Writers love high-concept "What If" scenarios, so here's a challenging one. Imagine you're a promising unpublished writer (not unlike myself), who has been learning your craft and persevering with it. You have good contacts and a profile in the industry, so publication must be only a matter of time, right? But through some amazing crystal ball/time-travel MacGuffin you uncover a horrifying truth – you will never be traditionally published. What do you do?
When I came to ask myself this question, I found the answer kept slipping away from me. I started writing this part of the post and found myself saying things like "you could do this" or "you could do that." Now I wouldn't presume to know what you would do, so let me know in the comments. The most important question for me is what would I do?
Hmm. It's a tricky thing to have all hope taken away at a stroke. I've been writing for ten years now, and it was always with the presumption that my books would find both a publisher and an audience. In that time, I've seen things become steadily tougher for writers, as the small financial certainties have drained away and publishers have focused on an ever narrowing list of lead titles. In this climate, even as your own skills as a writer improve, so the goalposts seem to move farther away.
Would I self-publish? It would be the logical thing to do, but I worry about reaching a sufficient audience, particularly amongst pre-teen children. I've also long since hitched my wagon to publishing's star, defending the system of gatekeepers and editorial oversight that has ushered in the so-called "golden age of children's publishing." So going it alone would still feel weird to me. And there are some aspects of publishing - particularly the distribution, sales and accounting parts – that I have zero interest in and would really rather have someone else do for me. Maybe if I'm selling electronically, then Amazon or whoever can handle this, but if my target market wants print books (which they mostly do) then there's going to be a lot of driving around with a boot-full of novels. And I can't drive.
There is another option, which is just to give up writing. There's a certain freedom to that idea, a weight that lifts from my shoulders. But is that just because it's the easy thing to do, to walk away? Nothing worthwhile was ever easy, I'm certain of that. The thought of submission and publication is something that pushes me towards the end of a novel or encourages me to go through one more draft to perfect things further. What happens if that is taken away?
One positive thing that comes from the knowledge of never being published, would be the removal of the need to satisfy the market. I could write whatever I wanted with no concern for how the gatekeepers might view it, and satisfy my artistic aspirations, rather than my commercial ones. Perhaps I might even stop writing books altogether and throw my energies into digital-only projects. I have to admit that the idea of so much creative freedom worries me a little – would I start everything and finish nothing?
It's definitely a tough scenario and one that I hope won't come to pass. Because hope, I now realise, is a very important force in my creative life.