Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Self publish and be damned? Part 2

Compulsive writing is a sickness and thinking you’ll earn any money out of it is unlikely to make you well. Writing is a craft; the art is in getting a reader

The sometimes correct Wikipedia states that there are over 200,000 books published in the UK per annum, more than in any other country in the world, 25 per cent more than the USA, twice as many as in Germany and over six times more than in France. However, before we start woo-hooing about the possibility that we’re not as thick as we think we are, maybe we should first consider that three quarters of the books sold in the UK seem to be celeb TV tie-ins – picture rich and literarily light. The others, those written by ordinary, decent, possibly interesting folk will more than likely be condemned to remain unloved and unread until eventually, after a brief spell in the Red Cross shop, they are craned onto Thames barges and dragged down to Mucking Marshes to be bulldozed into Western Europe’s biggest landfill.

My first book writing/publishing experience was such a bruising one that I dumbly volunteered to do it again. The second effort is called London Babylon: The Beatles and the Stones in the Swinging Sixties. It’s a jolly romp around the London of forty-ish years ago when if you spotted a Bentley with someone under fifty at the wheel, he’d either just stolen it or he was one of the Rolling Stones, it’s an everyday story of dolly birds, dope dealers, billionaires, torturers and bum boys, an evocation of who was who and where it was at in Swinging London, and I hope someone reads it.

But whether it winds up in the bookcase or lobbed out in the wheelie bin, one thing is certain, the reader will not give a passing thought to the two years of solitary toil that went into it. Of course he won’t, it’s just a book - not a bad read – now chuck it.

That in mind, I didn’t intend spending another year editing it and schmoozing publishers. Life’s short and the prospect of flogging around for months trying to find someone to sell it, someone who will over time show little inclination to give me anything in return for it seems singularly unattractive.

God knows how the UK’s 200,000 books a year ever get published or why. No one gets paid, so make sure that if your publisher ever offers you a drink you don’t just ask for a half of lager, get a champagne cocktail with a cherry in it. And demand a bag of crisps because all they’ll offer you will be peanuts. I come from the music industry and it’s just the same. Where there’s a hit there’s a writ and the only distinction between the two businesses is that book publishers are a little more gentlemanly than pop moguls and might even offer you a little kiss before they undo your trousers.

So this time I’ve compounded my masochism by publishing the title myself. In other words, I’ve divested myself of several thousands of pounds to a printer who the other day dumped two palettes in my driveway. I lugged the sixty boxes up three flights to the attic cursing each of the book’s 414 pages and now have torn calf muscles that have left me walking like John Wayne carrying another man’s Vaseline. It’s the first day of my new career as a publisher, I am broke and I can’t put my socks on without screaming.

A friend fills me with optimism when he scans the daunting mountain of books: “They’ll be handy for Christmas presents I suppose.”

London Babylon: The Beatles and the Stones in the Swinging Sixties is available from or from local shops priced £12.99. There are 414 pages of previously untold stories, anecdotes and pictures. Each visitor to the site is entitled to the two ‘missing’ chapters free.

Next episode: ‘Punk Publishing. I’ve got nine ISBNs and I’m gonna use ‘em’.

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