This article first appeared on Adopt an Indie
Shakespeare never needed the big six
When I started to write this I came up with what I thought was rather a clever little pun. “In his time ‘Shakespeare was no great shakes’. Hang on, I thought, let me google that just in case it’s been used before, and yes of course it has. The point is that nowadays we have at our fingertips – literally, access to the accumulated writings of just about every poor sap who has ever put quill to vellum or speech-to-text or any other way of recording words. There are loads of writers out there – millions upon millions of them and a small proportion are successful enough to be familiar to most literate people. Shakespeare is the Zeus in this pantheon of literary gods, yet in his day he was regarded by the then intellectual establishment as a “Johannes Factotum”, “a Jack of all trades”, nothing but “a second-rate tinkerer with the work of others” (Wikipedia).
Despite being an outsider, good old Will just got on with it and using his own wit and talent he produced The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. You can’t get more successful than that.
Now of course it is much more complicated. For a start there are many many more people who can actually write. In the Bard’s time some estimates put the literacy rate as low as 20% out of a UK population of about 4,000,000. The population of the UK now is 62,000,000 and literacy rates are estimated at 99%. This means that the potential pool of writers in the UK was about 800,000 in 1600 and nearly 62,000,000 now. Add to that the rest of the English speaking world and you’ve got hundreds of times more potential literary geniuses lurking in the suburbs and skulking in alleys.
Not everybody wants to be writer, some weird people are content not to torture themselves in that way; but you can’t help it, if you’re a writer you must write; and if you write you want other people to read what you’ve written. The problem is getting published, particularly by one of the Big Six Publishers. You are competing with tens of thousands of other writers, just as dedicated and just as convinced that their work deserves recognition in the form of a nice little book deal and a fat advance as you are.
I do understand where the big publishers are coming from. I run a very small publishing company myself; it’s virtually invisible, even on Google, yet we get submissions a few times a week We usually do a skim read of the first and last chapters and sometimes read random passages from the body of the manuscript. Very rarely something interests us enough to hold our attention for more than a few minutes. The truth is that the only books we’ve actually published are either by myself or by people we know. I suspect, with rare exceptions, it’s the same for all publishers whatever their size. Of course we hope that we’ll be lucky enough for the next million seller to land in our inbox but we probably wouldn’t recognise it if did. How we react to a submission depends on a multitude of factors including the flap of the butterfly’s wings on Mount Fuji no doubt – it’s all subjective.
So, what’s a writer to do as the years tick by and there’s no sign of that big publishing deal? Until recently there wasn’t much choice except to chuck your masterpiece in the drawer under the bed with all the other detritus of your creative efforts, but things have changed; they really have. It’s time to grab a hold of that Shakespearean spirit and just get on with it yourself despite the rejection and disapproval. If you truly believe in your work then for less than the cost of a night at the theatre you can self-publish your tome and let your creatures loose. If you’re happy with the idea of publishing your work as an ebook and can use a word processor then you can do it for nothing.
What are you waiting for? The world is waiting for your genius.