Last Thursday I attended a most enjoyable evening at Mostly Books, my friendly neighbourhood book store. It was in the company of some good wine and Ben Jeapes (benjeapes.com), author of Phoenicia’s Worlds, and Jonathan Oliver, Editor-in-Chief of Solaris (solarisbooks.com).
One of the things that’s become increasingly aware to me is the importance of attending this sort of thing, and indeed keeping up with the publishing industry as a whole. Thus my new twitter account is loaded with editors, authors, publishers and the like. Just like maintaining a blog, it seems that in order to make it as a writer today you need to do these things, to be prepared to schmooze, to be forward and assertive.
Which is fine. I’m not the best at this – doesn’t come naturally to me, pushing my weight around – but I can do it. At least on good days. I do worry about what it does for people with more social constraints.
I’m sure – in fact, I know – that there are many good, skilled writers out there who deserve to be published but are unable to do this circuit of self-promotion. Either for reasons of shyness or physical or mental disability or cyberphobia, they can’t push themselves like I can.
And let’s not forget that it costs money to attend events. Maybe not much in the grand scheme of things, but a fiver for the bus/train/entry might as well be a million pounds if you don’t have it.
Case in point: I have a submission package all loaded up and ready to go. Unfortunately I won’t be able to send it off until I get paid in a few days. Now this example is pathetic, really. I know it’ll get sent when I can afford it – no big deal. But there are many, many writers who struggle financially. Should they have less chance of publication just because they’re poor? Isn’t the starving writer one of the most stereotypical images in history?
I worry that writing, like music, like possibly all the arts, is becoming increasingly about money. Obviously, it’s always been so for the publishing houses – fair play. But I fear that we may be seeing an increasing split between those who can afford to play the game and those who can’t.
Back in Winchester, Julian Fellowes’ plenary speech was called ‘We don’t know any more than you’, and its basic theme was that most writers achieve success through good fortune, through plugging away and hoping that your lovingly crafted manuscript/poem/whatever will fall on the desk of the right person at the right time. Later in the day someone (I forget who; it might have been agent David Headley, but please please don’t quote me on that) disagreed, saying that he believes that talent will always shine through.
I really, really, hope this is the case. But even in allegedly ‘free’ set-ups, like making your work available through Amazon’s e-book service, money helps. Don’t people who can afford to go on writing courses have an advantage? Can you afford to have your work proof-read by a professional?
I’ve never taken writing classes beyond GCSE and I don’t have much money, but I think I’m doing okay. So doesn’t that invalidate my own point? But I’m bolshy enough to put myself forwards and – hopefully – make a first impression that isn’t one of abject desperation. Yes, I managed to slip Jonathan Oliver a pitch for Night Shift. So no complaints on my own behalf.
I suppose I’d better come clean and say that a lot of this column is written with a specific person in mind. She’s an excellent writer and for as long as I can remember she’s been trying to get her fiction published. But she’s not one to keep up with the industry and doesn’t have the money or the time to attend events or write a blog. I desperately want her to achieve what she’s been working so hard on all her life.
But I worry. I worry for her, and for all the excellent writers out there who are sick of seeing badly-written trash earning their authors millions.
And with that I’ll bid you au revoir. Until next time…