Well, I had the full intention of posting my Dystopias discussion piece… only to find that I’d already done it back in June. Good Lord, I’m out of touch. Bleh.
So anyway… If I’m honest I’m not really happy with how I’ve written my last two blog posts, if only because I’ve written them out of self-created necessity rather than a true honesty. It doesn’t feel like my voice, and it’s kind of a violation. Given the past few months’ stressors and circumstances, I’ve not felt I can truly relax into myself for a long time and it does have a profound effect on my writing. Well, as far as I see it, anyway; someone who doesn’t know me might not see the difference. The upshot is that I’m going to try and write in a more honest voice from now on. My writing is what I’d want an audience to appreciate me for as a writer, and I can’t expect them to commit to something that isn’t truthful. I’ve always believed in honesty, and I stand by that. Thus, without further ado:
Jamie Oliver Lives In Us All
My wife and I have been engrossed (and sometimes grossed-out) by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution series, both in West Virginia and Hollywood incarnations. And I really feel for him, as a writer. Watching him try to change the processes of a huge, sometimes tyrannical industry really makes me draw parallels with getting a book published. In the same way that cooking your own food at home is fine if you’re only sharing it amongst your family, so you can write a book just for yourself. But if you really believe in it, and you know somewhere along the line that your food is in some part worthy of being shared elsewhere, why does the industry insist on creating so many mass-market, generic meals which fall apart under scrutiny, especially when people ask for better?
The biggest reason, arguably, is money. It takes far less money to produce something already on the shelves than invest in a new creation. And anyone can swear blind they know what people want because ‘there’s proof it sells’. Of course it will sell if that’s the only thing available. Clothing fashions are in large part dictated by a select few designers, who then pump out designs and collections to major retailers, and they’re bought because they’re there; the savvy shoppers know to pick up on stuff earliest to get ahead of the game. It amazes me the qualities of people who can buy something new simply because it’s available rather than because they actually want it. Maybe there’s some instinctive hoarding behaviour to be capitalised on as a writer…
But anyway, it irritates me to think people look at a pre-published book and say ‘I’m not picking it up because it hasn’t sold anything yet’, especially if it’s a debut author with no other works. To give credit where it’s worth, though, an agent has to have complete faith in your work, and if they don’t like it, then it’s either personal preference on their part or you might need to do some editing. I’d be lying if I said I was fed up of editing, and feel a little daunted by the idea of writing something else just yet even though I should resign myself to doing so. I’d hoped for more success, I suppose, but you can never tell what’s going to happen, and I’m running away from the point a little.
I don’t mind so much judgements based on the writing; an agent/publisher shouldn’t knowingly be investing time in a poor writer (ptchh, as if that ever happens…). But I do take greater objection to being told a story isn’t unique enough, when publishers can be guilty of generating profit from more of the same stuff that’s already on the shelves. I know a market has to be taken advantage of, but short of endlessly publishing repeat copies of the same book, everything will be different. A quote of Philip Pullman’s has stuck in my mind ever since I read it:
“I don’t believe that it’s the writer’s job to respond to some vague idea about what readers want. Readers don’t know what they want until they see what you can offer. Nowadays, we’re told, they’re all asking for the next Harry Potter, but no-one ever asked for the first Harry Potter. It took JK Rowling to think of him before people realised that this was something they might like to read. The writer and the idea always come first, and are always the most important thing.” -Quote from a book about self-publishing that I don’t actually remember; I just have the quote. It was a good book though, if anyone recognises it >.>;
So with this in mind it begs the question: If people have read a book, enjoy it, and have proven to spend money on it, why isn’t it worth taking a chance?
I understand the need for publishers to be selective. A company that took on every author that applied would go bust very quickly, and an agent that did that same would explode all over their office, leaving a greater slush pile than the one sat on their inbox. How much proof is proof enough, though? It’s unfortunate that you can’t just open your brain and show them what the ideas are that fit in your head, and the more I write the greater the part of me is that says I just need to shut up, deal with it, write more and write better. I hope I’m not the only writer who gets jealous reading about other people’s successes, though. The article about the first Kindle author to sell over 1,000,000 copies was in equal parts inspiring and kinda depressing to see how much extra I have yet to do and worry about how much time I’ve lost, and, I suppose in a weird way worry about if I’m already too late for someone to have such a similar idea to mine that it’s not worth bothering.
People who walk straight into publishing deals have no idea how lucky they are. They’re probably very few and far between, to be fair, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that there’s someone just getting a default position somewhere. And it’s stupid to think like that, but at the same time I see travesties of literature appearing like Snooki’s… and I know no matter what I write, I’m at least better than that. I don’t even need any reviews to know that.
So apart from Jamie’s diligence in transforming kids’ health around the world and the stellar job he’s done in raising awareness of food nutrition, hygiene and preparation, seeing him run up against brick wall after brick wall by people in a position of complacency really struck a chord. There are a lot of differences between Jamie’s situation and that of every struggling self-published author; principally that there’s only one of him and millions of collective ‘ones’ around the world. But I have to view the impenetrability of the publishing world as the same stonewalling that Jamie received, albeit that publishers aren’t generally doing it out of fear or dubiety. It is hard not to take it personally, though.
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