I'm as indie as an indie author can be but I know from my work with ALLi that a particular blend of character and skill is necessary to self-publish — though I do believe every writer should self-publish at least once, if only so they know what they’re talking about when they have an opinion about it.
But, as I say, this isn't one of those blog posts. What I’m asking here is a more fundamental question, one directed to all who aspire to publish books; from the self-publisher putting together their first volume to the entrepreneurial author who has oodles-and-counting titles already selling in their millions; from the lowliest intern at the smallest micro-publisher to the top executives at Penguin-Random House.
Too many of us are in danger of completely forgetting what publishing is for.
Essentially, it's to enable the words of an author to reach the head or heart of a reader.
In my estimation, that's one important duty. Books are the repository of education, entertainment and inspiration in our culture and so crucial to our society’s spiritual, emotional and intellectual welfare. Even people who don’t, or can’t, read believe that.
But even if you disagree, if for you the making of books is no more valuable than the making of baked beans, you still must see that the raw material of the publishing business is the written word, and its supplier a creative brain.
Publishing founders to the degree that it neglects its duty to that brain and the creative process that fires it. I believe that's why corporate publishing is foundering today.
Neglect of authors has never run higher in publishing, revealed in language like ” slush pile” and “list culling”. Free market ideologies run the show and supermarkets and bookstore chains dominate, deciding in advance which books will have the best chance of success, on purely commercial grounds; telling publishers what price to sell at, how many copies to print, what to put on the cover, what to call the books and even what to put inside them.
Publishing analysts focus only on bottom lines, mergers and acquisitions and ignore the quality of what they call “content”, inviting us to lament a slump caused by the trade not having had a pornography title to keep their growth figures on the up (pun intended) last year.
Neglect and, in too many cases, disrespect of the author is widely acknowledged in the indie author community. And I’ve written elsewhere of the how difficult I personally found that world, and the joy I felt at being able to leave it to publish my own work, my own way.
But this is not a trade-only phenomenon. Indie authors also talk too often in commercial, and not often enough in creative, terms. Constant checking of stats, a cyber flurry over the latest indie to make a killing on Kindle and, most worryingly at the moment, a relentless pressure to work faster and longer, that is at odds with creative rhythms, and that is no guarantee of success.
Please, let me never meet another indie who tells me Russell Blake is their role model (but they haven't read his books). Or one who says they “have to” work 24/7 to keep up with their publishing tasks. Or who tells me they now work for the toughest boss they've ever had.
One of the greatest perks of going indie is creative freedom. Are we going to throw it away by treating ourselves more harshly than any trade publisher would?
An over-emphasis on money is a distortion of our business, of what we do and why we do it. The publishing business is a creative business. That means it's changeable, mercurial, hard to pin down. The only thing that sells books for sure is word-of-mouth and what sets that off for a particular title is, to a large degree, a mystery.
The tasks of publishing — printing, design, formatting, marketing and publicity — are easy to organise but good publishing is an art that relies on two skills: the ability to recognise good writing, and the ability to nurture it.
And to do that well, to be a real player in that exchange, the publisher has to respect the author's creative talent, identify their creative challenges, and give them whatever they need to best create.
That's all the more challenging, but even more crucial, when the writing and the publishing are done by the same person.