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Long Live the Dead

March 10, 2011

Even before I finished the first draft of my second novel, I started to think about how I’d probably have to write a blog entry for my website when I did. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. My first novel I wrote over ten years ago – the typical ‘drawer novel’ which will never see the light of day despite a lot of it being still quite well written, even to my over-self-critical eye. I completed that first novel during eight months of post-university unemployment. It just felt like something I had to do and when I finished it I think I experienced post-story depression: when something is your entire life for such a long time, when it’s over you wonder where you can possibly go from there.

This time around it’s been different. I did have a moment of hysteria prior to writing the final chapter, although I think that might have been more related to content matter. I’ve not felt the anchorless feeling after completion, although the malais of ‘where do we go now’ has indeed struck, but for very different reasons.

I’m not stuck for what to write next. Oh boy, I am not stuck for what to write next – I have two planned sequels, another unrelated novel and at least two more vague novel ideas, plus a bus-load of unpublished short stories, volumes of as-yet-unwritten short story ideas, video plans, ReVamp! still underway – no, that’s not the issue at all. I think the issue is the climate for writers today.

I had it all planned out. Finish the novel, first and foremost, so that I had something to get behind and push. Then write up a submission pack and try to ensnare an agent. Then the agent would get me a publishing deal, nice and simple like the good old days – at least that was the wished-for plan. Only now it’s more usual for writers to do it all themselves. E-publish your work in PDF form for practically no monetary outlay, charge pennies for a virtual read, gain a fanbase of new readers who purchase popular indie titles on a whim and download them to their Kindles – the triumph of the free market! Three cheers for modern technology!

I’ve been very surprised by the reaction I’ve received when I’ve said that I don’t want that.

Well, don’t you want to be rich and successful? Successful, yes. What I want is some kind of relationship with my audience. What I want is to be read and appreciated and acknowledged. The only reason I ever wanted to be famous was to gain access to the things that only famous people can have; those things that money can’t buy – invites to events, the chance to meet people whom you admire on an equal footing, the chance to collaborate with other people like you and the funding with which to do it. I never expected to make money from writing and money really isn’t the issue. When it comes down to it, what I want is to hold a book in my hand with my name on the cover and to say “this is what I achieved in my lifetime”. What I want is for people to have their lives touched by my stories and to care about and discuss my characters as though they’re real people. What I want is for people to listen to what I’m telling them. I suppose, in a way, what I want is for strangers and acquaintances alike to care about me and like me – and ‘me’ to me, is my writing.

E-publishing definitely has its place. I’m not such a Luddite as some people like to paint me (unfortunately, as I think being a Luddite is pretty cool) I’m not opposed to technology for the sake of it, otherwise I’d certainly not be writing all this in an internet blog. E-publishing is great for reaching an e-market. It’s good for people who wouldn’t have the opportunity to be published otherwise, or for people who are really in love with techie gadgets. It’s great for convenience and keeping costs and paper wastage down. It cannot and this is the bottom line, it cannot replace traditional media – that can’t be allowed to happen: there is no way that ‘progress’ should ever be allowed to render art obsolete.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t want to sit on a beach in Cornwall reading from an LCD screen.

There’s nothing that can beat the anticipation of a book or record or film being released. If it’s just a matter of uploading an mp3 or a PDF onto a screen then part of that is lost. It’s like photographs: you can simulate any number of wonderful effects in Photoshop and you can snap away with a digital camera and see the results immediately, but being able to have everything right now on a plate with no effort and no anticipation just serves to devalue what should be the most valuable experiences in life. Seeing a digital photograph onscreen isn’t the same as snapping a roll of film and waiting patiently for your beautiful, surprising photographs to be ready at the printers. Tweeting back and forth from opposite ends of the globe on your i-Whatsit isn’t the same as checking your letterbox every day for that handwritten note you’re aching to receive.

So I suppose what I’m doing now is going into a world of pain with my eyes wide open. I have a few wonderful friends who are prepared to read through my first draft, grammar check it, sense check it, give overall opinions and suggestions. I’ll make all my edits and polish the draft. I’ll write up summaries and synopses and CVs and post them (with stamps!) off to agents whose addresses I’ll find in the Writers’ Year(gasp!)book. I’ll hopefully get my fairytale and be picked up and published and my work will be enjoyed enough that one day I’ll earn enough from telling lies to be able to give up the office job. And you know what? I’ll do it all on my own terms.

I’ve learned a lot from people I admire. People who have achieved a great deal of success, then backed off to pursue other projects to the astonishment of those around them, because they were being gradually pushed in a direction that they never initially wanted to go. What’s the point of success if it’s not in something that matters enough to you to do anything to pursue it? Any form of creativity should be about love and if I fall short of ever ‘making it’ in the writing industry then at least I can say that I always stayed true to my dreams.

If the print industry is dead, I say: long live the dead.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2011 6:02 pm

    I don’t actually think the print novel is dead, not immediately, anyway, and I do think that the traditional publishing houses still have their place, even if their output shifts e-book. I think that for a while yet, good books will be coming out in both print and e-book format.

    I think you’re going the right route. I think “legitimate” publishing means still, at this time, having an agent and going through the heinous acceptance process and paltry advances and etc. I think self-publishing is the route you go when you can’t convince the (sadly) market-driven publisher to accept your experimental, crossover book, or that sort of thing.

    Let’s be frank: I’ve yet to see any ebook-only Publisher or (self-published author) produce a product that is up to the standards of say, Harper Collins or Tor or whathaveyou. And I think, when ePubs get to that level you’re going to have agents, and picky editors, and demanding submissions processes. While I do appreciate the “fairness” of everyone now being able to publish themselves easily, I still think that many people don’t want to have to wade through piles of questionable material to find what they want. I still think many people will turn to avenues that filter what they want, whether it be a trusted publisher or a reviewer or a rec site.

    I do however think that even the traditional houses have started to expect the author to do most of their own promo, have their own web presence, etc. I’m not in love with that, but I guess that’s the way the world is headed.

    • March 18, 2011 6:55 pm

      Agree with everything you said here, LC, and I hope you’re right about traditional publishing still being the way to go for the time being.

      I wouldn’t really mind having to do my own design, promo, web presence etc but I do think that the amount of stuff writers are expected to do nowadays… well, it’s just daunting. You wouldn’t make a film expecting one person to singlehandedly shoulder script writing, directing, costume design and catering and star in the thing too!

      I just wish people would get into their heads that forward motion isn’t always progress..!

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