Think it's a bad time to be a writer? It's all about how you decide to play it.
Spend any length of time talking to writers these days, and conversation will end up in one of two places, or probably both;
alcohol consumption, and what a terrible time it is to be a writer.
This has been the case for 1000s of years.
Writers are rarely rich, or entirely sober.
But by any measure, the last few years have been particularly tough. The publishing industry, it is generally agreed by all (including most people who work in publishing, though they need extra doses of ethanol to admit it), is now little more than a frightened, head-less chicken on its knees, with one foot in the chicken grave and its rabbit eyes in the headlights.
Which is not a very comfortable mishmash of similes and animal cross-breeding, let's face it.
The Old Rules of play (publisher pays writer to write a good book; customers buy said book; publishers and writers make an income and thus do not starve to death; readers enjoy lovely words) have all changed.
The customers' money has gone.
So have most of the big High Street book retailers.
And so has all confidence in the market.
Even supermarkets, once the Big Shots for writers and their publishers, are buying books very cautiously, as shoppers no longer chuck a hardback copy of Must-Read-Of-The-Day in with their fishfingers and gin.
People are buying books, of course. Possibly more so than ever. But they want to buy a book that took two years to write, for 99p online - or preferably for no money at all.
And it doesn't take a PhD in How Life Works to know that if you create a product and either have nowhere to sell it, or sell it for 25 times less than the cost of producing it, you're not going to be in business for very long.
And so it is for many publishers...and, therefore, for many, many writers drowning at the bottomless bottom of the word chain.
Most of my writer friends agree that this change, which has occurred over the last four years or so, has come as something of a shock, and the adjustment has been tougher than a rhino's mother-in-Law.
Books that, until only a few years ago, would have been snapped up by a big commercial publisher for a 5-figure advance on sales are now tossed onto the REJECT pile without so much as a 'thank you, but no thank you' reply from a commissioner.
Because the commissioner is so busy running around in publishing circles trying to work out what buyers want, and concluding that nobody has a bloody clue, that she hasn't even looked at it.
Books with big, clearly defined target markets, written by established authors and with publicity potential that most marketing interns would wet themselves over, are now pitched and re-pitched and re-pitched for years, with no success.
Or for advances so tiny they would barely cover the heating bill racked up while writing the damned thing.
I would earn more money in a year just babysitting once a week than from some of the book deals I've heard about recently.
So it's understandable that many writers are feeling a bit...down in the nib.
I've even met a few very successful authors at book festivals recently who are seriously considering throwing in the quill altogether and taking up full-time self flagellation, such has been the nosedive in their income in the last few years.
But even more painful even than the financial hit, is the emotional one.
That, my writing friend, is the Biggie.
Because when you lose your work, you lose...yourself.
It happened to many of us.
A heavy depression blew in from the Writing West, bringing squally relationship showers and Force 10 Misery, leaving many writers deeply frustrated, confused and eventually feeling defeated by an industry that just isn't what it was.
And perhaps never will be.
And, now having effectively been made redundant - though they can't call it that because, as freelance writers, they never really had a 'job' as such - they don't know what to DO.
And so they feel completely redundant.
And then get very depressed. Which, of course, is just fabulous.
I was in this situation for a few years. I fought it and fought it, trying over and over again to get a deal for a book I was repeatedly told by agents and editors was timely, funny, and should sell well to my large, existent readership.
So why not publish it, then?
Because there is a risk that it might not sell. And publishers are not prepared to take this risk any more. Even if they think it is a very, very small risk, it is still a risk.
Many books whose success agents and publishers would have bet their children's future happiness on, have bombed spectacularly in recent years. Nobody can explain why; they just did.
It was a bad month. A bad week. It rained. It was too dry. England performed badly at cricket. The Co-op ran out of quilted toilet paper. There were too many Thursdays in the month.
WHO KNOWS WHY?!
It just didn't sell.
When this happens, people with P45s, pensions and free stationary, lose their jobs. And because free paperclips are very handy, the writers lose theirs instead.
(By the way, I am aware that the answer might also be 'Because your book is shit.' We writers need to stay conscious of the possibility of this being true. We don't like to think it, because we think everything we write is JUST FABULOUS. But sometimes it might actually just be awful!)
So, what are we writers to do?!
Whinge? Drink more?
Spend another five years swimming against a huge wave of negativity and rejection?
Keep banging and banging against a door that just Will. Not. Open. Any. More?
Come up with more metaphors involving things that don't open or flow in the right direction?
Well, maybe not. Because here, at last, comes the GOOD NEWS.
We can take control and publish the books we want to write for our readers.
And there as never been a better time to do so.
With a few clicks of a mouse - or by bribing a less artistically-challenged friend - we can design beautiful covers (covers that we don't we hate because they are pink and have swirly writing and totally misrepresent the content, but are deemed 'perfect for the female market' by the Marketing Department...SAY. More of this in my next blog..), choose our own title (Halleluyah!), market the book ourselves, publicise it ourselves, and SELL it ourselves.
We can do this! And many writers are.
I have finally chosen to do it too.
And it feels GREAT.
What pushed me over the edge in the end was a fantastic conversation with an Editor At The Very Top, who told me that, 'Unfortunately you are writing a book for a large section of the market thas never been written for like this [Yes. We call this a gap in the market. We like these things. This is in fact one of the main reasons I am writing it. But let's gloss over that for now...] and so there is no track record of this kind of book being a success. I think it would sell. But if it doesn't, I can't go to my bosses and say 'Yes, but I had evidence that it should have succeeded, based on previous books of this kind, and so the fact that it didn't is not my fault.'
This is basically saying that because something hasn't successfully been done before, we can't try it for the first time, just in case it doesn't work.
Shoot. Me. Now.
And so it is that I've decided to walk away from this nonsense; to stop crying and shouting and pushing against unopenable doors, and being depressed and sad; I have decided to be brave - and possibly stupid; time will tell - and publish my next book, Lifeshambles, though a well-established crowdfunding publisher, called Unbound.
This is not quite self publishing. It's crowdfunding.
I decided I wasn't quite the right character for self publishing - I need imposed deadlines, someone there to hold my hand a bit, give me some feedback, answer emails and occasionally lie and tell me I'm bloody fantastic.
I was also quite sure that if I self published I would a) never get round to doing it at all because there is The Whole Internet to read, and also my fridge to open every five minutes, and b) lose my password or burn my computer, and thus lose everything instantly.
So Crowdfunding it is.
Its isn't easy. Let's be clear on that.
There is no advance on sales. There is no income or money to pay the electricity bills or my £200-a-week caffeine habit necessary to write anything at all.
If it doesn't sell, I will make nothing.
It's also very strange asking people to buy a book before it's published, as it's quite a hard concept for some people to grasp.
'Hey, want to pledge for my book, which you will get as soon as enough people have pledged for it?'
But crowdfunding is fairly standard now, and people are getting the hang of it. Many books, films, music albums and so on have been very successfully made this way.
It's a long road, but it's A ROAD, and I am on it, and moving forwards.
THIS, is the best thing about it.
Gone are the angry frustrations with the industry. Gone are the shouting and the crying at home. Gone are the unanswered emails; the out-of-office auto-replies that read,
'I'm sorry I am preparing for the Frankfurt Book Fair for two weeks, and then I will be at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and then I will be recovering from the Frankfurt Book Fair. Then I will be preparing for the Godknowswhere Book Fair. Please go to the pub and weep until next year', followed, inevitably, by the cracker of an email saying,
'Oh dear, I've got your email from six months ago; I'm SO sorry but the lists for 2015 and 2016 are all full now; if only I'd read your fabulous pitch when you actually sent it to me.'
Gone is the depression.
Since being taken on by Unbound, the mood change has been astonishing, not just in myself, but in my whole family.
Mummy is no longer that miserable grumpy old hag who shouts at her laptop and rants about fuckingpublishers!!
Mummy no longer cries for four hours a day.
Mummy is writing now. She likes it. She is going to book festivals to talk about her new book. She has made pretty flyers, and a FB page, on which she can update people about the progress of the book. BECAUSE THERE IS PROGRESS!
She has target. She has hope, and energy. She feels like an author again.
She is SMILING.
Of course, I might come back in six months and report that this has all been an enormous mistake, and I wish I'd never tried it; so I hope someone out there is baking a HUGE Humble Pie, complete with a generous topping of Crème d'Embarrassment.
But I'm going to GIVE IT A GO. Crowdfund, and publish, if I can.
This is not a terrible time to be a writer.
It's just a differently difficult time to be a writer.
But it's also newly exciting, wonderful and crammed with possibility, if you are ready to go forth bravely, and try new ways.
So come on, writers! Please don't do what I did. Don't sit at home getting depressed, losing your hair and working hard for years to get precisely nowhere.
PUBLISH! - and be happier.
GOOD LUCK! And let me know how you get on....
If you would like YOUR copy of Lifeshambles, (possibly) the funniest and most reassuring book about the madness of The Middle Years you've ever read, then please click here, and pledge: http://unbound.co.uk/books/lifeshambles
I'll be delighted to do the same for you one day - so go for it.Suggest a correction