February 22, 2015

The joys of being a Goatperson

Thoughts generated by this cartoon by the magnificent and magical Michael Leunig.

Sure, I enjoy a good writers festival as much as any keen reader or book nut, but they are a double-edged sword for writers. Some writers pop up at every festival going in your area. You will know the ones if you follow these events. One can't help wondering if they make more from their festival outings than they do from their books.

I'm a member of an association for self-published or indie authors. While it is gaining recognition and prestige and providing a valuable service for its members, when I read through its newsletters or daily posts on its Facebook page, rather than increasing my confidence I find myself becoming agitated, even strangely panicky, at the number of suggestions, complaints, choices, marketing tips, etc. People are worried about everything from their rankings on Amazon to the size and type of font they should use! Too much advice can be counter-productive. This is the downside of writing since the advent of the Internet. The inspiration, discovery and often sheer joy of sitting down to write something that takes you to another realm is being swamped by the anxiety that is now attached to the processes in getting published. This doesn't just apply to the indie author but with falling budgets even big-name traditionally published authors have to worry about how to market themselves and their books.

I knew zilch about the publishing world when I seriously started to write back in the early 1990s. I wrote novels about real people, events and places that inspired me without sweating over what happened after I finished them, assuming I'd just send them out to various publishers and sit back and wait for a response. Of course I had to learn the hard way about what a dispiriting, cut-throat industry it can be, that just because you think you've written a rattling good yarn, publishers and agents will flock to your door and it sure as heck doesn't work that way. You need to develop a thick skin if you want to keep going. You also need the wisdom to know when to face the truth or even stop altogether.

I'm quite concerned for many authors who sell themselves online after taking on board all this advice out there. While I may follow them for a while because originally I liked one of their books, heard them speak at a festival, on the radio, etc, or some email, tweet or FB post got me interested, there usually comes a tipping point where I get fed up when they flog themselves too much. I know I'm in the minority here as some of the current advice seems to be that readers want to know about writers' private lives, just as they do about celebrities. Sorry, but I'm interested in what they create, or how or why, not that their dog just had puppies or their sink got blocked.

Unlike. Unfriend. Unfollow. What cold and cruel terms these un- words are and I always feel a trifle guilty when I use them. But sometimes you have to in order to stay sane and not get swamped with too much information, even from people in whom you are genuinely interested. I think we could do with new Chill and Un-Chill buttons that mean we do Like you and want to Follow you as a Friend, but we need time out occasionally and we will be back. 

Quite a lot of people have urged me to republish my earlier books and make some money out of them, but just the thought of what it involves is enough to cause stress. Why would I put myself through all of that? Of course, if I were dependent on writing for my living, it would be a completely different ball game, but I enjoy my life just the way it is - reading and reviewing books, writing this and my other history blogs, researching some future novel that probably won't ever get finished because it would more than likely bore the sox off everybody, myself included.

And I just read this article about the number of books published in the UK in any week and how long it would take a person to read them. Readers of this will be glad I've decided to become a Goatperson and have no intention of adding anything to the weekly pile any time soon.

Enjoy these other Leunig cartoons!

Copyright Michael Leunig

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