Archive for April, 2010

Some people think your book has no right to exist

April 22, 2010

I thought it was resolved.  I thought it was a free market and that more authors now had the right to write and publish their work.  I thought – wrongly, as it turns out – that people in the publishing industry were finally beginning to realize the benefits of democratic and open publishing, creating more opportunities for all.  Self-publishing, cooperative or partnership pubishing, publishing on the web – these are the vehicles which have allowed more people than ever to get their thoughts and ideas into the market.  It seems, however, that there are still a few people stuck in the Dark Ages.  One speaker at London Book Fair has me particularly riled this morning, and an ongoing thread on LinkedIn has me smacking my head in disbelief.

First, I must report that London Book Fair, despite only 50% of expected attendance, was a huge success for my two companies.  I had valuable meetings with people who suddenly had time in their schedules, I wasted no time waiting for food, drink or lavatories, and the whole atmosphere was more relaxed and conducive to good discussions.

One of the seminars at LBF, entitled “Not to Dare: Has British Literature Become Risk-Averse?”, concluded that writers are now being forced to bear more of their risk and complete their books without being paid in advance.  Oh dear, my heart bleeds for those poor authors.  Welcome to the real world, folks!  And thank you for falling in line with our way of doing things, traditional publishers.  But apparently it is shocking to some people that things have had to change in this way.  Are you surprised?  When you think about the flat or falling book sales figures, the rising costs of production and the uncertainties inherent in the industry, is it any wonder publishers have had to rein in the budgets and take fewer risks?  Of course it isn’t.  Those of us who have operated in this way for years know that the authors and publishers who persevere without having a safety net or any certain return on their investment of time or money are the real heroes.  So I don’t actually have a problem with authors taking the risk.

What I do have a problem with is the arrogance and condescending nature of some publishing people who still think it is their right to be gatekeepers, playing God and deciding which books deserve to be published and which don’t.  At the seminar, former publisher Alison Samuel defended big publishing and declared that “there were an awful lot of bad books that did not need to exist”.  Perhaps it is the old-fashioned, elitist and deluded model of the big publishing houses that does not need to exist.  In 2006, I wrote an article stating that Every Book Deserves to Be Written and Published.  That was also our strapline at The Book Midwife for several years.  I have taken plenty of flak for that comment, but I stand by it.  Alison – and anyone else who cares to argue with me: I never said ‘bad books’ deserve to be bought, read or liked.  I just said we shouldn’t deny people the right to get their books into print.  If publishers or anyone else wants to be careful with their investments, please do.  That’s prudent.  Just don’t say that certain books shouldn’t exist.

The controversial thread on LinkedIn appears in the Book Publishing Professionals club, and legally, it would not be right for me to reprint content from there, as it is a private club.  It’s probably OK for me to divulge the title though: “Does anyone else out there, besides me, think that self-publishing should just go away and let “real” publishing take over again?”  I think it was designed to polarize people but I am stunned at the level and the vehemence of the arguments on both sides.  Nearly 900 comments and counting, with some people still arguing that publishers should have the right to decide what gets published and what doesn’t.  Sweeties – I grant you the right to decide what you publish.  Leave the rest of us alone so we can get on with writing what we want, publishing it how we want, and creating as much success as we can with our books.

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