Today we are proud to be reissuing Deborah Valentine’s Kevin Bryce series. Deborah, a contemporary author with a ‘touch of Margaret Millar’ (Sunday Telegraph), is a British author, editor and screenwriter, who at first didn’t even realise she was writing a crime novel until her agent pointed it out to her. Which is fortunate, because two titles in the series, A Collector of Photographs and Fine Distinctions, were later shortlisted for Edgar awards in the US.
Deborah has written a blog post for The Murder Room about the changes in publishing since the Kevin Bryce series first appeared – a fascinating and witty take on the revolution (for both readers and authors) that has taken place since she published her first novel – written in longhand!
As a reader, I love the digital revolution. I can carry a book with me on a phone app without adding bulk to my permanently overweight handbag. I am never caught short without something to read. Hurrah! Jane Austen, the Brontës and M. R. James accompany me at all times. How lovely.
But as an author, the profound changes in publishing didn’t hit me, not properly, until Orion decided to reissue the Kevin Bryce series under The Murder Room imprint. I was gleeful. There’s nothing a writer likes better than more opportunities to be read.
I did my usual celebratory rituals involving cigarettes, a glass of Rioja and one of my strange, hobbled jigs that annoys the cat and no doubt alarms the neighbours downstairs when they are, yet again, subjected to my graceless thumping.
Then, of course, I posted the news on Facebook – wait, hang on a minute. Facebook?
It was a ‘Road to Damascus’ epiphany. Suddenly I felt a peculiar kinship with the character of Mercedes in my latest book, The Knightmare, who for millennia has stood apart, watched the world evolve in unexpected ways; who must herself evolve to suit the times.
To illustrate my point, let’s skim the genesis of publishing in just my own lifetime (and I’m not dead yet! Hopefully I’ve a few more years, and books, to go). The Kevin Bryce series, my first, was written in longhand. Yes, pick yourself up off the floor. Longhand. It was rewritten on a typewriter, that now obsolete contraption of keys attached to stick-insect appendages that hit the paper through a band of ink, creating words on a page.
It was laborious, but not without merit. No ‘cut and paste’ forced you to retype, intimately review, everything, whether you thought it needed it or not. Discoveries were made, embarrassments averted. Computers were just making an appearance, and were seen either as an object of desire or as fearfully alien as UFOs. Would it improve the quality of writing or destroy the craft? It was the raging debate.
Research? It involved book-buying (at the shops, not Amazon) or inconvenient trips to the library. No Google. Relevant experts were not tracked down with ease.
Then you bound up those 300-plus pages and sent them by post (that’s where you shove something in an unwieldy envelope, wait in a queue, pay an outrageous sum of money on stamps and pray no bored employee loses it, or goes on strike, before it reaches its destination).
No email. No reading onscreen. It was all a bit like circumnavigating the globe in a longboat. Cutting a long (very long) story short: say your book was published. After months of solitary scribbling where social skills melted away like snowflakes on hot coals, you were thrown into the festival and book-signing arena for a short, exhilarating period where you desperately hoped you wouldn’t bugger it all up. Anxiety-ridden, but fun.
These days authors are expected to proactively assist the publishers. Have your own website, we’re advised, use social media. Blog, tweet, post, Instagram – the list grows daily. Is your profile on Author Central, LibraryThing, Shelfari? Make sure it is.
And that’s just for starters. You’re another hard-working cog in the mysterious promotional machine. Where once you held your breath hoping for reviews (even more hopefully, good ones!) in broadsheets or the regional press, now any reader can leave a review on their personal website or via Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes & Noble.
We dispense our news and opinions on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, et al. Vox populi can make an author’s career, because no longer do writers have to maniacally twiddle their thumbs waiting for an agent or publisher to decide to take a punt on their talent. They themselves can publish online, as an artistic business venture or simply for their own pleasure.
No longer ‘vanity’ publishing but ‘indie’, its growth now advances as a respected segment of professional book fairs worldwide. But such entrepreneurship has to struggle with the same things publishing has always had to struggle with – that is, getting a book noticed.
Internet savviness helps, but there’s so much ‘noise’ on the internet it’s easy to get lost. Although once you are noticed, you can cultivate relationships through a diversity of mediums – a great thing for both authors and readers.
Purveyors of doom and gloom are always sure radical innovations are going to bring down the fabric of society. Well, some might – and maybe that won’t be such a bad thing. But bring down publishing? I think not. Technology may move on apace, but there will always be a demand for traditional publishing; there will always be an appetite for stories.
Publishing is an industry full of imaginative people. The gatekeepers are rethinking their position, and now often find new authors, whole new markets (think of the ‘grandma lit’ phenomenon), online. Not at odds with indie, but working in tandem.
As an experiment, I published The Knightmare digitally. It’s totally different from the crime novels; it’s a mainstream time-travel fantasy. I lost half a head of hair coming to terms with the ins and outs of it, even though I’ve worked in publishing for many years.
It’s been time- and energy-consuming. I have gained an even healthier respect and stronger sympathy for the editorial, marketing and publicity departments of the big houses – they, too, are challenged in this new era, where the landscape is in a constant state of flux. It’s overwhelming. But it is also exciting – perhaps the most exciting time in storytelling where there are so many options, so many unknown frontiers.
And as for the reader? Well, what reader doesn’t relish finding a new author? Or devouring their favourite stories in any way they so choose? They also have never had so many options – or been more powerful.