At our writing group this week we had a panel-led session on “Publishing – Then and Now”. Even though I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen both sides of this particular coin first-hand, it struck me how irrelevant the ‘Then’ part of the conversation feels now. Like many things, it seems a world away; a world without the internet and computers; a world that took time to get things done… Funny, it doesn’t even seem romantic any more.
Inevitably, when it came around to the discussion on self-publishing, the impact of ‘the indie publisher’ on traditional publishing came up, as did the question as to why we – people like me – chose to publish in the first place.
I played the vanity card immediately. Why lie about it? There is a big part of me – ‘us’, I assume – that publishes our work not only because we now can, but because in doing so we are playing to our ego, finding a way to justify our obsession/passion/hobby (delete as appropriate!), and leaving some kind of mark on the world. There is nothing, I confessed, like the feeling you get when you open that brown parcel the postman has just delivered and cradle your book – YOUR BOOK! – in your hands for the first time. Nothing. And no-one can take that away from you.
There is a price, of course. Because you can, everyone can – which means, to be frank, there is an awful lot of really poor material out there competing with you to be heard. And, of course, we can never afford to see ourselves as one of the weak links… Not us. Surely…
In the end, I suggested, it didn’t really matter. Not at some profound level. One sale or 10,000 sales didn’t change the fact that it was your book, that you had those feelings, and no-one could steal that from you.
Then the question came… But surely you want people to read you work? Surely that really is important too?
And of course it is. Absolutely. Because for all the vanity and the self-massaging that publishing gives us, having someone read what we’ve written, having someone say they like it or get something from it, that’s the thing that gives what we write true worth; that’s the thing that really makes us ‘Writers’.
That’s what we strive for too – the notion that somewhere along the line we’ve said something that means something; that’s beautiful, or profound, or new, or moving, or deep, or passionate… and that we’ve touched someone.
It isn’t, for me at least, about shallow entertaining, not really – even though we do try to do that. It’s about the unspoken; as if we have taken our thoughts and somehow been able to physically touch the heart of someone else… That’s why we want people to read us. To ‘share’ and not just ‘like’. For me, that’s why I hope, day after day, that someone has the courage, fellow-feeling, sympathy, friendliness even, to take out their plastic and buy a book. It isn’t about the money. It really isn’t.
It’s about justification of who I am and what I do.
It validates my life.