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Friday, 12 August 2016

My Precious

David Gaughran posted a piece about the current state of the publishing industry and its attitude towards books and publication. Read it, go, read it, and then come back here. I have my own two pennorth to throw into the ring.

David is known for his advocacy of the cause against Vanity presses and the links between the scammers and the so-called reputable industry. His earlier blog posts are worth looking at regarding the Penguin Random House relationship with Author Solutions, and others.

Wait a minute, I'm going over old ground? Dead right, but the old ground for the writers who have been ploughing their furrow for a couple of years is untilled soil for the writer looking for a place to put their newly finished first novel and the scammers are waiting, so yes, I'm going to plough the same old furrow again, as David does occasionally with his timely warnings to the new and vulnerable writers making their first steps. The new hand needs the experience of the older hands to help.

He lifts the idea prevalent in certain circles about the precious attitude towards publishing and books, and a comment by Authors United on how Amazon treats books like toasters; maybe a little less precious and more toast would be a good thing? The idea that for traditional publishing making money was an extra, a happy accident in their pursuit of the purity of literature and its promotion to the populace.

Somehow the grubby machinations of business don't apply to publishing. Making money is not what the business is about, really! Go on, you don't say! If it isn't about money, then why not pay the author more and relieve yourself of the tiresome burden of lucre? Let it soil the pockets of the creative who supplies the product you send to market.

Recently in a conversation I stumbled on this same mind set, while trying to discuss the workings of the publishing industry I kept banging into the same wall. Like David Gaughran I have spent time trying to track the links between the respectable end of the business, the public face and the scammy, grubby backside.

Not with as much success as David, but I have followed his work in this direction. I commented how Bloomsbury was the only major publisher I had failed to connect with the back end scammers; the response praised the lovely books they published, how wonderfully written they were and in a particular genre that other publishers ignored. All of this may be true but I had been explaining how the base criteria for publishing a book was ultimately down to money.

The remark went overhead like the Red Arrows, in perfect formation without ruffling a hair.

Blindness is optional, it's not the same as not knowing. When you see reality and ignore it, that is optional blindness. When you don't see the risk because you are entering unknown territory you don't recognise what you are seeing. You know you are seeing it, it is in plain sight. Here, a friend with a map or a guiding hand is a valuable asset. By telling what they see and sharing what they know, they open the eyes of the newbie, who will hopefully avoid the pitfalls set to trap the unwary.

The traps are well set, baited and many in the most surprising places.

David Gaughran does a great service, and credit to Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware, a fellow battler in the struggle against the scam.

Publishing can be as precious as it wants, but the truth is that a book's launching into the world by the traditional, commercial, route has always been based on its saleability, not it's literary merit. The book may have some, but nobody who wants to stay in business creates a product that won't sell.

Predicting a best seller is like trying to read the tea leaves in a mug of coffee, or as Mark Coker remarked flinging spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

The last thing a publisher wants is a book that sticks to the shelves, hence the short shelf life of a commercially published book, (about three weeks) and the constant search for the next big thing.  An alliance with the scammers broadens their reach into the crop of new authors and the spread of the internet and self publishing reaches the inde best sellers who can be tempted to come aboard.

Precious, Andy serkis changed my perception of that word forever with his portrayal of Gollum in the Fellowship of the Ring, it became sinister, possessive and obsessed.

The publishing industry can be precious about literature, but let's be honest about it?

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