Guest blogger Simon Alexander Collier on “Busking Outside Carnegie Hall.”
American novelist Sue Grafton brought a wave of criticism on herself through a number of disparaging remarks about those, like me, who choose to self-publish their fiction. Like these critics, I think she is mistaken, but since she has subsequently apologized and expressed a desire to learn more about changes in the publishing world, I won’t add my droplet to that wave. I too occasionally err, as my wife kindly points out.
Ms Grafton’s original comments did raise a couple of points that are worth considering, even if she herself has since rowed back. The first is the idea that self-publishing is a “short-cut,” a way of avoiding the hard work required to become a published author in the orthodox fashion. As many indie writers who responded to Ms Grafton correctly pointed out, there is an enormous amount of work required to get your own work out there and publicize it. Self-publishing isn’t about avoiding work as much as substituting productive work – publishing and marketing your story – for the unproductive task of spending months or years in a (likely) futile attempt to find an orthodox publisher.
Another issue raised was that self-published authors have an inflated sense of self-worth, acting like “a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he's ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.” Well, an element of ego is probably involved in any public display of artistic output, but it is difficult to see why any more is involved in self-publishing. It would also be easy to highlight many conventionally published authors whose mastery of their craft is well short of the average concert pianist’s. Ultimately, this line of reasoning rings of “know your place,” a location of which I have long remained proudly ignorant.
Since the musical analogy has been introduced, it may be worth recalling the spirit of the punk movement of the 1970s. A reaction to the corporatisation and blandness of much of the music of that era, this promoted the idea that anyone could be in a band and gave us groups such as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, whose music stands up pretty well these days. Democratization of the creative process should surely be welcomed, and while there may be some semi-literates producing fourth-rate bodice rippers who are not exactly the Johnny Rottens de nos jours, it is likely that self-publishing will lead to some works of merit seeing the light of day that otherwise would not have done so.
Fundamentally, it is a mistake to see publishing as a moral issue. There is no ethical requirement for hard work – that is unavoidable in one form or another anyhow – or for only the “deserving” (whoever they might be) to have a chance of an audience when so much rubbish gets put out by conventional publishers. I make no apologies for saying that I would love to find a short-cut or any cut at all to the literary equivalent of stadium filling. Frankly, however, at the moment I’m playing a couple of tunes I wrote to a few friends and the odd passerby at open mic night in my local boozer. The closest I get to Carnegie Hall is busking outside. But greatly enjoying it.
Dixon says: If I understand it right, busking is a British term for street music or performance, what’s sometimes called guerilla theatre. A pretty cool word, don’t you think? I plan to use it frequently (and probably incorrectly).
Simon is the author of Milligan and the Samurai Rebels. If you’d like to learn more about this writer, check out his busking good website.