First published in Writing.ie April 2021
This is the third time I have written for writing.ie and so I wanted to make this a bit different from what I have said before. Obviously I’d love the opportunity to plug my new book, but I’d also like to take this opportunity to talk about the publishing industry and how it has changed.
My new book “The Druid Garden” arose out of a love of both gardening and the modern Druid path, often referred to as a Neo-Druidism or just Druidry. I retrained as a horticulturist in Dublin about 14 years ago, with Carl Dacus of Dublin School of Horticulture, who was an excellent teacher. I’ve been lucky to have good job opportunities within that field, many people who study it through FETAC and other organisations never get the chances I had, in fact there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people with some kind of horticulture qualifictions who have and never will work in that field.
This knowledge and experience has proved very handy and ties in nicely with my Druid training, especially that related to herbs, plants and communing with nature or the Earth itself. Having realised that many Druids (and alternative spiritual types) do not really understand plants or gardening and that many gardeners do not have any spiritual perspective in relation to nature – I decided that writing this book would be a good way to address this.
I’ve purposely written it as a gardening book first and foremost, focused on practical advice and knowledge that will prove useful in the garden. However, I have also tried to widen the perspective beyond just ‘sticking plants in the ground’ to a more holistic and spiritual view of the garden and the natural world as a whole.
I think this is quite timely, as environmental issues and lifestyle choices seem to be very much of the moment, because of a growing awareness of the inadequacies of modern capitalism and the western economic model that is failing badly on many levels. It also ties in with ideas about fairness, representation and equitable and ethical considerations that are often ignored in favour of profit and economic growth.
This brings me conveniently to writing about the publishing industry, which I have been involved in since the early 1990s. I first worked in publishing in 1991 when I took a university industrial placement with Mitre House Publishing in Farringdon, on the edge of the City of London. I went on from there to write freelance for magazines and also be Music Editor for City University’s ‘Cityscape’ magazine.
At the time, commercial journalism paid me around STG£250 per 1000 words, but these days I don’t expect to be paid anything for freelance work, now I am happy with a website link or short biography and a courtesy copy of the publication. If I get paid to write, in the current economic climate, I am both suprised and delighted.
I later worked for The Bookseller, in production as a sub-editor and illustrator for over 2 years which gave an interesting window on the book industry, and from there I became Design and Production manager for Citron Press in 1998. By then the industry was already changing. Straight to plate printing and digital printing technology was coming in and the old order was being quickly displaced. Citron was the first UK company to produce print-on demand novels, which I oversaw. Previously only computer manuals and such like had been made with the new digital presses, so what we did was previously untried. Citron Press failed, not because of the technology, which worked fine, but because we did not have any high selling authors and their ‘new authors book club’ did not attract the readers they had hoped for. I learned a lot there about book production and also about what not to do in terms of supporting authors and about how marketing books should be undertaken.
In Ireland I worked for IRN Publishing and Creative Inputs on both magazines and books, doing design and layout. By this time (early 2000) the internet was really getting established and starting to bite into conventional book sales. Many companies were beginning to understand the benefits of producing short runs of books digitally rather than having to pulp hundreds or even thousands of unsold books.
Then, as a self-employed Graphic Designer I made a lot of books for self-published authors, using the skills I had obtained elsewhere, although I charged pretty standard design industry hourly rates instead of the insane and rip off rates of ‘vanity publishers’. To this day I am amazed and horrified by how many new authors fall foul of these immoral charlatans. I find it hard to believe that everyone is not wise to these crooks by now, but clearly there are still plenty of desperate authors who will pay ‘silly money’ just to see their name in print.
Things have changed a lot but not all of it is for the better. During my time in London, editors and agents would bring an author for lunch, advances were paid in book contracts. Book publishers put a lot more time and effort into proof reading, verification (fact checking), continuity checks and copy correction. Back then the industry was not under pressure from Netflix, stolen PDF books, piracy and the general decline in book sales that has gradually happened since around the turn of the century.
Now it is possible for a budding author to produce a book cheaply in small quantities, just like publishers do. To a large extent the publishing industry is going the same way as the music industry – the aritst is ‘doing it for themselves’! Why should an author settle for a piddling 10% of trade (5% of RRP) when nowadays authors are expected to do much of, or all of, their own editing, proof reading and marketing?
It seems to me that the only ace the publishing industry has left is its marketing departments and distribution networks. Even so, only the large publishers spend any real money on marketing their authors and, in many cases, an established self-published author can easily get onto the roster of a decent distributor, without the backing of a publisher. If the industry does not adapt quickly and pay better royalties and offer a better service to authors then I can see many smaller sized publishers losing most of their authors in the coming years. Why would you stay for a tiny share when you do all the hard work and the publisher does almost nothing?
Hybrid distributor/sales outlet deals, like that offered by Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc are becoming increasingly popular and attractive to both new and established authors. It makes sense for authors – why settle for 5% of RRP when you can get upwards of 30%? As with many areas of life – banking, environment, politics, business and now the arts, people are questioning and challenging the status quo.
Publishers have had authors under their thumbs for hundreds of years, now they are losing their leverage and alternative routes to success are more and more viable. These options are also far more morally and financially acceptable to creators of ‘content’, which is now fashionable to use as the term for artistic output. In my opinion artists, musicians, writers etc have been horribly exploited for far too long. It is time that we stood up to be counted and demanded a fair deal for ourselves and for future generations of creative people.