the publisher, or in this case his young representative, have to decide what should or should not be published? What qualification did the publisher hold?

The truth is, publishers do not hold a license to publish. They print and sell - publish, disseminate - books that they choose, for reasons which have little to do with literary merit and much to do with market forces - of course, publishers after all are in the business of making money. The fact is anyone can set up in business as a publisher, as long as they can continue to pay the bills. So why are writers so afraid of the publisher? Why do they believe that publishers have the right to decide on the 'merit' or otherwise of their work? That right is only conferred on the publisher by dint of the publisher taking financial (and to some extent legal) responsiblity for the production and dissemination of the work. If the writer took that responsibility into his own hands, does he not then confer on himself or herself the right to decide, to control his own destiny?

Which is exactly what many writers now chose to do. Times are changing, the old rules are being rewritten. Printing and producing books has become cheaper (printing to order has become routine), distributing books(through Amazon for instance) comes within the reach of the individual, or groups of individuals through self-publishing websites and companies. Writers can chose to publish their work, without waiting for the imprimatur, or recommendation of the junior editor, the inexperienced keeper of the sacred gate, half asleep on the editorial floor. Now at last, writers can authorize themselves, if they can foot the bill.

New service providers spring up to help the writer through this process - to make the bringing to book as smooth and efficient as possible. There are freelance editors, editorial consultancies (like my own, The Writing Room), staffed by professional editors who can provide the services previously only accessible through the traditional publishing house. There are designers, marketing and publicity experts. There is the internet and the cyberworld of readers and buyers. And with the perfect storm of recession and digitization frightening the life out of the conventional publisher, who is to say where it will all end? Will the writers of the world take control at last of their own copyrights, their own distribution, their own publication? Who will be the gatekeeper then?

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Hi - and welcome to my blog.

When I set up my online literary consultancy towards the end of 2009, I called it The Writing Room. There was a reason for that. I wanted to give writers, whatever their published status, a place where they could come to concentrate unashamedly on their writing - a room, if you like: a Writing Room. Do you remember what Virginia Woolf said about writers, women writers in her case, needing a space which was theirs and where they could be free of the ordinary trials of life to dedicate themselves to their work? I visualised something like that. Somewhere where anyone who aspired to create the written word could be released into creativity. Having three children myself, and having tried to combine a life in publishing with a life as a working writer, I know how pressured the process can be. I'd like you to think of a door, opening into a room, with a desk, big enough to hold the books you need, some paper, a pen, a laptop, a window beyond that opening on a quiet view, and by your side, if you need it, an unobtrusive friend to read your work - if you want them to, to offer advice - if you want it, receptive, helpful, constructive, absorbed. In other words, your perfect reader.
I would love to hear from you. Send me your questions, your anxieties. Do publishers respond to you? Do you long for an attentive, honest, intelligent reader? What do you hope for, aim for, long for? If I can answer you, I will.
Write on.