Monday, March 13, 2006

Ain't it awful and what's to be done?

Galleycat has read the full text of Nicholas Clee's article in the Bookseller, about the death of the midlist in UK publishing, and, sadly, is not too impressed by it. We all know, says Galleycat, that the industry is a mess. Question is, what's to be done about it?

Well, as far as writers are concerned, I suggested one possible solution about this time last year, in my extended essay On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile. My solution was greeted for the most part with loud raspberries and hoots of derisive laughter. A few enlightened souls, however, wrote and thanked me for it, and said that it had saved them a great deal of time and effort.

What I suggested in that essay is that no rational person, surveying the current publishing scene, would ever imagine that writing in general, and writing fiction in particular, is a sensible way to try to earn a living. For clear-headed writers (all three of them) there are therefore two alternatives: one, give up all this writing nonsense; or, two, adopt the pro-am approach.

The pro-am approach is that of the amateur who performs to professional standard. The pro-am does not expect to make any money from her activity; she does it for the pleasure and satisfaction of same. But she does the job to a fully professional standard, and therein lies much of the satisfaction. All dreams of large sums of money and international fame are recognised for what they are: namely, childish folly.

Pro-ams are readily found in any number of fields of activity. To mention two which are of interest to the GOB household: photography and flower arranging.

There are tens of thousands of people in the UK who are passionately interested in photography, and who work to obsessively high standards in terms of technique and achievement, but who have no illusions about generating serious income from it.

Ditto flower arranging. Anyone who takes the trouble to go round the UK national flower arrangers' gathering cannot fail to be impressed by the design skills, the use of colour, and the general ingenuity on show. And, within the circle of enthusiasts, reputations are made. But that's about it.

I don't think you can read the Clee article unless you're a Bookseller subscriber. But Galleycat gives a link to a similar piece in the US News, by Diane Cole, which ofers yet more doom and gloom. On the whole, however, I thought the Cole article was well written and informative; and if you're relatively new to working out how publishing firms operate, you should take a look at it.

2 comments:

JodyTresidder said...

"But--and it's an important but--"Papa" Hemingway did preface A Moveable Feast, his account of life in Paris in the 1920s as recorded more than 30 years later, with the warning, "If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.""

Off topic - but taken here from your (inevitably) brilliant links - the above demonstrates exactly how James Frey/Nan Talese should have prefaced that execrable piece of typing that got us all so very bothered recently.

I've seen many attempts to come up with the winning exculpatory phrase - combining a wink at the reader with pleasant self regard - but none quite so good (or timeless).

Andrew O'Hara said...

I am one of those who has passed on your "slushpile" article to many. Most of them (self-proclaimed authorities on the subject) read only the opening lines and scoff. Those who do actually take the time to read it, however, are impressed. I hope His Grumpiness will leave it on line for a good long time.

I don't know much about flower arrangers, but do know of countless photographers who produce work impressive in artistic quality and creativeness. Like writers, they are happy to have their work seen and enjoyed--true pro-ams, making the world a little better.