Friday, 9 August 2013

The Loneliness Of A Long Distance Author - the Complaints of Anakana Schofield

I was very irritated by an article I read in 'The Guardian' of 27th July 2013.  It was entitled 'How to publicise a novel' and was written by Anakana Schofield.  She has had first novel, 'Malarky' published and received Can$1000 (£625) and then a further £6500 for it, from the publishers; not a share of sales.  In her article she whines about the burdens of publicising her novel.  She compares her travelling around the country being interviewed about her book and meeting with the public to compelling a train driver to go to Scotland to show people the train he drives.  The analogy is very poor; perhaps someone who designed or built the train showing it off would be more accurate; if she was equivalent to the train driver she would work in a bookshop being compelled to sell 'Malarky'.

Schofield misses entirely that she is an artist.  Painters, sculptors, even actors (and certainly directors), have to go around publicising their work, often at their own expense. Think of how many bands and singers have to tour around the country trying to get people to listen to them and buy their music off i-tunes or even a CD that they have paid to have made.  This can be a long and soul-destroying job with no guarantee of success.  Schofield needs to realise she is in the same category.  Sports people often travel far and wide and stay in appalling conditions just to carry out the sport, sometimes they have to pay for the pleasure of doing so.  I used to know a national level badminton player who, because badminton does not have the prize money of tennis, had to hold down an ordinary job and spend her weekends driving herself to events and putting herself up.  I have known black belt Aikido instructors with international reputations sleeping in dojos when training away from home.  These are the equivalent to an author.  If you choose this life you have to put up with what comes with it.  She should speak to painters who have to lug all their paintings from event to event in the hope of selling one.

This is nothing new for authors.  Even the most successful have had to get on the road to publicise their work and do innumerable book signings.  The author and journalist, Richard Meredith whose ‘One Way Or Another' which I read and reviewed in June, self-published in the period before e-books made this so much easier.  He did not even have a publisher to distribute his book and would drive around with boxes of them in his car, trying to persuade local bookshop managers to take a few to sell and going back to collect the money later.  Schofield does not have that problem, with online sales dominating, people can get her book even if the author on tour comes nowhere near them.  Despite her whining publicising her book has actually got a lot easier than it was a decade or two ago.

Schofield complains about writing 'endless unpaid blogs', clearly unaware that any sensible author does that before they have even begun writing the book.  I know some people earn money from their blog, but who really expects to get an income from spouting their own views of the world, bar a handful of lucky columnists and they are far more constrained than a blogger.  She complains about having to write responses to newspapers and 'random people creating things in basements'.  This amounts to snobbery as she was no different when writing the novel.  Schofield seems to categorise society and feels that she as an author should receive different considerations.  Again, she seems to be living in the past, perhaps the 1950s, not even the 1970s.  Where did she get the idea that publishing houses did all the publicity for their authors?

While she sees herself as a person who deserves privileges, she also sickeningly tries to draw parallels between her 'predicament' and that of ordinary people: the 'security guard who is not allowed to tweet, but must also do the cleaning.  Or the hospital cleaner who is forced to reapply for his own job but on lower pay'.  She does not see she is nothing like these people, she is getting paid to do what she loves, talk about what she loves to all and sundry and even get a newspaper to cover her whining about how hard this is.

Schofield also highlight the personal questions she gets asked and especially about her own sexuality given the sexual content of the novel.  Again, I am surprised that she is surprised by this.  Has she not read reviews of books or other works of art before?  Has she not seen how reviewers probe motivations that may stem from the artist's personal life?  Schofield seems amazingly cut off from how contemporary society behaves.  She has clearly never read a tabloid newspaper or indeed even watched some of the output from more respectable news broadcasters like the BBC.  People are obsessed with other people in their own right, not necessarily for what they do but simply for who they are.  Schofield clearly needed lessons in this and the easiest way was to review some of the many thousands perhaps millions of words written about J.K. Rowling, or possibly given Schofield's own writing, E.L. James.

Schofield ends by complaining about the fact that there has been a shift from a culture in which people read to one in which they write.  This is probably not as great a shift as she believes, it is simply that whereas in the past people's writing would be confined to something they typed, shared with friends and sent to be rejected by publishers, now it is visible to all via blogs and through self-publication of e-books.  I am a classic example.  I was doing this thirty years ago, but the technology then was missing to allow me to expose my work to the entire planet.  Again her view of this apparent shift suggests Schofield is pretty much out of touch with contemporary society.  In fact with the availability of online writing and of the explosion of book clubs, there is probably more reading going on than back in the 1980s, especially among people over 30.  It is the equivalent to the numerous talent shows on television.  There have always been millions of people who have assumed they can perform on stage, but only with such thorough access, as in fact was the case back in the 1970s, does the general population, as opposed to friends and neighbours, become aware of simply how many people believe this way.  The pool of people going into these things has not changed; the visibility of them has, however, increased substantially.

It seems ironic that Schofield attacks courses on how to write so strongly, given that 'The Guardian' probably runs more such courses than any other body at the moment.  In many ways they have become a kind of qualification that writers need to pass in order to move to the next stage.  If you look at winners of the Bridport Prize, an annual competition I have entered a couple of times, almost every single winner has taken a degree in creative writing.  Similarly many authors these days, such as those who get contracts from HarperCollins for appearing on Authonomy, have to have sold their e-book before the publisher considers taking them on.  Schofield has been spared these stages of advancing her career so feels free to disparage them.

Schofield seems to want to reduce the competition and increase the potential market for her book.  If she truly believes that '[i]t's a great deal more fulfilling to read and think about a fine book than to attempt to write one'.  If that is the case, then why did she even bother becoming an author?  It is good to read and of course the bulk of writers are also very active readers too, the two are very compatible, not exclusive as Schofield portrays them.  Overall, this article proves to be a rant from a woman who wants it all.  She is very fortunate to have had her novel published, but needs to realise that that privilege comes at a cost and she has now to support her book vigorously, no-one else is going to do it for her.  She clearly wants to pull up the ladder after her and encourage people not to enter into competition with her.  This is simply selfish.  Writing has always been a leading hobby in Britain, it is one, like cycling and running, which is now far more visible than ever before.  What Schofield needs to do is actually stop and look around her about how society works in the 2010s.  This is not 1973 or 1953.  None of us are surprised at what she has apparently only recently 'discovered' and it is of concern that an author of a contemporary set novel is so disconnected from society in the here and now.  What is sickening is how she tries to equate her position, privileged as it is, with the challenges facing ordinary working people.

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