So I’ve been thinking about this for a little while. About the concept of creativity and the different forms it can take. There are the obvious ones, like painting and sculpture and music and song. Some people have a talent for designing clothes, able to visualise the way fabric drapes around the human form, while others can manipulate numbers and data, their minds seeing complex patterns with ease. And then there’s writing.
Writers are beset by the same compulsions as any other artist – the desire to create, to tell tales, to engage with an audience as they share their story. However, unlike most other artists, many writers were doomed until recent years to have their work unseen, unread, unshared. An artist can exhibit at a local gallery or market, while musicians sing in small bars or busk on the streets. Designers can make clothes for themselves, wearing their art for all to see. And there will always be a place for those who can work with numbers, as long as there are money and statistics and stocks to be manipulated. (at least, that’s how I see it – forgive me if it’s not the case).
The writer, however, works alone. We cannot force people to read our work, or exhibit it in public. We may press our stories on accommodating relatives and friends, who may or may not read them, but until recent times there really were no other outlets for us. We could submit letter after letter to agent after agent, harass publishers with copies of our manuscript, but unless one of them took us on board the doors to publishing our work remained firmly closed, the gatekeepers holding the key.
But self-publishing has changed all that, opening the gates to all. And I am grateful every single day that I’m writing at a time when it’s possible to produce a well laid out version of my work to share with others, where I can place an order and have a box of my paperbacks, the quality as good as anything you’d get from a large publisher, delivered to my door. Where I can post a blog whenever I feel like it, about whatever happens to come into my head (like this one!) Of course there have always been avenues for self-publishing, but they were usually expensive and the end product not always what was promised, as well as often taking rights from the writers as well. But now we have the same freedom as other artists: to create and share our work with the public and retain control of our ideas.
At my recent author event I briefly discussed the idea that readers are the gatekeepers. And that I think it has always been this way. If a book isn’t good, even if it’s been picked up by a publisher and given a big splashy launch, it’s not going to sell much beyond that if the content isn’t there. Word of mouth is the only way to get consistent on-going sales. If readers like your book, they will tell other readers. Conversely, if your story sucks or is riddled with grammar and structure errors, they’ll tell people about that as well.
So for those who complain about the quality of self-published works remember – if you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it. But just as genius can be found in small galleries or hidden dive bars, so too can it be found in the realms of self-published works – it just takes an open mind to find it.