Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Further to my last post, I've been doing some further reading and deeper thinking about the e-book revolution. I'm so pleased that my partner, Keith, has set up The PotHole Press and has published my short story collection and I was saying that writers need publishers like him - with his attention to detail and his determination to produce the best possible end product. I hold this opinion because I've downloaded several e-books and bought some printed books published by small organisations who offer a print-on-demand service only to discover their products are badly presented, badly edited and don't replicate the quality achieved by the major publishing houses.

These are people - be they independent writers or small publishers - who invest their time and energy and also, often, money, because they have an ambition to see writing they believe in made available for the public to read.  Who am I, then, to deny them the right or to castigate them for doing it?

It's clear the larger publishing houses seek big sellers. They want a guaranteed return on their investment. After all, they've staff and offices to pay for, over and above the actual printing and distribution costs. Mass media, social media and online retailing means there's a big spike in interest for a very few books. If I can make an analogy with the 100 metres - there are eight people in the race, all pretty much achieving phenomenal speeds but it's the winner's name that everyone remembers. And that 'everyone' is, thanks to mass media, now a global audience rather than just a small village, small town or small country.

Who could blame a large publishing house from wanting to publish only the biography (or novel) written by the winner? That would be a guaranteed earner. Why would they want something written by the people who come six or seventh, or only made it to the heats? But this doesn't mean those runners are no good at what they do.

In a global market place, there are very few winners. This applies to the book world, too. Guaranteed success is there only for the dead certs. So, someone who has made a name in one field (e.g. running, music, TV soaps) will have his novel snapped up by a publisher without any qualms about literary quality. That can be bought in in the form of copy editors and ghost writers and because of the fame of the name, the work will be a major success.

So where does this leave those who aren't the front runners? Well, I've been reading some blog posts recently and will share the links to them. First, here's David Manderson on his experience at a debut novelist training event where 'wisdom' was handed down from on high by those supposedly in the know about what publishers want. http://davidtmanderson.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/debut-authors-the-bitter-truth/    David's book 'Lost Bodies' is one I recommend totally.  It was published by a relatively small publisher (Kennedy & Boyd) but their production standards are excellent - a fitting match for David's literary talent.

I've also been very interested in following up Catherine Czerkawska's blog posts about indie publishing. Catherine has achieved a wide ranging and well-respected publishing history over the years but as a 'midlist' literary author (i.e. not a front runner bringing in huge sales and not a new young discovery who just might have promise), she's decided to take control of her own publishing and promotion - with drive and success. http://wordarts.blogspot.co.uk/  Her blog makes fascinating reading.

Finally, for a look at the economic reality for the best-intentioned small publishers, here's a link to Two Ravens' Press recent blog   http://www.tworavenspress.com/TRP%20Publishing,%20four%20and%20a%20half%20years%20on.html

My views are still the same in some respects. Quality is everything. If you go down the indie route and self-publish, you need to set high production standards. If your book is accepted by a small publisher for e-book publication or print-on-demand, you need to insist on high spec publication. None of this uploading of pdf files which result in random line breaks and a messy reading experience. Punctuation and proof reading have to be the best you can get. This is where I'm indebted to The PotHole Press, because I know that Keith will treat my writing as seriously as I do myself and will ensure the highest production standards.

Maybe the most important thing about having a publisher, rather than doing it all yourself, is advocacy. Someone else there working with you and for you, helping you take your writing into the world.