Ray Connolly ... writer turned editor-in-chief and head of marketing.
Photographer: Leigh Quinnell
You won't hear it said in many publishing houses these days, where those editors and managements who have survived the 10% cull in their numbers following the credit crunch now appear frozen in the headlights of the onrushing digital revolution. But from the point of view of authors, these are potentially exciting times.
Because, although advances have been slashed, and literary agents are wringing their hands at the difficulties in finding publishers for all but the most guaranteed fiction, change is on the way. With Apple's iPad recently joining Amazon's Kindle and the Sony Reader as devices for reading downloaded books, power in publishing might just be shifting in the authors' favour.
For as long as anyone has been writing books, authors' careers have rested on the judgments or whims of publishers. Would the novel that took so many months, or even years, to write be read, let alone chosen, by editors? Who could tell? Who knew what publishers were looking for?
This was bad enough when editorial departments had the authority to buy manuscripts themselves. But then came the endless rise of marketing departments, and soon novels were increasingly being selected according to which genre they fitted.
That situation largely continues, but with the news that Amazon now sells almost twice as many digital books as hardbacks in the US, it's clear that publishing is changing. And if publishers can sell their books online, why can't writers?
Actually, they can. It isn't difficult. Anyone who is computer savvy can become a publisher these days. I know, because I've just become one.
I'm now Ray Connolly, writer, editor-in-chief and head of marketing of Plumray Books, and any one of the 2 billion computer-owning people in the world who wants to read my new novel, The Sandman, can do so at the click of a mouse. It's being serialised chapter by chapter on my website where, over the next 10 weeks, it will build like a part-work. In the words of a friend, I'm "doing a Dickens".
What's more, it's free – although should any readers want to find out how the The Sandman ends before October, and hopefully quite a few will, they can download the entire book for less than the cost of a paperback. After that it will go on to Amazon.
With one digital bound, I've become an entrepreneur. There'll be an iPod version later, for those who want to listen to it being read, and of course there will be Facebook and Twitter links. Having begun this new career as an ePublisher, I feel empowered. As a one man band, I have nothing to lose.
Apart from the time spent writing The Sandman, the other costs have been relatively small. And for the first time in my writing career – and I've written movies, TV series, radio plays, short stories and several novels – I'm in total control. It's an experiment, obviously, but I'm enjoying it. And, as it happens, the subject of the novel might be prescient.
When I was writing The Sandman, a thriller that links rock music with cults, and involves a television reporter who investigates a series of deaths she suspects may have occurred because of grooming on social internet sites, I thought it might be slightly ahead of its time. I was wrong. With the furore over the recent events on Facebook, it's absolutely topical.
And now I'm going to market it, using exactly the same tools that are central to the story – namely those of the computer and social online sites. In other words, a novel about manipulation through the web is being made available for readers in serial form . . . through the web.
Obviously I'm the tiniest drop in the largest ocean, but how long will it be before there are more authors like Ian McEwan, who has already done an exclusive deal with Amazon doubling his royalties for eBook versions of his back catalogue? Not long. Other writers are already inquiring about the possibilities of putting their out-of-print books on their websites.
It has often been said that, with the squeeze in publishing and the closing of so many bookshops, this is a terrible time to be an author. Well, maybe not. Perhaps the Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen and other rock acts, who reputedly made their first records privately, even in their bedrooms, are showing the way forward for writers.
Undoubtedly it will be difficult at first for most authors to be noticed in the dense forests of online information; it's not exactly like having a stack of books in a high street shop window. But writers are creative people. My bet is they'll find ways of publicising their wares not yet dreamed about.
As for me, whether anyone will be interested in reading The Sandman I'm about to find out.
© Ray Connolly 2010