Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Own Bare Hands

This article was in Friday’s Guardian.  Ray Connolly makes a number of good points, but he neglects one thing:  snobbery.

As long as there has been printed text, there has been a distinction between the author and the printer / publisher.  And there have always been printers who would set any lead as long as the silver was right.  This was very much the mode by which publishing worked for centuries:  Shakespeare, Milton, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe all self-published their work.

However, with the advent of the publishing industry and the move of the editor away from the arena to behind the desk, there were always those who sort to avoid the dreaded “thumbs down.”  So the vanity publisher was born.  Essentially a middle man between the author and the printer, these rather dubious institutions would publisher anything as long as the check didn’t bounce and they got their percentage.

In time, this lead to the role of editor becoming a guardian of sorts, protecting the public from the utter crap that would be foisted up on them.  Or rather, the perception of the editor as guardian.  In truth, the editor was tasked to find profitable product.  ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ was offered to eight publishers before it was published.  The manuscript wasn’t any better or worse, it wasn’t any more original or controversial but eight publishers decided not to publish it.  I’m sure they regret it now, though.

Printing, never mind distributing and marketing, a book is an incredibly expensive process.  Hence, the publishers need to know that they’ll make a return.  In the case of celebrity biographies, this is usually a given and thus the massive advances provided to the likes of Jordan and Wayne Rooney (regardless of whether or not the book is ghost written- but that’s a whole other story…)  Is the editor protecting us from the slurry?  Glamour model Jordan / Katie Price has published a dozen books… for children.  That doesn’t even take into account her three autobiographies or her ghosted novels.

And how many thrillers based on religious apocrypha have appeared since ‘The Da Vinci Code?’  Considerably more than after the publication of ‘Angels and Demons,’ which was essentially the same book from a different perspective.  How many romantic vampire books have followed in the wake of ‘Twilight?’  Far more than since ‘Dead Until Dark’ two years earlier.

In the music industry, there is no stigma attached to self-released work.  Quite the opposite.  Even if a band mixes and produces their own work, the accusation of a vanity project is not levelled at them.  If someone writes, directs and produces their own films, they are regarded as an auteur, even if the end result is a trashy little horror film.  Painters and sculptors aren’t criticised for arranging their own exhibitions.  So why do we have this problem with written work?  It’s not because indie music is universally better than its major label counterparts.  It’s because vanity published work is almost always crap.

And this is the problem I have with Teratogenesis:  credibility.  I can write it myself.  I can arrange the distribution over the net myself.  I can get it edited by a second, trained pair of eyes (in the eventual final text.)  There is no need for me to have a publisher other than to market my work.  And, if I were more of an egotist (see how many times I’ve used my name on this blog,) then that wouldn’t be a problem either.  But the fact that I am doing this entirely myself stigmatises the whole project in the eyes of some potential readers.