Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Horowitz Question

These are strange times for the publishing industry. At least, that's how it appears to me. Having only had my debut collection published nine months ago, I'm hardly a wizened veteran of the field. Nonetheless, with the future of traditional large-scale publishers up in the air because of e-readers, Amazon, digital production accessibility and all that jive, it appears obvious that I've just entered a world in something of a state of flux. You've got your self-publishers making a quick buck off authors not patient or talented enough to go through the usual channels. The again, you've got business-savvy writers like Terry Jones cutting out traditional publishing contracts by going through those very same channels. You've got hi-tech software on your iPhones and the ability to publish widely online.

You've got writers like Anthony Horowitz, who is a wizened veteran of the field, questioning the very need for traditional publishing houses as the literary industry moves into the modern age. With companies like Apple and Amazon waiting at the gates with offers of 70% royalty on all profits from books published via their digital platforms, there are now a myriad of ways to publish your writing without needing to send of those pesky submissions or wait in the Withnail and I hinterland for commissions.

Interestingly, Horowitz acknowledged the dangers that placing so much control in the hands of said corporations (as Apple and Amazon's schemes require) and ponders how much power publishers really have. It's a pertinent question; Tesco barging in on retail prices, supermarkets dictating age-bracketing and generally swallowing up all the train-station fiction and 'next-Harry-Potter' kids' books. He also questions whether authors really need publishers any more? It's certainly a conundrum.

The antithesis to Horowitz' musing is staring you in the face as you read this. Valley Press is a grass roots product of literary enthusiasm and by looking for the best in new and exciting writing, it's only gone and got itself nominated for a national business award. I'm pretty certain that I could have published my book through other channels; I could have paid to have it self-published, released it as an ebook, whatever. I'm also pretty sure the end-product wouldn't be half the quality of the finished 'Encore' that I and Jamie came out with. Where would the promotion have come from? The editing? The keen literary eye that turned my poems from random internet ramblings into a beautifully designed, coherent book? These are all aspects that writers cannot offer themselves. They require outside assistance and those within the publishing industry offer the best form of that assistance.

Horowitz acknowledged this, paying tribute to the contributions of his editors past and present and he actually read out a passage of self-published fiction to bring the to the attention of the audience the tiny oversights and repetitions that made it 'ploddy' rather than cutting and incisive. He notes, then that publishers help to raise the a for writers and the quality of their work. So Horowitz answers his own question in the end; He enjoys being part of the literary tradition that brings publisher and author together, and so do I. Again, though my experiences are thus far limited, it's definitely not a case of publisher v. author, as some camps might be chanting, including the Society of Authors. The fact that publishers are keen to focus on content, and design and all those fiddly bits that you get to bypass by self-publishing should be something to celebrate amongst writers.

If all publishers began to focus on just the money, as Horowitz concludes, they'd probably end up far better off, but where would that leave the readers who crave decent fiction, or poetry, or a cheeky bit of non-fiction? We'd be littered with more Dan Browns and Katie Prices and screen glare. The industry may be in flux, but I'm glad to be in the eye of the storm, and I'm glad to remain part of the long writer/publisher tradition.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Valley Press Nominated for National Business Award

I'm delighted to report that Valley Press has been shortlisted for the Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards, a competition 'to find the best student and graduate entrepreneurial talent across the country'.  Whether this is me has yet to be ascertained - the first prize is a cash injection of £50,000, but to get my hands on that I will need to out-talk representatives from eight other businesses at the Yorkshire and North East heat on the 29th Februrary, in Leeds, and then a further fifteen finalists in Liverpool on the 13th March.

Suffice to say, if I do win the first prize (or even the £5,000 local prize), things will be changing around here!  Expect to see a Steve Rudd blimp hovering over your town, Jo Brandon on the side of a London bus, and Norah Hanson paraded through the streets of Hull in a sedan chair... (if the organisers are reading this, please note this is not my formal answer to the question: 'how would you invest the winnings?')  I'll be keeping the blog up-to-date with news on VP's progress in the awards, and you can read more and follow the whole thing on the official site: www.lloydstsbenterpriseawards.com

Monday, 6 February 2012

Valley Press Fest! - London

Friday 27th January 2012 - The Horseshoe, London, UK

At the end of January, myself and three plucky authors took our Valley Press 'wares' to the nation's capital, and put them on stage at an unlikely (but superb) venue, The Horseshoe on Clerkenwell Close.  I had been recommended The Horseshoe by the landlord of a different venue; this original venue was recommended to Jo Brandon by Tom Chivers, the guy who runs Penned in the Margins - one of the few publishers who could claim to be doing a better job than me, with similar resources - though he is five years older!  So it was recommended by a guy who knows a gal who knows a guy who I reckon knows what he's talking about; I took this as reassuring and pressed on with the booking.  It was excellent though, not to mention affordable; a bit like the 'Queen Vic' off EastEnders, but more poetic (on this occasion at least.)

As with all the recent events, a complete (and completely ace) photographic record has been provided for us by Marcos Avlonitis - see the whole set of photos at this link.  Really, do have a look; I was calling this guy a genius from the moment he first turned up at a gig, and his photos have just been getting better and better since then.  We actually did some posed snaps this time too, starting with the one below, which shows the entire starting lineup...

The protagonists: Norah Hanson, Jamie McGarry, Jo Brandon and Steve Rudd.

As you can see, I took a rather-more-overt-than-usual part in this gig, reading a poem from the Snail Diaries between each of the other writers' 15 minute sets.  The mindset behind this can be best compared to Sir Alex Ferguson being so invested in a Manchester United FA Cup Final that he can't bear it anymore, and races onto the pitch to take the deciding penalty himself.  I had invested an amount of money very close to £100 in setting up and promoting this London event, and I'm sad to say that's a sum of money Valley Press can ill afford to fritter away at this time of year - so I headed for the pitch, determined to do my best.  And it worked!  Although it's probably not considered polite to mention money on a polite publishing blog such as this, I ended up doubling my investment by 10pm.  We live to survive February!  (I bet Tom Chivers doesn't have to sweat over this sort of thing... but then he is five years older.)

Norah passes on some literary wisdom to Steve.
The London event actually turned out to be the most successful night for Valley Press of 2012 so far - the paying guests seemed to love it, and the authors were so enthused they vowed to reunite for a similar show in Newcastle next month; so look out for news on that.  As ever, I was filled with pride and delight as proceedings proceeded - though having run myself pretty much into the ground with events in the last couple of weeks, I find myself looking forward to a launch-free February!

Before I go, here's one last surprising development - due to the miracle of technology, for the first time ever you too can enjoy this leg of VP fest, wherever you are in the world!  I recorded the whole hour of entertainment on my trusty dictaphone, and present the file for your listening enjoyment below (or download the file, for iPods and so on, by right-clicking here, then click 'save as').  I'm the posh-sounding bloke who talks at the start, desperately trying to think of what to say, before falling back onto snail poems with relief - everyone else is introduced by name.

So enjoy that, and keep an eye on the homepage to hear news of future events.  Thanks for coming out, London - we'll see you again soon!

Friday, 3 February 2012

It's The Ride

The creative process is a roller coaster ride: up, down; over, under. Most of writing is just putting up with the hours of nausea and terror that bookend the few, very brief moments of blind exhilaration.

As I’ve been tossing and turning through the past few months, speeding around sharp bends of self-doubt, I've been fortunate enough to come across literary voices of great comfort and wisdom.

Louisa May Alcott's journals have become a good friend. The gravity in her voice is refreshing: She worried much about money, working hard at menial tasks to earn her living. And she was never quite sure or trusting of her talent, shunning attention and fame even when it would not stop knocking at her door.

Madeline L’Engle's reflections on faith and writing have been another. She touches on being a mother and a wife, on the many facets of life and how each contributes in its own, organic way to creativity. She even willingly admits to getting a book title from a conversation with a family member--the name of a character from the off-hand suggestion of a friend.

Reading these two women, I’m reminded of the dichotomy of art and life, how much they are at odds with one another. I see it in my own day-to-day routine: I awake in the morning to a mountain of a day--students upon students stacked upon papers, more papers stacked upon piles of dishes, loads of laundry. How does one have time to even think about a poem, let alone a book? Yet the artistic animal is always there, scratching at the door of the mundane. And so is the nemesis, barking at the brain, making it too hard to hear what word, which way is wrong or right. 

As I keep reading and writing, as I keep on going, I see how the exhilaration springs from the fear of it all--the struggle between the high contemplative call of the mind and the low primal requirements of the body, the lack of control of artistic inspiration, the steepness of the climb. The occasional, momentary thrills are just the occasional, momentary revelations that the roller-coaster of life and creativity will never truly stop if one has the childlike faith to take everything one baby step at a time.