Friday, 3 April 2009

Something borrowed? AND A polite way of saying no?

If Tuesday’s is my regular column, Fridays are for gossip and an irreverent look at the state of writing.

For those who don’t know me, I’m a member of a whole host of writing sites, and at some stage I’ll mention them all. For those who do know me, don’t worry – I don’t do names or personal attacks. Back to the first bunch – sorry if that makes it dull but don’t worry – I do forthright and I do scurrilous.

Anyway, as this is a current affairsy thing, I’ve got two things to say this week.

The Boxer Rebellion are playing Jersey. Yay! Er, so what? So what?! Not only are they the best band on the planet at the moment. Not only do I have a piccie of me, my wife and Nathan on my Facebook. More to the point, they’re huge and they’re unsigned – in fact, the first unsigned band to play Jersey. In January they reached number one in the iTunes chart without a label.

Writers, take note – if it wasn’t time to take downloads and self-promotion (and, yes, self-publishing) seriously THE MOMENT Napster hit the news – WHICH IT WAS, then it *@$! is now. So back to next Tuesday’s first commandment for 2009 – there is no stigma in self=publishing. Hard work – hell, yes. But the only stigma is I~N YOUR HEAD.

OK, so this week I had two “no”s from agents (yeah, I’m still subbing as well as forging ahead with Year Zero – all bases and stuff). But not the usual form letters. Rather, BY RETURN a scribble at the bottom of my letter saying “sorry, we’re not taking any new writers on.” I posted this over on Authonomy so people didn’t waste postage.

I got one comment that this was just a polite way of saying no. It wasn’t. A typed form letter after three months is a polite way of saying no. This is, as my cynical interlocutor admitted in the next post, symptomatic.

Agents aren’t buying because Publishers aren’t buying. That’s bad news for writers, right?

DUH, NO!! It’s great news for writers with the get up and go to do it themselves; to band together into lean, flexible collectives – like Year Zerø J. It means there’s a real open door for people to come and offer readers quality new, fresh fiction they just can’t get elsewhere.

And the publishers and agents are SERIOUSLY shooting themselves in the foot. Because if they force writers to go it alone of necessity, then when the recession’s done and the agents and publishers say “OK, come on. Business as usual” you know what? Writers are going to say “sorry, we worked out we don’t need you.” (WHY we can do it better is for a later Tuesday column – if I remember my business for dummies it has something to do with donuts and being horizontal)

My message – if established literary businesses want to survive through the recession they better adapt – because new ones with leaner business models are gonna emerge just like they always do when recession hits just at the time something tech is kicking off (and if I’m right I’ll be poo-pooed from now till about March next year but that’s OK because by the time people realise I was right I’ll be able to make a shedload in appearance fees speaking about why I was right). And they’re gonna grow and they’re gonna swallow the behemoths (er, AOL anyone?) and strip them for their parts – logistics and presses.

So, to the publishers and agents – I actually have nothing against you. In fact, I’ve REALLY liked everyone I’ve ever dealt with in the industry. I just think you need to read the runes better. Because the days of deference are over. I understand all the business reasons why it’s hard to change, to do something new. But we can. And we will.


  1. Dan, I really do appreciate your positivity in all this. I always go away on a high about self-publishing after reading your posts here, on FB, on the Guardian's site, Authonomy etc.,
    Keep up the good work, and I really do hope you're right in all this.

  2. Hey there, Anne. I hope I'm right, too. I worry sometimes that because I write about the subject with a bit of zeal, it may come across there's no substance to it. I'm not an economist or a business studies expert, I'm a philosopher/theologian. On the other hand, I have worked in a cutthroat retail environment where I gained a reputation for being able to spot a trend and knowing my onions. And I have put a lot of research into the subject before I went down this route. I think I'm onto something for a reason, so I want to encourage writers. I'd never want them to rush off and spend their savings with a dodgy self-publishing company. If there's one thing I want people to take away it's that there are great opportunities - but to take advantage of them you have to have a business head as well as a writere's one. I do write elsewhere about this is more depth - I have an article coming out on next month, for example, and I'm always happy to talk about the reasons why I think what I do. To repeat - I want people to share my enthusiasm. I also want them to share my realism.