Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Why I shall be supporting the Alliance of Independent Authors

By Dan Holloway

This Wednesday the Alliance of Independent Authors will launch at London Book Fair. Set up by bestselling author Orna Ross, this is an organisation designed to promote the interests of self-published authors in today’s changing publishing environment. And their first campaign is to get self-published authors a higher profile at literary festivals.

I am notoriously phobic towards organised anything, and have spent much of the past year being highly critical of many of my fellow indie authors, but this is a cause I am absolutely thrilled to get behind, and I couldn’t be more excited that I’ve been asked to be part of the author panel for the launch, which will take place from 10am on Wednesday 18th April in the Old Press Room at the London Book Fair (Earls Court). I do hope you’ll come and find out more.

One of the things I was asked in advance of the launch is why I became an indie. This is the answer I gave – prickly and idiosyncratic but one that Orna was more than happy to receive – and that is another reason why I’m so happy to be involved – this is an umbrella organisation that doesn’t require homogeneity – and surprising as it may seem for an indie community, that’s a rare thing!

Self-publishing was a very simple choice for me to take. Back in 2007 I decided I wanted to give writing for a wider audience a proper chance. Like most writers, I’ve always written and I have my share of drawers full of emo poetry and really angsty teenage novels, but at 35 it felt like the right time to give it a proper bash. I churned out a thriller set in Oxford, and set about fine tuning it with a view to getting an agent and then a publisher. To this end, I joined the writers’ sites Youwriteon and Authonomy in 2008, where I soon discovered I preferred writing literary fiction to writing thrillers, and by mid 2008 I had churned out a second book, Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, a literary work set in post-communist Hungary about a girl growing up and trying to find her place in a world where nothing is constant. I set about finding an agent for it, still rather wet behind the ears and not really knowing anything other than that “this was what you did.”

I had a lovely letter from the only agency I really wanted to work with (one that focused on international fiction) saying how excited they were by the book but they couldn’t sell it in the current climate. At about the same time I was learning more and more about the vibrant literary world that existed online, and I started to wonder why I’d ever looked for a publisher in the first place. I wasn’t interested in making “a big splash” as the agent had put it. I wrote because I had something I needed to say, in whatever form it needed saying – whereas publishers wanted to tell you how you should be saying it in order to get sales. I didn’t want sales. I didn’t even want readers overly much. I wanted to get what was in my head out of there in the form it wanted.
And I wanted to play with what was and wasn’t literature.

I’ve always loved art since a school trip to the Tate introduced me to Rothko. I’d spent hours at the infamous Turner Prize exhibition of 1999 and fallen head over heels in love with Tracey Emin’s work (and, it’s probably true to say, with her). Songs from the Other Side of the Wall is set largely in the art world, and references Emin’s works throughout. Art was very very exciting. My childhood and young adult heroes were artists – Rothko, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Basquiat, Emin and Lucas, the Wilson Twins, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Rachel Whiteread. Art was heady, dangerous, talked about, argued about. It incited passion. And whilst I was aware of the storm over Satanic Verses, that was hardly the same as the reaction to Sensation, to Marcus Harvey’s portrait of Myra Hindley. Yes, YBA was full of marketing and slick and surface and phoneyism. But it was also dangerous, challenged the way people thought about art, about the world, about themselves and reality.

Literary culture just wasn’t like that. And aspiring writers just talked about how to get published. That wasn’t a conversation I was interested in. I wanted people to talk about literature like they did about art – I wanted to work with people who were doing wild things that would have people shaking their head and asking “but is it a book?” The whole world of getting published was, quite simply, a different conversation from the one I wanted to have.

Of course that was simplistic. But it remains the case that the most exciting discussions of words take place “in another place” and not in the world of publishing. I have also been saddened rather than heartened by much that has happened in self-publishing since the launch of the Kindle. Self-publishing is now (and fair play to everyone concerned) a place where people can set out their stall and hope, with a following wind, marketing acuity, and great writing, to make a decent crust. Which means its landscape is much like the landscape of mainstream publishing. And the conversations self-publishing writers have are, now, about how to market, how to format, what their sales figures are. It is a conversation that is increasingly squeezing me out the way regular publishing did. Or, rather, it is a conversation that regularly threatens to subsume me the way regular publishing did, and that would be my biggest single piece of advice to a self-publisher – remember why you’re doing it and don’t be a magpie. Don’t let sales or invitations or publicity distract you – unless they were the reason for self-publishing, in which case go for it.

3 comments:

  1. Wonderful article, Dan and I wholeheartedly agree. As a previously published author I am now proud to be an Indie and I haven't regretted taking this step- or a giant leap-into the unknown as I felt when I first e-published two years ago. I haven't looked back since. My earnings are considerably bigger than when I was with a publishing house and the creative freedom is truly wonderful.

    The stigma of self-publishing is diminishing as many wonderful authors are now joining the band of the brave. It has enriched the publishing industry and given readers a vast choice of wonderful fiction.

    I am proud to be a member of the Alliance of Authors and hope we will bring our work to yet more readers in the future

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  2. So, Dan, I'm still not sure why you joined TAoIA?

    You haven't actually said, apart from hoping it will get indies a higher profile at literary festivals.

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  3. Hi Lexi,
    as you know I was extremely sceptical when I first heard about them and I absolutely reserve the right to retain my scepticism. I'm also phobic of groups and very very wary of the umbrella use of the term indie - the analogy I keep using is with feminism - we are already reaching the end of the first wave and just as many black women realised they had more in common with black men than their middle class white sisters so many indies are realising they have more in common with some partsof the "traditional" publishing world than some parts of self-publishing.

    The main reason I'm delighted to get behind the AIA is that Orna is not only OK with that but has been prepared to give me a platform to say it. She has demonstrated what I think is a very nuanced view of what indie means in a way I've not come across in most indie quarters, and I welcome the opportunity to ensure that the face of indie the media sees is as diverse as it possibly can be - I've already had the chance to doorstep the lovely member of the Futurebook editorial team who chaired our panel and explain why I think they should do fewer stories about self-publishing sales successes and more about content sucesses.

    By nature and politics I'm part anarchist and part federalist - I love large umbrella organisations that preserve the diversity of their constituents at the very smallest level - a group of independent authors with the freedom to speak to their own individual agendas on the widest platform, but with the capacity to unite on causes theyu have in common seems to me to be wholly admirable. For me, this is an opportunity to ensure the ever-expanding media coverage of self-publishing mentions, at least in the margins, the exciting, innovative things self-publishers are bringing in terms of content and the questions their work is asking and to moderate the ever louder clamour of the sales successes - we are right to celebrate them, but at the moment we run the risk of what, for me, is always the biggest danger - not giving the public the full truth about just how exciting the world of literature really is right now

    Lovely to see you, Susanne - it's a privilege to stand alongside you.

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