This new blog series is for those occasions when a topic gets under my skin and I need to let off steam. I can’t promise a weekly outing for now, I still have two titles to complete. As the summer comes to a close, this series and perhaps a more light-hearted midweek series will be the main thrust.
Last time, I admitted I’m a Philistine who believes the story is more important than the packaging. I’ve grabbed a spare afternoon to explain what I meant.
If you have ever read any of my books you know I profess to be a mere storyteller. I don’t believe I can ever be termed a true ‘author’. I liken the experience I wish for my reader to the two of us sitting together over a drink as I tell them a tale. A convivial period spent among friends.
That got me in trouble with one reviewer on Amazon, who suggested I should cut down on the drinking. In fact, I never drink while writing, but he needed a cheap laugh, so why disappoint him?
I wonder how far back you can remember? Well, go back a lot further; to a time when the only method many people had to pass stories of myth & folklore down to their children and grandchildren was by spoken word. Of course, I accept there was scope for those stories to alter over the generations.
Take the legend of Canute, for instance; at school, I was taught he sat on his throne in The Wash and ordered the tide to turn. Sixty years on, historians now believe he wasn’t attempting anything of the sort. He was demonstrating to his courtiers that despite his power, some changes were inevitable, and resistance to an irresistible occurrence was futile. Not quite ‘Send three and four pence, we’re going to a dance’ – just a subtle difference of interpretation. *
Those early, spoken myths and legends were first written down by scholars at the beginning of what historians call the Common Era. The first thing to note is that these men were extraordinary. To read and write was denied to all but a very small percentage. It didn’t reach 10% of the population until the Middle Ages. That alone would make Shakespeare extraordinary. The figure hadn’t reached 15% until the 1850s. Today, only 15% of the world’s population are illiterate.
In the fifth century the Greeks began to use rudimentary punctuation. That’s where the problems began. When our forefathers sat at the knee of their elders and listened to their tales, the nuances of their voice gave the storytelling its colour and its magic. When tales were written down, those fifth century scholars added a further element. Did anyone stop to wonder whether the punctuation might cause more damage to the tale than its relaying by word of mouth? Or was it the privileged classes deciding what was best for the rabble? Has anything changed?
The first two thousand years of recorded literature was the domain of the rich and privileged; it was restricted to those that received an education. There was no literary world on the scale we know today. The early 18th century saw the Copyright Act and perhaps that could be a sign a literary world of sorts was taking shape. A very small, select world where publishers held supreme power over what the public read. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling had been formalised by the literati over time. Any writer who wished to see his work in print had to conform.
Fast-forward to the start of the 21st century, and the digital world offered a huge number of people the opportunity to self-publish. What an outcry that caused. The traditional publishers could be by-passed; men and women with an average education could get their stories in print. No longer did they have to bash their head against the impregnable wall of the large publishing houses.
So, what’s been the fastest growth area in the past fifteen years? Modern Romance, Horror, Sci-Fi? What about Mysteries & Thrillers? No, without doubt it’s been the number of consultants and experts who have sprung up offering to help the unsuspecting new writer; the ‘How To’ brigade.
Cover design, choosing a title, constructing a ‘blurb’ a copywriter would be proud of, editing your manuscript within an inch of its life… the list goes on. The costs are significant and there are no guarantees you will sell any more books when you’ve finished. There can’t be many indie writers around today who don’t realise that if they sell 100 copies of their first book they’ve been very fortunate. You can dream of best sellers, but the odds are stacked against you.
The only people making any real money are the ‘How To’ brigade. People buy lottery tickets every week, even though they know the odds against a big win are millions to one. With writers seeking the Holy Grail of a best seller the ‘How To’ brigade have easy pickings. Their market shows constant growth.
I asked at the outset – why do we call them consultants and experts? That’s obvious, they CON you into believing they have the key to your dream being fulfilled, and they EX-tort a huge sum of money for the privilege.
Can you go it alone? Yes, you can, and if you use one, or a combination of several of the apps on the market you can fix most of the problems without breaking the bank. After all, it’s the story that’s important, not the packaging.
I started too late to make a career out of writing, and I didn’t have the funds to finance the conformity to the packaging the experts said was vital. My writing days are almost over. The eighteen titles on offer after this summer for people to try might not be perfect, but I’m satisfied I did the best I could.
Will the consultants and experts continue to thrive? Of course, for a while, but I believe their days are numbered. Spring forward another fifteen years. What will happen when the ‘Snowflake’ generation begins to write? They will bring the language of the mobile phone, and the tweet to the pages of literature. Correct spelling will be optional. The Oxford Comma will be consigned to the dustbin, and an egregious disregard to grammar will be the norm.
As Canute would have said: – ‘Hey, that’s progress!”
Welcome to the Sunday Roast. I hope you enjoyed it. Back soon.
In case there’s someone reading this, who doesn’t know the reference. The original message to a line of soldiers on a parade ground was ‘Send reinforcements we’re going to advance’. They were asked to pass the message down the line. The quote above was what the last squaddie said he’d been told.