I am an experienced blogger. And yet, this is the first time I've written a blog for myself. For three and a half years, I've written a blog for the Berwick Book Group, which until this month was funded by New Writing North. That funding's come to an end and so too will the related monthly posts. I've also blogged as part of the Write Around the Toon project, where I'm one of the writers-in-residence. And for most of my working life, I was a journalist – in other words, Will Write For Cash. And Will Write on Any Given Subject.
And here I am, suddenly able to write on anything that pops into my head. For someone who's made a career out of writing to other people's orders, it's impossible to overstate the weirdness of this situation. Come on, somebody, I want to say: tell me what to write about, and it will be done. Give me a deadline and I will always meet it. But let me choose my own subject and timescale and suddenly I have a case of literary vertigo.
In a bid to get over myself, I'll start by mentioning the other strange thing I've just done, which is to self-publish my first novel on to Amazon Kindle. It's something I never thought I'd ever do. Like so many would-be writers, I always longed for the day when some perceptive agent or traditional publisher would take me on and find me that six-figure deal. I share the common desire among writers to see my book on the shelves of a shop (or more accurately, flying off the shelves of a shop). And nothing would induce me to spend money on so-called vanity publishing, where writers are persuaded to part with their cash for a poorly-made product that will never, in all reality, be read. But things are changing in the publishing world and I can't think of a reason not to be part of it.
This novel, Kill and Tell, was written a few years ago. It had quite a bit of acclaim – it was a runner-up in the first ever Andrea Badenoch Awards run by New Writing North and in 2009, it was shortlisted in the Luke Bitmead Awards, described as "one of the most prestigious awards in the country for unpublished writers." (Being a runner-up, I've discovered, is a particular talent of mine). And when an extract went up on a national website a while ago, it received very good reviews. So I'm confident that it's worth a read. But after just a couple of potential agents turned it down, I lost my resilience, stuck the novel into the computer equivalent of a bottom drawer and moved onto another writing project instead.
It was only when the self-publishing phenomenon started to take off that I thought again. I'm a realist – to the point of pessimism, according to my partner – so I'm not expecting to become one of those rare self-publishers whose work takes off and earns millions. I just thought: this novel is good, according to some fairly authoritative sources, so why shouldn't it be read? It didn't cost me anything, apart from a little time, to upload. And all the work that went into the writing of it won't have been wasted.
Some writers – and publishers, of course - are very sniffy about the whole self-publishing issue, arguing about the potential lack of quality and of course the notion of selling your hard-wrought novel at such a low price. These are interesting points for discussion and I certainly can see all sides of this debate. But as a journalist, I've seen this sort of change before. Citizen journalism got the same frosty reaction, with predictions that it was a temporary fad, that it would be poor quality and unreliable and (shock, horror) that it may undermine those in the establishment. They were wrong. Now the journalism gatekeepers at the likes of the BBC and the wider newspaper industry rely very heavily on citizen journalists, who turned out to be of no more mixed quality and reliability than those in the traditional arm.
It's my prediction that self-publishing will do for literature what citizen journalism did for news – bust past the gatekeepers and refresh a tired, old-fashioned and elitist system. Of course we will continue to love our printed words, but there will be room for us 'upstarts' too. And some of us, believe it or not, have some talent. So I'm not going to apologise for becoming an 'indie' author. This is one of those moments where you realise the world has turned a fraction, and existing models are breaking down. So I'm excited to be part of it.
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