Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Why I’m a bit hacked off

It had to happen some time – the backlash against the self-publishing revolution. For the first time ever, ordinary Joes (like me) have had the chance to publish their work for free and let the world read their books and decide if they like them as an author. For me personally, I knew self publishing was never going to make me rich, but I write because I like telling stories, and I enjoy hearing other people’s interpretations of my weird thoughts. Hey! I even laughed at my 1 star review on Amazon for Summerset. It’s all feedback and I welcome it.

I guess if I was a punk, back in the day, I’d be the one in the band who always had their eye on the main prize. I’d moan about record companies and not wanting to do deals with the devil etc, but as soon as EMI came knocking with £25k I would have bit their hand off. For me, self-publishing has been a learning curve and I always knew, one day I would end up going down the traditional route and trying for an agent and ‘proper’ publisher. It saddens me that while I self-pub, I’ll never have the joy of walking into my local Asda or Waterstones or wherever and seeing my paperback book on the shelf. My sales are through e-books, and while this is a fantastically expanding market (up until now), I grew up reading paperbacks and long to see my own, readily available for anyone to buy. But companies like Lulu who print paperbacks charge so much it’s not in shops’ interest to buy them in and risk them not selling.

And this where I get hacked off. The front of The Daily Mail one day last week had one of their usual hysteria stories about children being in danger from the ‘disgusting’ self-published books for sale on the WH Smith site. As I know from experience, books that are published via sites like Amazon and Smashwords are not vetted for content; they’re vetted for formatting errors. I myself have had to turn the adult filter on whenever I go onto the Smashwords site because some of the book titles that come up are quite horrific (or cringeworthy – I’m not sure which), but I was horrified when I read that WH Smith (via Kobo) are now withdrawing all self-pubbed books until these books about paedophilia, incest or rape are withdrawn.

Now, am I being naïve, but hasn’t writing – since the Chatterley affair – been the last bastion of free speech? Isn’t Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert a paedophile – lusting after Lolita (who in the book is 12 years old)? Aren’t Angels and Insects and Bouquet of Barbed Wire both about incest? And there are not many Catherine Cookson books that don’t feature a rape?  Surely wouldn’t it be a better exercise to go after those people writing books that glamorize paedophilia rather than punishing people like myself and hundreds and thousands of others who are writing books about romance or wizards or vampires or teach yourself Esperanto or sexy billionaires who want sex slaves.....hang on...

Isn’t it ironic that the biggest selling British book of all time is pornographic? It’s also ironic that I was offended by Fifty Shades of Grey. Whilst Christian Psycho never raped Ana in the two hundred or so pages I managed to read; some of it was pretty near the knuckle. One of the things that offended me the most was when Christian - without checking her medical history – gets Ana on the pill (a potentially fatal drug if not monitored properly). As I always say, if your friend started dating someone like Christian Grey, you would tell her to get the hell out of there.

The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if this hoohah is down to the traditional publishers kicking off because they’re losing sales to the self-pubbed authors. Someone looking for a bit of smut is more likely to pay 99p for a self-pubbed book than £3.99 for something published by a traditional publisher.  I knew the time would come when the traditional publishers started putting pressure on booksellers to stop selling self-published books. Authors will always want to be heard and if they can find no audience from self-publishing, they will be forced to go back to begging agents for representation and appeasing publishers that always have one eye on the market – looking for the next bestseller, rather than new talent.

I have loved my experience of being a self-published author and will carry on doing so until I can find the right agent, and it’s not fair on me or my readers to be denied my books because booksellers have given in to media hysteria. It seems ridiculous that in any bookshop or  supermarket, someone browsing a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, could accidentally put it down next to a Jacqueline Wilson or Roald Dahl, and a child could pick it up. But honestly, how many children have access to online bookstores? Surely their parents have to make the purchases for them if they have Kindles or Kobos? And adults should be wise enough to spot one of these horrible books and just not click ‘buy’.

And before anyone just thinks I’m being hysterical and whinging. Take a look at what happened to independent record companies during the 1990s. Seeing they were making big profits, especially at the high of Britpop, big companies bought them all up, so the bestselling acts would be on their rosters instead. It happened with music and now it’s happening in publishing, and I’m quite glad that my punk ethics are dubious and I’ve always had an eye on being a sell-out.

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