Saturday, 24 April 2010

Playing It Safe - Publishing In The Recession

I have just come back from a visit to my local Waterstones and what a depressing occasion it was. The children’s and teenage sections were utterly swamped by ‘Dark Fantasy’ books about hunky vampires, as if some minor publishing god had wandered in after gorging itself on Stephenie Meyer’s oeuvre with a side-order of soft porn, and then vomited copiously all over the shop.

The effect of the recession of publishing, as everyone knows by now, has been to make publishers less risk-averse, more keen to bet on winners. Hence the rush to turn out lookalike titles.

This faddist approach to publishing is not in anyone’s best interests. It creates a barrier to originality and makes it harder for new writers to break into the market. When combined with the near monopoly exercised over high street bookselling by a tiny group of retailers, it denies young readers access to the greatest emotional and educational resource mankind has ever created: the vast sprawling, bustling, metropolis that is literature. Instead it confines them to a purpose-built suburb, garishly painted but ultimately predictable.


Derek said...

Hello Brian, your post is both funny and tragic at the same time. What's a writer to do, especially the unagented writer?

Brian Keaney said...

Hi Derek, good to hear from you. I think the unpublished, unagented author probably has to write something that is tremendously dramatic, tremendously grabby, something that makes an audible splash. Easy to say, of course.

Derek said...

As every other aspiring novelist would say, "I'm working on it!"
I went to the London Book Fair and found it a thoroughly dispiriting event where writers without a home were seen (at best) as children who were getting under the grown-ups' feet. I suppose the thing that unites all writers, in a sense, if that we're all going through similar emotions and processes wherever we are on the ladder of success.

Elin said...

Reading the children's bestselling list on Amazon only adds to the misery, I'm afraid. I think every one apart from a couple of babies' picture books was of the type you describe.
I was discussing this with a friend when we talked about the topic of using the web to publish/promote new writing. She thought it was a great way to get an audience for stuff, and I agreed, but only partly. After all, it's unlikely what you put out there will be read by anyone not looking for it specifically. As such, Joe Public and Joe Public Jr are left with the ever more generic and safe choices of publishers. And those who do write other things are left hawking their work to to an ever more left field audience, often for little or no payment. (Working on the independant side of the record industry for several years, I spotted the same issues there.)
Does that sound terribly negative?! Sorry. On the other hand there are still people like me who sit on tiny chairs in the children's corner of little privately owned bookshops and dig around for the gems. I discovered you doing that!

Brian Keaney said...

Thanks, Starla. It's good to hear that not everyone is lapping up the lookalikes.

I'm not particularly optimistic about web publishing for a number of reasons but I do think that the current obsession with betting on winners will eventually be overturned by publishers themselves just because it's a policy that's doomed to failure.

Stroppy Author said...

Some of the small independent publishers are being more adventurous. It doesn't hugely help us as authors, as they have very little money, don't have a particularly good distribution network and generally produce small print runs, so writing for them only doesn't make for a viable career.

I agree about web publishing, but I think iApps are a very different story, with more potential. But of course, despite the hype, the market is limited to those with a lot of disposable cash and I (for one) am not entirely happy about writing only for the privileged.