Thursday, 22 September 2011

Am I publishable?

Recently a friend suggested to me that instead of stressing myself with the long slog of trying to find an agent, I should self-publish online.  It was a useful suggestion, in so far as it helped me to clarify why I don't want to do that.  This may sound odd, because goodness knows I don't write with any expectation of making my fortune, and fame isn't much of a stimulus to me either.  I write for love; the love of writing, the love of story-telling, and the love of words, and so on the surface the suggestion I should self-publish electronically was not unreasonable. 

But it is the second of those three loves that gives me the clue to my answer.  I am a story-teller first and foremost (or at least, I think I am! - but that's another question...).  I don't mind if I have to have a "day job" for the rest of my life, I'm not in this for the money.  But if my writing is published, I want it to be read.  I want it to be available to anyone who might enjoy it - and I mean available in a genuine rather than a superficial sense; I want people who enjoy reading to be able to find it, obtain it and read it, through straightforward and familiar routes and normal outlets, and via channels where there is a certain guarantee of quality.  At the moment, that still means conventional publishing and conventional bookshops, and the online equivalents such as e-book sales as offered by conventional publishers.

In twenty years' time it may be different, but at the moment, as I see it, that's the state of affairs.  Indeed, I find it hard to imagine it changing significantly for a long time, if ever.  I don't mean that I think electronic publishing generally is going nowhere - that obviously isn't the case.  But online self-published material comes without the safety net (from the readers' PoV) of having received an objective assessment; anyone can stick their writing online, and if it's no good (or even absolutely NBG) that is no impediment to them.  At the moment, I can't see how a framework can ever develop, within the field of online self-publishing as a whole, for guaranteeing the quality of the writing.  Perhaps eventually there will come to be recognised "better" online self-publishing outlets, alongside places where anything at all can be issued.  Yet any system administered by the writers themselves has many possible problems and weaknesses.

In conventional publishing that framework for assessment already exists, and has done for years.  It may be flawed in places (is any system devised by and administered by people truly flawless?) but it's there and by and large it works. 

So if I want to be read, by more than a handful of people, I need to be published, and so I am left with the slog. 

Dear XXXX, I enclose the synopsis and sample chapters of my novel blah for your kind attention... Followed by a three month wait (or longer) to get another polite "No".   And this is when I find I am asking myself again if maybe I am unpublishable.  I simply don't know if what I write is sellable.  I think it's readable (I know I would, but still, trying hard to be unbiased, I think it is).  But is it commercially viable?  Because that remains the bottom line for the conventional publishing industy.  It was in the nineteen-fifties, when my mother worked at the Bodley Head, and it still is now.  Will I ever get anywhere, or am I wasting my (& everyone else's) time?  My lack of self-confidence drags me down into another patch of mild, insidious depression at the thought.  And I give another sigh and then I plug on, because in the end there is nothing else I can do.


Uneasy Listening said...

I have my doubts about self-publishing, too.

As you say, your work has to be (or has to be perceived as being) commercially viable for an agent/publisher to take an interest. If it isn't, it will contine to accrue rejection slips, regardless of its quality.

Maybe a question you should ask yourself is why you write as you do and why are you drawn to the subjects that you choose? If, as you say, you write for self-satisfaction, maybe that is enough? Why do you NEED to share your work with the public, if you're not - as you say - in pursuit of fame, money, recognition, etc?

It might be an interesting exercise for you to write on a subject and in a genre that wouldn't ordinarily appeal to you - and see if you can do it, without sending it up (it's not easy). Forget about fine, rhythmical, resonant sentences and aim for a more 'functional' prose style. Think about a 'target reader' who is the opposite of you - indeed, think of a 'target reader' who doesn't read much and when he/she does, it tends to be something picked up at the airport or on the motorway.

But before you do this (if you're so inclined), seek out a story by Ayn Rand called 'The Easiest Thing In The World'.

Have fun.

Uneasy Listening said...

Correction: the story is called 'The SIMPLEST Thing In The World'.

Imogen said...

I need - or at any rate, want powerfully - to share my work with the public because I want the stories to be read and enjoyed. Otherwise my "story-telling" is no more than talking to myself in a locked and empty room. One could argue, of course, that at present, of course, that's exactly what I AM doing (overtones of insanity and all!). Since it isn't hurting me particularly I'll live with it if this is as far as I ever get. But I would have liked to be heard...

Your other suggestion is probably a good one, but does evoke uncomfortable memories of the forced writing exercises that school homework tended to be. I am lucky enough to be called upon to write or help with writing basic marketing text periodically at work, which is challenging but good for me - no room to be prolix in a fifty word banner text!

John said...

I have no experience in publishing or self-publishing. Having read a few things about self-publishing of e-books, I believe that people self-publish their e-books and then offer free copies to prospective reviewers who have some reputation for respectability as reviewers. & it is through those reviews that the e-book comes to be known. If the books sell well, the author might attract the attention of book publishers.