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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

March 03, 2006

Writing

Here's what I think I'll do.

I've been wondering about this for a long time, prompted in part by Marie's blog, and in part by my own career as a failed writer.

In the beginning, I did my own thing. It was frequently derivative in style as I was finding my voice, but it was often original, and there was plenty of it. But of course, in this world being original isn't always a route to success. For example, over the past 18 months, you stood a fairly good chance of getting a book published if it included a secret religious order, the holy grail, a code, or a renaissance character. Sort of like Alias, but without Jennifer Garner, and nowhere near as exciting.

I have no idea why that might be, fnar.

It's a killing irony that - until I realised that a certain top seller existed - I was working on my own thing that included a religious cult, holy relics, and all that guff. Not the grail, but the bones of a saint, and close enough. Fucking hell! As soon as I realised I was right in the middle of a trend, I stopped work immediately.

The tide went out on that one and didn't come back in.

Yesterday's Guardian had an article about self-publishing. This used to be called "Vanity Publishing", and it was something no serious writer ever considered. But we live in a different climate now. Everyone's a critic, and everyone's a journalist, and everyone's a novelist. Clearly, the publishing industry can't keep up with this.

We also live in a different economy. Vanity publishing was bad, because you paid x-amount of money and had x-number of books printed, all to satisfy your ego. But they never sold, and would end up being pulped or stored in your attic. It's the same thing with music: I made an EP, and the smallest quantity you could have pressed was 500. So we did 500, but we only really needed, say, 150.

These days, you can print on demand, so you can have 1 copy, or 100, or 1000, whatever. And if you sell a few thousand, then you might get some interest from commercial publishers, who have only ever been interested in the sure thing.

But then I thought: for years, I've been trying to please other people, to tone myself down, if you like, in my attempts to get my work acknowledged by the mainstream. But, duh, I don't need to do that. I can please myself, be myself, publish and be damned, but possibly reach like-minded individuals.

I once had a novel assessed by a reader at a regional arts council. The resulting report didn't exactly hammer the book, but mentioned that the lead character wasn't very sympathetic. And it shocked me, in a way, because I thought, oh, I'm supposed to have a sympathetic lead character, am I? I can't have an unreliable narrator, or a bit of a shit? Has this person read The Rachel Papers, even?

In my dreams, I'd be able to write genre fiction, one a year, bosh bosh, but I've always had a kind of quirkiness about me, and a lack of discipline when it comes to sticking to the programme. And - crucially - I'd feel like everything I wrote was copying something else I'd read.

(I'm being driven crazy by a bit of a Larry Niven rip-off [unacknowledged] in Peter F. Hamilton's Judas Unchained, but that's another story.)

In summary: we live in an era of please-yourself publishing, so I'm going to sit myself down and write something for myself, and maybe self-publish at some point.

6 Comments:

  • Go for it bro.

    By Blogger SimonHolyHoses, at 3:35 am  

  • Actaully quite a few classics started life as exercises in vanity publishing didn't they?

    The only thing foolish thing about it is if the books is shite and you don't know it.

    Otherwise, as you say, it's no different from what the Arctic Monkeys are meant to have done in music, and they're being bigged up because they did it that way.

    As you say, it's a different climate, and as such any efforts you can make to avoid the round-edged impositions of marketeers should be applauded.

    By Blogger SimonHolyHoses, at 3:45 am  

  • Go for it!

    I say that it is always worth writing if you have writing in you: okay, so not everything written is as amazing as sometimes authors think it is, but then a lot of rubbish is published too (which makes it doubly hard for those who experience of struggle of publication for what of undoubted quality: all you can do is recall all the great books that spent years being rejected...)

    Anyway, I say go for it: unsympathetic characters rule!

    By Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg, at 4:22 am  

  • i'm assuming that the unsympathetic lead character was based heavily on yourself?

    By Blogger dog, at 4:35 am  

  • My more successful but less user-friendly alter-ego, yeah! Not the one everyone thinks is being sarcastic, but the one who actually is being sarcastic.

    By Blogger bot37363838, at 4:42 am  

  • Yay! Yay! Yaaaaaay!

    Tell you what though - with my bookshop hat on - be very careful who you get to publish your book for you. Some of the vanity presses make books that looks so godawful that people won't but them regardless of the quality of what's inside. Apparently Cambridge University Press do quite good self-publishing - I haven't seen it myself, but someone in the shop was telling me about it. Anyway the very best of the best of luck!

    By Blogger Marie, at 12:20 pm  

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