Last year I did something I thought I’d never do; self publish a book. And I did it because I am scared of the publishing industry. That’s not an admission of fear toward rejection. Rejection is expected in the writing world. To think otherwise is delusional. No, this is more a fear of where publishing is going, and, what it takes to be a writer.
I don’t have a degree in marketing, nor did I attend university and receive a PhD in English literature. I am, at my core, a storyteller. Over the years I’ve told stories through various mediums; cartoons, songs, movies and writing. While appreciating other genres and styles within literature, I have a weakness for literary authors such as Michael McDowell and Michael Chabon, and vintage horror paperbacks. I get excited by a perfectly worded sentence, simile or metaphor. I guess what I’m saying is, I like to think I know what makes a good book, and more importantly, which authors will be remembered. Though I’m no scholar in this field, I have been around the indie writing world for some eighteen years. In that time my opinion of the publishing world has swung as consistently as a pendulum; ranging from excitement to dejection, from great expectation to despondency. And mostly what spawns these polar moods is not the writing itself, but the world that surrounds the writing.
I’ll be honest here; I don’t know how the fuck social media works. I see indie writers who have upwards of a thousand followers on Twitter and they post up a photo of their new haircut and get over a hundred likes, whereas I spend thirty minutes composing something I think worthy of reading and get two (pity) likes. I can spend hours in Photoshop making up cool images to help promote my books, throw them out on twitter and see them sink like Luca Brasi. I study other writers who have a handle on it, looking at what they’re doing and what they’re saying. I plagiarise their style and syntax in the hope to reap some engagement. Nothing. Recently I posted up something very personal on Twitter that was very hard to articulate because it was from the heart, and only one person replied and another liked it. I have around 350 followers (don’t laugh), and yet of those several hundred, perhaps 20 to 30 have not muted me, something I can only conclude from my lack of engagement. For that reason, I won’t be posting anything else on my personal Twitter account for the foreseeable future because I see no point.
Maybe it’s my age showing, but there is an insincerity to social media that irks me. I never mute a person because I think that’s a spineless act. If you’re not interested in what a person says, then following them becomes an exercise in boosting your digits only, which seems (and this is where my guileless comes to the fore) wrong and dishonest. I always try to help other people out too by liking their posts or retweeting something of note. Maybe I’m wrong, but I sense the number of followers a writer has is fast becoming more important than the pages they write. To put it another way, they are doing it right, whereas I am a dinosaur barely getting by on the scraps they leave in their wake. This is worrying if, like me, you’re no good at marketing, for a writer’s career is no longer about the books they write or the stories they tell: the true commodity is the writer themselves. And if I’m being brutally honest too, maybe it’s always been that way. Fuck, Hemmingway regular whored himself out, advertising products such as Ballantine Ale or Pan Airlines, and a complete nobody can go on a reality show and come out of it with a six book deal, not because they can write, because they are influencers and bleach their teeth.
So what is the future of publishing? Has it truly changed in the past twenty years or so? I believe, with the introduction of KDP (Amazon’s self publishing arm) there are more writers out there hustling (Jesus, I hate that word) and bustling their way onto our shelves. I include myself in that. But Twitter is fast becoming a battery farm where it’s hard to differentiate one cluck from the other, and this, combine with nepotism, makes most indie writers starting out as visible as a contact lens in a barrel of jelly fish.
I am still hopeful that in the end it’ll be the stories that will raise an author’s profile, not tweets featuring a cat dressed up as Dr Spock. It may well be that Twitter ends up being a dustbowl populated with writers promoting their work only to other writers because all the readers have migrated due to the noise. All I know is, if you suffer with any mental health issues, then the current climate isn’t the best. What I keep reminding myself, and something worthy of noting, is they’ll always being nepotism, cliques and circle jerks. They’ll also be authors who get a lot of attention but are destined to end up thrift shop fodder. But if you entered this shit-pot crazy world because you loved writing, remember that. Create the best book you can. Be proud of it, so much so that if an asteroid was to hit the planet, destroying all of mankind, the last book you read would be yours. And if you can do that, and still keep sane, then you’ll be one of those that are remembered.