Sunday, 30 January 2011

Who Owns A Book?

Yesterday’s signing – and the conversation that followed in both staffroom and pub – has made me ask myself a question.

Who really owns a book?

It it's written by the Author, represented by the Agent, bought by the Publisher, polished by the Editor - and then Printed (one way or another), promoted by the Publicist, reviewed by the Bloggers, featured in the Press, sold by the Bookstore, bought by the Public and promoted all over again… breathe, dammit... whose is it, really? What if you add digital publishing and certain online retailers to this cycle and it becomes more complex still? (Or less, depending upon which side of the till you’re standing. Charlie Stross put this one better than I ever could).

And that's not forgetting the self-published authors; the cover artists, and blurb-writers, the fan-bases and bloody, bloody Facebook… everything folds in together and the list goes ever on.

Eventually, with fortune and planning, the whole thing comes full circle – and the Author comes in to talk to the Public. As a friend of mine used to say, 'Everybody wins'.

But does that answer the question?

The face of publishing is changing. We’ve glimpsed it in the darkness – where new hopefuls or talented artisan writers are treated like monkeys, given peanuts for selling soul and talent to organ-grinders who want only profit… and the backlash has been substantial. I'm sure we all remember a certain gentleman in Frey Flannel.

I’m always reassured that the moment one faction steps in and demands sole ownership, the fight rises to topple their monopoly.

Watching Joe talking about and reading from ‘The Heroes’ yesterday – watching the responses of and questions from his fans – has made me realise something. Not about fighting (though we talked about that too) but about the real owners of a book.

Who owns a book? The characters. That's where the passion is; if the cycles turns properly, then they live in the hearts of minds of everyone, Author to Public, all the way round. (It's when they don’t that it seems to go tits up). To coin a popular phrase – it's character driven, the whole damn thing.

And that's how it should be.

Witness: -

With thanks to Joe, his Heroes, Gollancz - and the team at FP Bristol.