Why writing a book is like herding cats

I am writing, like most journalists these days, a book. Yes, yes, they all said books would go the way of the dinosaur, yes, yes, they said that there is no such thing as making money in publishing any more, yes yes… whatevs.

But. Books are going off like a frog in a sock. Amazon has even opened a real-world bookshop, which is interesting in that it screams backward platforming. Here, in the land of Oz, our biggest bookseller (so they say) Big W is raking in the cash and buyers by serving up books cheaply and quickly.

Meredith Drake, the department store chain’s book buyer, told The Australian that it was Twilight et al that saved the book, somewhat, because the cool kids wanted to be seen with those books in their hand. And that we Aussies are very suspicious of organisations like Kindle etc that demand we commit to their system of buying. It’s like we don’t like being enslaved or something. Maybe we are all just rebels at heart.

So, to become a successful fiction writer in Australia, you must have a physical, printed, old fashioned, completely quaint, stick-it-on-my-shelf-forever-to-boast-to-my-friends-and-confirm-my-self-worth book. To achieve this there are three — no four — roads. There’s the OMG SENSATION/GREAT READ book that gets stocked at Big W ($$$), there’s the traditional chain book seller format of dividing into genres and best sellers and little in between ($$), there’s the indie bookseller ($) (Australia is awesome at this, particularly my home Brisbane is awesome with reader destinations like Avid, or American Book Store, maybe because monoliths like Borders took ages to get here and then promptly folded), and then there’s the bargin-bin called self publishing (-$). (We call it vanity publishing. I am sure that E.L. James would scoff at that.)

And in terms of publishing houses, well, that pool is shrinking to increased concentrated by the second. We have the venerable UQ PRESS here in Brisbane (god how I wish), and then there’s a whole swag of genre publishes such as Pantera Press et al, and then there are the big guys, often disguised as little guys but always owned by conglomerates (oh, yes, please!). Not that conglomerates are a bad thing in this climate — concentrating success and evenly distributing costs is a sound business model. (If only it would work for the print media. Sign. Another story, another time)

This all leads up to the big question for writers — for whom am I writing? I am pouring my heart and soul into this project, giving it everything, procrastinating like a champ, churning words upon words of pure creativity onto a page… but what’s the point if no one will read it? The true measure of success is to be published. All else is just speculation. And wasted time.

Oh, go on with your complaints about true creativity not being shackled by the cruel master that’s commercialism. Poppycock. Rubbish. Pah! It’s because the industry is so concentrated, and all at once so diluted, that creativity must be commercial. Even if that commerciality is in the guise of a genre.

It’s all about applying creativity to achieve a sell. And the first hurdle of making that sale is to go fishing for a publisher. And to fish for a publisher, you have to have the right bait, the right first impression.

That’s why I cannot choose a title. This huge manuscript has the pitiful title of “The project 2016” because I am afraid to frack it up, to jiggle the line too hard and let that fish slip off, into the dark river of indifference.

Aye, there’s the rub: Trying to wangle creativity into something that can be sold. I don’t feel I have the adequate brain power to be both creative and keep commercial sensitivities in mind. It’s the process, perhaps, that feeling of giving oneself over to whatever creative animal lives within. It’s primal. And often uncontrollable.

It’s like herding cats. You think you know where you want them to go, but by god they are cats.

They just want to sit and wash their face with their own spit, then walk around in a circle three times before dramatically throwing themselves down and closing their regal eyes.

Pretty cat.

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