A Writer’s Ire Misdirected & An Odd Counterpoint

Transworld Ireland gets quite a battering from Aiden O’Reilly’s 21 December open letter. He lambasted publisher Eoin McHugh* with a wonderfully amusing paragraph:

I decided not to bother sending my manuscript to you. I cannot have any trust that it would get serious attention. I would not fit in among the authors on your list. Even if you decided to publish me, I would not feel comfortable with your publishing house.

Personally I think the target poorly chosen and the tone a little too much for my liking, but I do understand the frustration of writers in Aiden’s position which regardless of my thoughts on the subject he puts well:

I put this question to you: What is your ethos? What is your company’s ethos?

When I go to my local restaurant, the owner tells me he wishes to bring authentic and excellent Indonesian cuisine to Dublin. A building company run by a friend will strive to use Irish materials in an energy-efficient manner. None of them will say: “I need to maximise income for my shareholders in a very difficult market.”

What is your ethos Sir? Do you have any sense of responsibility that you are shaping a new generation of writers?

I see also that you were previously a book buyer at Easons, a company known for playing a role in the literary life of the nation. Was there some sense when Transworld Ireland was set up in 2007, that it should promote new writing that reflects what’s happening in this country? Is there any sense of responsibility for seeking out good writing wherever it may be found?

via The Stoneybatter Files – News.

Oddly enough, I stumbled across another blog today, from a  writer too (one Stephen Leather), with a much different attitude to the world and for his good fortune a better outcome:

Last month I sold 44,334 books on Kindle UK. That’s a lot of books. I don’t know of any Indie author who even comes close to that in the UK. I know that I’m not a true Indie author in that I am also published by one of the best publishing houses around – Hodder and Stoughton. But I have published five books on my own and they are true Indie books.

I know of only one Indie author who sells more than me in the US and that’s paranormal romance writer Amanda Hocking – and she sells more than twice as many as me.

I’m putting my December sales figures onto my blog so that people can see for themselves where my sales are coming from.

In December it was my vampire book Once Bitten that sold best, accounting for 22,607 sales. Interestingly it is my New York serial killer story, The Basement, that is currently selling best – and heading the Kindle UK bestseller list. But in December it was lagging behind Once Bitten with 17,321 sales. For most of December Once Bitten and The Basement were Number 1 and Number 2 in the Kindle UK bestseller list respectively. As of today, it’s The Basement that’s Number 1.

via I Sold 44,334 Kindle Books in December

It is a strange phenomenon in this age of digital books, that authors CAN now serve very large markets with a single account and do darn well out of it.

I’m not saying that Aiden’s solution is to jump on the independent publishing bandwagon, perhaps that’s not his bag and not every independent author will sell such huge numbers, but I am saying that the things he writes about are the frustrations consequential to his choice. Had he chosen to publish independently his frustrations would be different ones, but real nonetheless.

Writing is a frustrating career choice, wether ploughing the traditional route or trying the newer independent forms, but it IS a choice. Commercial publishers, as crass as you might think their list to be, are not the cause of your problems, nor a suitable target for your ire.

Eoin

*It’d be wise for me to point out that I know Eoin, have met with him on several occasions in both a business and more recreational situations both since he joined Transworld and when he was at Easons and have a lot of respect for him.

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4 comments

  1. I read the letter and understand the authors frustrations.

    Emerging writers seem to believe that the route to publication is, or should be, through success in literary magazines and competitions…and it must be hard to realise all these comps and magazines that mean so much to the short story writer mean nothing or little to big publishers. I think this is his central frustration.

    A company has a right to be commercial, in this climate especially. This is where the logic gets lost – why target an organisation that hasnt even refused to publish him yet? Trashy celeb books, like it or not, provide income…will keep publishers afloat so they can publish literature in the future rather than close their doors.

  2. Hi Eoin

    I’m in broad agreement with you and have blogged about it here: http://www.joyofwriting.net/blog/?p=453

    It seems to me as if Aiden O’Reilly is looking at the wrong market and castigating them rather than ask why the publishing sector in Ireland and elsewhere that *might* cater to literary short fiction / literary novels all seem to know each other well and be a difficult circle to break into unless you are lucky enough to be “spotted” by someone in the know. I would imagine that’s quite another can of worms to open!

    I wish him the best of luck and hope he gets the exposure he deserves, while being disinclined to blame Transworld for this problem. That’s just my 2cents

  3. An interesting and timely blog Eoin. I read Mr O’Reilly’s original blog to get the background because the reason for his tirade was unclear here.

    In my opinion the real problem here is Mr O’Reilly’s naive perception of what publishing means in the modern world and what the role of a publisher is. He is stuck in a romanticised perception of paternalistic publishers who’s main role in life is to nurture and foster new writers and if they make some money along the way then great. Mr O’Reilly needs to get a grip on the meaning and reality of life. His writing is his own challenge and it’s not the publisher’s guide to suckle him like a baby and molly coddle him like a child. In a competitive world they need to make money and his resentment against the banking system is both palpable and irrelevant. He needs to take responsibility for his own life and his own writing development. What is is with him that he needs this kind of nurturing ? He sounds like a grown man. Can’t he do what needs to be done by himself.

    His letter is childish, petulant and immature. It is also unnecessary and disingenuous.

    He takes a swipe at the company for asking about media coverage. I read their site and it says:
    “You may also include other supporting materials, such as recent press coverage …”

    A perfectly reasonable request. What have awards go to do with it ? His book needs to stand on it’s own legs. And this is only submission time. If his book is accepted then he will have plenty of time, I assume, to make a fanfare with his awards.

    This aspiring writer needs to take a step back and take ownership and responsibility for his own career. Has he researched writer’s contracts ? Has he educated himself about the huge changes in publishing recently ? What does he need a publisher for ? what role does he want them to play ? Has he even looked at self publishing ?

    Writing is no more frustrating than any self employed endeavour. And like all other self employed endeavours it is what you put it that determines what you get out. Relying on others to do things for you is not the path to success.

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