Next Tuesday, the first three books from the Year Zero Writers collective will hit the world with a vengeance. The three of us writers are obviously excited - we finally get to see if anyone's interested in our books. The other 19 members of Year Zero Writers are pretty excited. If we do well, then they're next. And there are a few writers sitting on the periphery thinking about whether to join us or not (and a couple I'm desperately hoping to persuade to join in). They'll be watching with more than passing interest.
But does what we're doing actually matter to anyone else, and why? Well, we're not the first people to self-publish, and we're not the first people to have formed a collective, so I suppose you could say we join the miasma of projects deemed interesting if they poke their noses above the parapets but not until then.
So let me try and explain, in the course of a couple of hundred words, why you should care about whether we succeed or fail.
The simple reason why our success or failure matters to writers is this: you can learn from what we do right - and what we do wrong. We have set out a clear manifesto, and a clear set of conditions explaining what we are and are not. We are committed to trying a wide range of strategies to promote our work (we are a marketing collective, not a publishing collective). We set out with a clear expectation of what we would like to achieve.
And we intend to report back openly on what works, and what doesn't work. On September 1st, I will issue a projection for my own book, Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, and on the first of every month thereafter I will issue an interim report explaining what's happened over the preceding month, giving figures for sales and downloads, and providing a commentary and analysis.
Perhaps most important of all, if our works gain the commercial and critical success we believe they deserve, we may do something to break down the barriers that exist amongst the gatekeepers of the book world - the reviewers. And tehnext tmie they are approached with a self-published book, they might look before saying no. That matters to all writers, self-published or not (because if we can do it, we will raise the question in many writers' minds: why do we need a publisher?).
What we're doing matter to readers deeply for a number of reasons - and these are the real reasons we set up the collective.
1. We're new authors, writing quality literary fiction. These are books you will not find through mainstream publishers, because they are simply not a viable commercial proposition. I prposed one way the industry could make them viable last week. E-BOOK ONLY CONTRACTS FOR NEW WRITERS. Whether the industry adopts this model remains to be seen. As it stands, there is no room for books like ours, and no room for talent to be nurtured without pressure for sales. Books like ours would be lost without collectives like this.
2. We are NOT self-publishing because our books aren't good enough for the mainstream. We want our books to look and feel like something you would be proud to pick up in a bookstore. Well-designed, and free of the vast quantities of typos that dog many self-published books. We are self-publishing because that's the only way to get our books into print and into your hands. An agent told me, after reading Songs... that she loved the book, and would love to represent me, but it just wasn't enough of a "big splash" book for a new writer. We don't want to write "big splash" books. we want to write quality, gentle, beautiful, challenging, original books, and we believe readers want to have the option of reading them. If we succeed, then we will have proved to readers they don't have to go to Waterstone's or teh Booker longlist the next time they want a quality read.
3. We fundamentally believe in giving our work away in electronic format for free. We believe it makes business sense, because we will gain fans who will pay for our books. And we believe it gives readers the opportunity to read and decide without having to commit their money to somthing they have no idea about. We took the decision to produce an anthology of writing by 13 of our members, Brief Objects of Beauty and despair, which is, and always will be, free. I am releasing the whole of my novel for free. We've met a lot of resistance to the idea from people who say it devalues culture, and that free means rubbish, but we believe the chance to sample new writers' work for free is fundamental to giving readers choice.
The wider public
There's a bigger reason why our success or failure matters. I've blogged about culture and social exclusion before. Of course we're not going to change the world, and of course our success or failure won't see the perpetuation or the end of vast sectors of our population having their voices silenced by the culture industry. But every time something outside of the mainstream succeeds - in showing that it has a voice worthy of being heard; a product for whihc people are prepared to pay; means of getting the message out there that are not in themselves exclusive - the general assumption that culture is to be found only through recognised channels is undermined a little more. And it becomes a little easier for the next voices who come along to be heard.
So now it's up to you. We launch on Tuesday. I'll put my money where my mouth is with some predictions - and give you a little intro to each book. If you can't wait, you can buy them now:
Glimpses of a Floating World (£8.38)
Benny Platonov (£15.27)
Or if you want to read them over the bank holiday, you can download them in all e-book formats: