I am not so much a dyed in the wool as a tattooed in the lambshank self-publisher. I have turned down publishers for my last two books and will continue to do so (albeit appreciatively) as long as they are daft enough to come looking. So when several people on Facebook directed me to Agent Orange’s post, I was all set to join the cheerleading.
And then I read the post. And I shook my head. And I ranted on Facebook. And twitter. And I shook my head some more. And then Futurebook took my rantings with good humour and suggested I write a response, so here I am. And I will reiterate. This post is coming from someone who is fairly sure they will only ever self-publish, and loves the world of self-publishing.
But there are things I’m not so keen on. And one of those is the setting up of straw men as an easy shoot down to make a point. Agent Orange recognises, in a pause before the tirade, that the argument relating to the nurturing role of publishers “ might have an iota of merit if there was a publisher in existence who said to a new author they were signing up” that they used the money from bestselling books to support those whose books are unlikely to be so commercial (see the post for actual wording).
Now I know a lot of people who work in publishing. From those who work in bigger houses like Picador to those who run sizeable small presses like Tindal Street all the way down to people who run micro presses like Penned in the Margins, And Other Stories or Bluemoose and guerrilla presses like Civil Coping Mechanisms. And I’m scratching my head to think of one of them who wouldn’t say just that. Whilst each will acknowledge they need to keep the bailiffs at bay, they all are not only proud of the fact, but will openly acknowledge to writers, that their primary motivation in having a publishing house is to create a sense of literary identity, a place where three elements are woven together to create something stronger than any or all of them separately – the unique voices of talented writers; the overarching creative vision of the house; and the particular passions of a loyal group of readers.
It is the successful fusion of these that creates a great (and commercially successful) publisher, and that simply isn’t possible without giving the artistic mission precedence and recognising that an author’s artistic merit, and the nurturing of it, comes before their commercial potential. This isn’t artsy pie in the sky. It’s a hard-nosed principle that operates in any successful portfolio business where overall success will involve the failure of more items than those that flourish, but at the time of the initial pick those specifics are unknown. So the selection is made on an external principle in the knowledge that willing support is given to commercial failures because they are essential to the portfolio.
I also don’t think the “them and us” tone of Agent Orange’s piece helps anyone. And I don’t just mean that because it’s on message to talk about hybrid authors. As a self-publisher I don’t really subscribe to the philosophy of hybrid authorship – that publishers and service providers are there to provide a pick and mix for authors. I believe that the culture business is primarily about the culture and secondarily about the business. And I believe that cultural diversity and richness is best achieved by every part of the cog working together at what it does best. I am certainly happy to flit around every corner of the map – I self publish my own work, I run a small press that publishes and nurtures writers with a distinctive collective identity (and you know what, each one of those writers would be more than willing for their own success to fund the nurturing of others in the group, because I don’t know what kind of people Agent Orange think s writers are, but the writers I know and work with care about the bigger picture more than their own pockets), and I use high profile mouthpieces like national newspapers to raise general awareness of culture.
Big publishers are in a position to get swathes of the population spending their time on reading rather than another activity. Small presses are able to create a unique sense of identity that thrives as a cultural hub. And self-publishers, working on their own or with service providers, can forge virgin trails found nowhere else in the literary landscape. Together this depth and breadth creates a cultural climate in which more people have more passion for books, and that in turn, funnily enough is good for the business of all of them.
Dan Holloway’s website here.
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