“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Monday, February 15, 2010

“No, I’m Spartacus.”

Many thanks to all who responded, publicly or privately, to last week’s post on the idea of a writers’ co-op. Most if not all writers who contributed gave it a thumbs-up, whereas those in the publishing industry were far more negative, and more likely to declare the concept simply another publishing company. Which may well be the case, given that I was only spitballing, and that my research on the subject hovers perilously close to nil. Still, if the very idea of writers banding together to put books on shelves (electronic or otherwise) without recourse to the traditional publishing model evokes a near uniform disapproval from the establishment, you’d have to believe you’re on to something they consider to be at least potentially dangerous.
  The big issues appear to be marketing and distribution, the presumption here being that the writers involved are good enough to be published traditionally, but can’t or won’t go the traditional route for a variety of reasons, the commercial potential (or lack of same) of their books being the main stumbling block. Editorial input (or lack of same) is also mooted as a potential problem, although for my own part, I can only say that the two novels I’ve had published traditionally, or semi-traditionally, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE and THE BIG O, had minimal editorial input. Aha, says you, but we’ve never heard of your books, so maybe you should have insisted on more editorial input. Perhaps that’s true, although I’d argue that both books got pretty decent reviews (see below, left-hand side), and that the stumbling block was a lack of joined-up thinking in terms of marketing and distribution.
  Rigorous proofreading and / or copy editing is also required, of course, but such can be achieved by sending the m/s out to a number of the co-op writers, a process that would also embrace editorial input. If three or four writers proof and edit my m/s this time out, say, then I’ll be one of three or four writers who proof and edit another writer’s m/s next month, etc.
  Who is financing the actual publication costs? That’ll be the writer whose book it is, and who decides the extent of the print-run, etc. Minimal research notwithstanding, it seems that €1,500 would be sufficient to go the POD route, while e-publishing alone is a fraction of that cost. Distribution is taken care of by the POD company, or by Amazon. Marketing is done by the co-op writers’ maximising their own on-line resources, and cross-pollinating said resources to create a word-of-mouth buzz.
  Certainly, there’ll be few books, if any, published in this fashion that will achieve NYT bestseller status; but that’s hardly the point. What is the point? That there are good writers out there ill-served by the current model of publishing, and good readers too, for that matter; and that there are books being written that may not have the commercial appeal to justify a large publisher taking a risk on them, given their economies of scale, but which may very well appeal to 50 or a 100 or even a thousand readers.
  The question for writers, in the theoretical co-op model, is whether they have the courage of their convictions, and are prepared to put their money where their mouth is, and take a financial hit to see their books reach readers. That remains to be seen, especially as €1,500 or its equivalent is no small pile of cash to most writers scrabbling around the base of the pyramid.
  Personally, I have no great desire to take on the publishing industry; I’d be happy as a pig in the proverbial if someone was to pay me a decent wage for writing good books, and I’d imagine most writers, even those fired up to evangelical heights by the potential of the new technologies, would be the same. But even if that were to happen, that still leaves us with an elephant in the room: that the current model of publishing is being outpaced by technological developments, much in the same way as the monks who wrote with quill on vellum were outstripped by the printing press, as Dan Agin points out over at the Huffington Post. The gist of his piece runs thusly:
“The subtext of the story is the impact of technology on culture and commerce, and the unfailing collapse of any industry that allows itself to be blinded by sloth, short term greed, and general mediocrity of attitudes.
  “Anyone with an imagination about the future of technology and commerce knows that the printed book on paper is already on its way to obsolescence. The wrangling and beefing and whining about prices and protecting demand for printed books by publishing executives is both amusing and tragic.”
  For the full piece, clickety-click here