Wednesday, 27 February 2013

"You're not a real writer"

I have recently been working on plans for getting published this year. I have a number of projects I want to see through to completion in 2013, including a novel, a book of poetry, and a non-fiction book. The novel is done, it just needs a lot of editing, the poetry book is half done and growing with each and every poem I write, and the non-fiction book is oscillating between being written and being researched.

Some people aren't happy unless they are bursting bubbles, and destroying dreams, though. I have had a number of people state "well you're not really a writer" on the grounds that I have mainly been published in anthologies edited and collated by others this far in my career, and don't have my name on the cover of a book. It's all about getting your name on the cover of a book to them. This completely negates the hard work I have put into my writing crafting poems and stories and articles, and performing (as the photo illustrates) my poetry and prose the last couple of years.

They say: "Not got your name on a cover? You're not a real writer."

This has to be one of the most hurtful things a writer can hear, but I suspect it happens all too often to others. I suspect famous authors like Martin Amis might hear it, even today.

In particular the nay-sayers have compared me to people whom I know have chosen to pay thousands and go the vanity publishing route. Money has most definitely been flowing in the wrong direction in their 'perfect' examples. So a good motivator to get my name onto a cover this year is to spite those nay-sayers. But rather than rushing things to say "Hey, look at me! It's got my name on it! You have to take me seriously as a writer now!", I will instead be taking my time to ensure the end product is the very best that I can make it.

So what to do when I've finished my works? I have been reading a lot recently about independent publishing, and where it can take you. It seems that these days, with the e-revolution truly underway in the publishing world (and with me a late convert to the cause), that e-publishing is certainly going to challenge traditional publishing, and I would like to take the opportunity to get my work out there independently.

Some have derided it as vanity publishing, however. There are horror stories in various writers' groups I have been part of over the years of experiences of writers paying hundreds or thousands of pounds for a book that is badly produced or despite florid promises from the vanity publisher, does not sell more than a handful of copies to family and friends of the author.

There's a simple way to tell if it's vanity publishing or not. The maxim that I have always lived by in writing is that money should always flow to the writer, not from the writer. Given the revolution in accessibility to publishing and print-on-demand services, and dismissing minimal investment to pay for a decent cover (unless you have the skills to design it yourself; if you aren't skilled with that sort of thing, don't delude yourself!) I would these days consider independent publishing to be something quite different to vanity publishing. It requires a lot of work beyond writing the book, such as conversion and formatting, editing, design and promotion, but with helpful friends (a good local writers' group for example can help with the editing), time and reading useful and supportive websites such as Indies Unlimited, this can be easily overcome. Outlay costs are between nothing to minimal to get a book listed on Smashwords, Amazon Kindle and CreateSpace, for example, and a professionally designed cover can perhaps be picked up for as little as US$5 through a designer listed on for example (it's best to choose designers that have previous good ratings).

I have already had the nay-sayers tell me what line they will take when I do have my name on a cover. "You're not outselling John Grisham, J.K. Rowling, or Stephen King, so you're not a real writer." It's not about the money (although it's nice to think about, if I write an amazing best-seller that sells millions; I wish!), but to them it is. I write for the love of crafting words. If I knew in advance that I was only to make £5 or £5,000,000 from a book, I'd still write it regardless of how much money it would put in the bank, just for the joy of writing.

Maybe I need to start ignoring the nay-sayers and finish writing my works. If I listen to them too much, it could destroy my writerly dreams.

After all, how many books have the nay-sayers had published?


That's right, zero. They probably have never even thought to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) so who the hell are they to judge me? It's not going to stay at zero with me.

(Photo by Geoff Robinson)
Addendum: Perhaps it's also worth mentioning that some of the nay-sayers think I should firstly work on their brilliant idea that they've had and no-one has ever thought of, ever, ever in the world before (yeah, right), and that'll make us both rich, before I consider working on my own stuff. Either that, or I should just write a book and put their name on it, because they are too lazy to write it themselves. I just have to do all the hard work of spending months writing it, then split the profits 50/50 with them (if I'm lucky to get that much, depending on the 'deal' they're offering), despite the fact that I've done nearly all the work and all they've done is come up with an unoriginal idea in this hypothetical example.
Thanks, but no thanks.