Once upon a time, if you wanted to be a writer (though I guess you could substitute that with whatever discipline you're in), you had two choices if you wanted to move forwards:
A) Write a book, find an agent to represent you, get published - or not, as the case may be I guess or
B) Write a book, go through the stages of A) and upon entering 'or not, as the case may be', finance the printing of the book yourself, print hundreds or thousands of copies and sell them yourself.
(There may also be a C) which is 'give up', but that spoils the flow of what's coming).
Not much has changed in this scenario apart from B) in which you no longer have to print thousands of books and have them sitting in your garage until your heart finally breaks and slowly but surely, you whittle down the pile of books nobody wants by dropping them into those magazine recycling banks you find littering bus lay-bys and supermarket car parks all around the country. Now, you can simply host it as a digital product that's not harming anybody... but the fact remains, you still have to sell them yourself.
And you know what? Nobody cares. Nobody cares about your damn book - after a while, even you will cease to care about your damn book. When you've made £17 from the kindle store in six months, what will you think then? Was the book that bad?
Not necessarily but what's happening out there in writing land is people who want to be writers are dodging the gatekeepers (agents) and simply saying I Am A Writer. I looked long and hard yesterday and it's like a Digital Calais out there. There are thousands of people all hoping to make it to the promised land... only there is no promised land because the sheer weight of people trying to make it has diluted the pool beyond recognition for anybody to make sense of it.
I'm just making observations here but the same is true of being in a band or making an indie movie. Nobody cares about your damn stuff because there's some more damn stuff around the corner that might be better or cheaper... or free even. On the surface, this all seems great for the consumer (presumably the kind of consumer that thinks bacon from a supermarket that's £1 a pack is as good as bacon that costs £6) but the worst part of the not caring, is that not even the authors of these items care about the damage being done to each of their industries.
And maybe that's fine. Maybe those people are happy to write a book and have it for sale on the kindle and for their parents and neighbours to be proud of them, but it doesn't help a serious author who is going about writing as a long term career.
I'm very quickly coming around to seeing that the majority of great writers, those with a career in front of them rather than behind them are still running with plan A). A lot of shit is fired at the big publishers but that's only because they're an easy target. In a world in which your entire industry is based on taking chances that your investment in a writer will pay off and book shops are disappearing far too quickly, that can't be easy.
But let's spare a thought for the smaller publisher here? The underdog of the publishing world is out there fighting the same battle... but as I discovered from a friend yesterday, they can be a little lax with coming up with the actual cash promised. Maybe you didn't sell enough books for them to pay you... was that made clear at the start? In this real world scenario, my friend is owed £2000 from a small publisher and has been waiting two years for it. It's hardly a lot of money in the big scheme of things but when it's your job and you're waiting on it to eat, keep your house and all of those other things that you could easily pay off if you were (for instance) working in a cafe, it makes it into not a very funny joke.
He is not alone. I know big name authors who have come across the same thing too - but then again, I also know of people with deals who have not delivered on their deadline. This too breaks the workings of The Big Machine.
So basically, being a writer is hard work. Selling books is even harder. Being a publisher is hard. Being an agent is hard.
I'm going to stop looking at The Machines now and simply write the best material I can but for all my independence of trying to look after myself, I can't help but feel I'd like to be under the wing of somebody like Penguin or Harper Collins... even if it was only for a little while.