You bake a cake and nobody thinks you’re a sad pathetic person who hasn’t discovered Marks and Spencers. You paint your house and the Guild of House-Painters doesn’t scorn your pitiful efforts. But you publish your own book? Vanity; self-delusion; a severe case of no-talent. Or at least that’s how it used to be. Self-publishing is not only cool now – it’s de rigeur.
Yes, the publishing industry is in trouble. I met a friend in Waterstone’s in Princes Street the other week for a coffee and as I walked up the stairs I had this feeling that I’d better enjoy it while it lasts. There’s almost a whiff of museum about a bookshop (and that’s not in itself a bad thing); you look around you and wonder if the customers are those who make tea from loose leaves rather than teabags; send hand-written letters instead of emails. It’s a very attractive notion but it’s pure nostalgia, and doomed of course.
I love my Kindle; I truly do. And I’ve got used to the different feel of it. The sense of judging my progress by looking to see what percentage, rather than page, I’ve reached. The wealth of a shelf-load of books in one slim leather-bound volume. And as for self-publishing on Kindle? I couldn’t be happier. At last I have a chance to reach readers beyond my immediate circle of friends (God bless you all), and to hear impartial feedback. I won’t get rich with my first book – but hey, there will be a second soon, and a third, and a fourth! I don’t need to wait for the mythical contract!
Here’s what Writing Magazine’s Grumpy Old Bookman (Michael Allen) has to say this month about traditional publishing contracts – quoting David Vandagriff, an experienced US media lawyer:
‘These contracts stand apart from the general run of business agreements as conscience-shocking monstrosities. They’re simply designed to screw authors and to give publishers control over their work that is far beyond what is regarded as reasonable in the rest of American business.’
And, GOB adds, the UK is no different. Traditional books could often be beautiful; but how many authors are able to make a living out of their efforts? The future is uncertain and living in a town with a vast Amazon warehouse on its edges, with all its zero-hours workers queueing at the gate, I’m not blind to the ethical challenges. But I think writers are well-served by the new accessibility of publishing, and like every other kind of worker, we’ll make of it what we will.