Monday, 2 July 2012

Guest Post: On digital publishing from an industry insider - and lapsed writer

I started my twelve year career in publishing in the heady summer of the year 2000. Working in books was the only logical career choice for me. Prior to this I wrote. I wrote all the time. I finished my first self-illustrated episodic story, about school bullying, at the age of ten. I completed a “novel” at aged fourteen, inexplicably about the mafia (I am not even Italian) and containing perhaps the most unconvincing sex scene in the history of literature. Until “Fifty Shades of Grey” was published, that is. At university I continued, writing heartfelt poems about unrequited love, frustrated intellect and bohemian stuff. Then, I got my first job in publishing and the writing stopped.

It wasn’t just seeing the brutality of the slush pile first hand that caused me to change my views. Wandering the halls of the annual book fairs, I couldn’t help but be astounded and somehow disheartened by the sheer number of books that are published every year. How, I asked myself, can my voice be heard above all this noise? And then, there are those writers, those brilliant voices, that inexplicably fail. As a publisher, you believe in the writer, you believe in the book, you promote the hell out of it and yet still the copies just don’t sell. And at the end of the day, that is what publishing is, the business of selling books. When books don’t sell, they are remaindered, they are pulped, they are listed as out of print, they are forgotten. Suddenly it seemed a bit pointless to be churning out my mediocre words into a clearly disinterested world. So rather than add to my piles of unread prose, I hid my writer’s heart away.

This is not to say that I have spent the last decade in bleak despair. Publishing is one of the most vibrant and exciting industries to work in and right now it is going through a period of immense change. For decades publishers have acted as gatekeepers for what is and isn’t read. Unpublished writers were, for the most part, unread writers. Digital publishing means that writers, instead of poring over endless rejection letters, can put their work out there - and what better way to get the attention of those distant commissioning editors than a bestselling Kindle novel? Of course, self-publishing is in no way a sure-fire way to success. If anything, the clamour of voices has become louder and harder to navigate. But the digital world has given us one thing: more opportunities to reach our readers.

So, armed with this sliver of hope and opportunity, I have slowly been starting up my writing hand again. It’s been hard. I am rusty, wracked with self-doubt and a heap of healthy cynicism, but I am doing it. I am writing.

Caroline - an industry veteran now 'jumping the fence'

About the writer:
Having spent twelve years in the publishing industry, Caroline Goldsmith has spent her life surrounded by books. She has worked in sales, publicity, marketing, rights and contracts and has spent more time at bookfairs and hauling suitcases full of hardbacks around Europe then she cares to remember. She has now left publishing to embark on a new life in the country, where she plans to rekindle her long-neglected writing habit and finally unleash that novel that has been hiding in her on an unsuspecting world. You can follow her adventures on her blog These Are My Days, or on Twitter @goldcaro


Thrifty Gal said...

Great post, Caroline: I must admit as a former bookseller I sometimes had similar qualms...

Mrs H said...

I love reading everything you write. It is eloquent and honest. Can't wait for the book. x

Deb said...

Good luck, Caroline!

Derek said...

Thanks for sharing, Caroline. It's great to get the perspective of someone who sits at the other side of the desk. Now all we need is your list of industry contacts! It's interesting to note that we all, from time to time, rate our work against those 'finished products' out there without remembering that everything starts off as a first draft.

Gillian McDade said...

A really interesting post, Caroline - thanks for sharing.