Thursday, 29 May 2008

Agents and publishers

I have oft been berated for speaking my mind about agents and publishers who allow garbage to be made into books. It has, metaphorically, been whispered in my ear that I might be banjaxing my chances of getting into print. Don’t care. Can’t be made to care. The fact is that garbage gets into print and makes some people a lot of money whilst a huge number of very good writers never get a chance because their face doesn’t fit, or they live in the wrong part of the country, or they simply don’t have the right connections.

I know there is good stuff in print. After all (NB – tongue is firmly in cheek here) I have had stuff published. I read good stuff every day. Not much of it is from mainstream publishers or represented by the big agencies, but that is as much to do with my taste as anything else. But there is bad stuff in print as well, driven not by literary merit (and I don’t mean ‘high’ literature, just good writing), but by how much money agents and publishers think they can make on the deal.

We have silly chases after the next J K Rowling (as if one wasn’t enough) with daft advances being made that could actually have been used to start a dozen or more new authors on their careers. We have celebrity titles still being poured onto the market like a poisonous slurry. We have the mainstream driven by profit and dividends to shareholders. We have an industry stuffed with people who, frankly, haven’t the faintest idea what they are doing.

Now I know all the arguments in favour of the things I think are wrong with publishing. Celebrity titles bring in the money to finance riskier projects. Except of course they don’t. They either bomb or the money goes to recouping the stupid advances, paying for the outrageously unnecessary marketing, and paying for yet more ‘branded products’ (did you hear me spit?). And money is necessary. Businesses have to make a profit. Well, duh, yes. But when people get books rejected on the sole grounds they wouldn’t make enough profit for the company, something has gone seriously wrong. And, yes, publishing is as much an art as it is a science; but let’s have artists who understand books and selling books, not piss artists.

Banjaxed? Probably. Caring about it? No. Because there are ways of seeing my work in print that don’t involve traditional publishing routes. I can get it peer reviewed, professionally edited, and into print without needing to go anywhere near London, anywhere near an agent or a publisher. I can do it without it costing me a fortune. And I get to keep all the proceeds. True, I am not likely to get big film deals, book signing tours, and fancy lunches. But I don’t want those things anyway. Nor do a lot of other writers that I know. They want to be able to write, improve their craft, see a reasonable return for their hard work, and go on doing that. And they are beginning to wake up to the fact that they can do this without the need for access to the traditional routes.

Gatekeepers, beware. If you don’t shape up and take note of what is happening, you could be out of a job.


CC Devine said...

I am totally with you on the point about ridiculous advances being given to celebrity titles. It's infuriating. I'd find it easier to take if any of them were any good but they never are...

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Great rant - again!

(BTW CC Devine I have to disagree with you on one small detail only - I thought Russell Brand's 'Booky Wook' was excellent. I don't know what kind of advance he got, but I can't imagine it was small. I agree with you and Graeme in general, though; I think Russell B's book is what we used to call the exception that proves the rule.)