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Sunday, 10 April 2011

Am I a ‘writer’ or a person who writes?

I have a decision to make. Am I a ‘writer’ or a person who writes?
Traditional publishing, electronic books, it’s all too much for my tiny brain! It’s fairly obvious, as with music, that downloads are the future for books and hence for writers. A whole new generation are reading books on their Kindles. Instant downloads, any time of the day, massive choice, instant gratification. Traditional books won’t die out, not ever, but this revolution isn’t going to go away.
I’ve been away to Yorkshire in the past couple of days, meeting a publisher.  A traditional publisher. We’ve been emailing each other for a week or so; it was time to meet face to face. Since I published my e-book to Kindle, my books have done very well. That may be the understatement of the decade as my first-born, Burn, Baby, Burn sold over five thousand copies last month and remains at number fourteen in the All Books Chart.
The publisher is one of three generated by my Kindle success. There are a couple of other publishers in the mix as well. People I already know by name. Small but competent.
This particular firm, represented by the man I’ve come to see, is very different. They’re a major publishing house, well established, with a great collection of writers behind them. They asked me to come and talk about ‘our future.’ Nicely put, I thought.
I enjoyed our two hour chat. Enjoyed the lunch they bought me as well, but that aspect of my character is rather easy to please. We got on well, I like their ideas and they’re very keen to add me to their ‘stable.’
And yet, and yet…
I haven’t made a decision. I still have other publishers to consider, plus three agents suggesting they will make me a rich man if I allow them to act on my behalf. Suggesting, not promising, mind you. I checked the tone and content of their letters very carefully!
So, what’s stopping me? Well, it’s hard to explain.
Do I want to be rich? Not particularly.
Do I want to be famous? Absolutely not.
Do I want complete strangers to read my books? Yes, I do. As many as possible.
There’s my dilemma.
Doing it myself, as an ‘Indie’ publisher, I’ve already had far more success than I ever envisaged. The likelihood of selling traditional books in numbers even approaching what I have already is remote. Even the publisher admits that.
If I join his ‘stable’ I lose control. Other people make decisions, on my behalf. What I should write next, when it should be written, for instance. I’m not comfortable with that.
I appreciate my situation is unusual. I’ve lived an uncluttered life in the main. Making decisions apparently on a whim, or so it must appear to others. In reality, it’s not like that at all. I think everything through, discuss it all with my wife, before taking life-changing decisions. I’m accustomed to doing everything like that. Just two people to consider. Not an Editor, an agent, a publisher, an accountant – well, you get the picture.
I’ve had experiences denied to the majority of people, travelled widely, lived life to the full. I’ve been a writer too, but never to the exclusion of all else. I have other projects, other interests, other demands on my time. I explained this to my publisher friend over lunch. In general terms, just chatting. He didn’t understand.
I could tell it wasn’t within his comprehension. Considering walking away from a lucrative deal, just to go off wandering the world for a year or so, he’d no idea what I was talking about. The fault is mine. An inability to explain an intangible feeling.
Now the moment has arrived, I’m not sure I want to be a writer under these terms. For writing to become a job. To be a wage slave, obliged to do the bidding of others in return for a regular income.
That sounds very new age, doesn’t it? A return to my hippie past, perhaps? Not at all. The swinging sixties are gone forever, replaced in my case by an altogether different type of ‘sixties.’ Very little swinging involved. It’s not an aversion to making money. More a reluctance to be constrained. To be accountable. They’re the aspects of the deal I’m finding difficult.
Will I ever say, ‘I’m a writer’ when strangers ask me what I do for a living? I never have, so far. I usually mumble something vague and incomprehensible along the lines of ‘not much’ – have got away with that for many years. I don’t see myself as a ‘writer.’ I write, but that’s very different. I do many other things as well. Anything that puts those nebulous ‘other things’ at risk is a concern.
I’m taking a week to think things over. Maybe two weeks.
My wife has left it up to me. She’ll go along with whatever I decide. That’s slightly different. Usually, it’s a joint decision, all the way. I’m not entirely certain I want to make the decision on my own, but that’s a different story.
Meanwhile, I’m thinking it over. It isn’t the most important decision I’ve ever made. In order of importance, not even in the top twenty. Perspective, that’s the word. I’ll remember that.

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