The Problem With The New Age of Publishing

Is the same as it was the old age of publishing. Many of you know those old days, when the Arts Council sent round an A4 stapled book of poets available for readings and libraries held lists of reputable publishers, copies of magazines and some of us, new to the game, believed that those adverts that appeared in the back of broadsheets were reputable. The adverts that invited you to submit your poetry and fiction to a PO Box somewhere in a city. If you did that, I know as I write this you will have a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, you probably went to the post box with your submission in hand as eager as I.

When you start out as a writer you just want someone in the know to say, ‘Hey, not bad, not bad at all’ when reading over your work. That is why when that reply comes back from that PO Box gushing how incredible you are, asking for more of your poems you rush to your typewriter, pull out the carbon (this is how old those days were) and get typing. Then you send off your ms thinking that you will the next big thing, such is the folly of a new poet, such is our belief in ourselves – you have to maintain that part as poet or writer – that you think everything will just go swimmingly. Then the second letter comes and they still say what an incredible poet you are but….there is always a but in these letters. BUT. They ask for money. BUT. Your writing will make money back. BUT. You won’t have the hassle of being tied to them waiting for royalties. BUT. We still really like you and can give you a 25% discount on the print costs. BUT. Only if you reply in five days. That moment, that one moment in which you thought you were a poet comes crashing down. You are not even back at square one, you are around the corner in alley that no one ever uses. These companies, these PO Boxes were called vanity presses twenty years ago and when the great age of the web came along we hoped, many of us in that first wave of writers using the web, that as a community constantly in contact with each other that we could stamp them out. Stop them from destroying the hopes of new writers, smashing apart new poets through lines of frippery exuding love over their writing which was largely replicated time and time again in a grubby little office on a wheezing photocopier. Yet, in this new age of the web the vanity press is with us, stronger, meaner, cleverer, sneaking through the loop holes and rather than charging you to publish your work asking instead that you buy it at a discount. Running competitions and worst still spreading lies about how real publishers work. No publisher will ever ask you for money. Many publishers will give you free copies of your book and then sell you any that you need for readings at a heavy discount. In an age were the arts have discounted themselves to the point of extinction this twisting of the discount by vanity presses is the final cut. Though this kind of thing happened two decades ago, it is ludicrous that it is still going on and that we allow it to continue as a community of writers and poets. So, please use Facebook, use twitter, your mobile phone, your lips and out these bastards who continue to see any form of writing as a mere way to line their pockets on dreams.

For the record, I kept that letter that came to me when I was only 18. I framed it, put it right beside a copy of the first cheque I received for my writing, as a warning, a reminder that vanity can be a dangerous thing.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Bruce Barnes says:

    Hi Andrew, Alright, I confess I do submit work to a vanity press that runs poetry competitions. A few years bacj i picked up a £200.00 cheque from them, and resolutely refused to buy any books and declined their request for publicity about me. I realise the relationship as exploitative, but what’s new!. My qualms about using the Social Media are probably rooted in technophobia, but also a queezy feeling that I’m firing stuff into outer space, and if there is life outthere its either uncriticical, unresponsive or too busy…firing stuff into outer space. I’m content to submit poems to magazines and competitions-there are so many of both,I could comfortably fill my days doing that-and each time lady luck shines on me, ( let’s face it luck is in the mix), and I get an acceptance or placed in a competition, it goes on the poet records as far as an eventual publisher is concerned.
    And I will sing the praises of decent poetry workshops-the critical and constructive sort-and once you grasp that they aren’t instruments of torture, and have relevant things to say, they are a boon.

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