Steena Holmes recently wrote a post for this blog explaining how the great thing about being indie, for her, was having the freedom to have it both ways: to self-publish or trade publish, as it suits her. Here Dan Holloway explains why the step into trade publishing is one he won’t be taking — ever.
We are increasingly hearing about the hybrid model, with authors deciding for which books and in what ways to engage publishers and/or agents, who then become partners, singing to the author’s tune.
Whilst I have to say a part of me wonders if there aren’t some elements of utopianism creeping in, it is certainly true that many agents and publishers are starting to change the way they view their relationships with authors. And I certainly think what writers are doing, taking the reins – or at least setting out to – in these relationships, is fabulous, and definitely in the indie spirit.
And when it comes to decisions like Amanda Hocking’s to take the leap into publishing so as to ring-fence creative time. Well, who could fail to see that as a positive step?
It’s just not the step for me.
The key point for me lies in Steena’s tack-change half way through her compelling piece, predicated on that conditional, “if you want a writing career”.
Decision to Self-Publish
My decision to self-publish was based largely on the fact I didn’t want a writing career. I would positively hate having a writing career. As I have said many times, I am very lucky. I have a day job. It’s a menial clerical job, and it doesn’t really pay the bills – there’s no way my wife and I will ever be able to afford to own a home, and on the wrong side of the cusp of our 40s we are still mired in debt that we’re not clearing. But for the time being we have food and shelter and I have a day job I can cope with, given my fragile mental health.
It has never really crossed my mind that I could make a living as a writer. I know that to do so I would have to write the kind of thing that just doesn’t come naturally to me. Not that I don’t love the kind of genre fiction that sells by the tens of thousands. I’m a crime junkie. (Hey, I’ve even been on Mastermind with the Hannibal Lecter novels as my specialist subject).
And I’ve written a thriller. One that’s sold thousands of copies and has been a staff pick of the year at one of the UK’s most famous bookshops.
But writing it was like having my teeth pulled. And trying to write the sequel was like trying to conjure new teeth from the raw, bleeding pits where those teeth once were — and pulling them again.
I can’t do it.
I don’t enjoy it
And I’m not particularly good at it.
In other words, to make a career at writing I would have to turn it into a day job. And I won’t do that. Next to my wife, my cats, and my rats, writing is my great joy in life, and I want to keep it that way.
Not that I’m not ambitious. I’m hugely ambitious. I want to leave my mark on the cultural landscape for generations to come. I want to change lives, to change societies even, with my words.
I want to change the way people think about words themselves.
I won’t, of course. I’m not good enough. But it is my ambition. And the key thing is: whilst I’m not good enough to make a career writing thrillers, trying to do it gives me no pleasure. But whilst I’m not good enough to change literature, the attempt is a delight.
I Write Experimental, Sentimental Fiction
And that’s the long and short of why I could never see myself either 1. getting or 2. taking a publishing deal. I write experimental, sentimental fiction of dubious lengths and usually with a ludicrously large number of points of view. And I write performance poetry which I perform at gigs — and neither is the kind of thing that’s going to attract a mass audience.
But it’s what I love.
Self-publishing gives me the freedom to do what I love and to push at any boundary I want with no considerations other than the writing. With nothing to pull me back, nothing to pull me to the centre of the bell curve. Which isn’t to say I don’t love collaborating. I’ve worked not just with amazing artists on cover design, but with incredibly skilled artisans, and I’ve been involved in amazing multimedia arts creations. But the people I work with are also people who operate outside the mainstream.
I think there is a tendency for large sections of the media, and many writers, to mistake a lack of concern for sales with both a lack of seriousness and a lack of ambition. It’s summed up in the reaction I used to see on a major writers’ site. If you said you wanted to make a fortune, people would applaud and encourage. If you said you wanted to win the Nobel Literature Prize, the reaction was “How dare you be so arrogant?” To me that’s just deeply wrong.
I am very, very serious about my writing, and incredibly ambitious. And if my writing isn’t good enough to achieve those ambitions, I would happily settle for being literature’s Jay Jopling.
But there’s no place in those plans for a publisher.