Collaborate or die - plugging the publishing skills gap.

In my day job, the one that pays the bills and keeps a roof over my head, I work for a company that builds hospitals. Would that it were something more creative, but hey ho.

Anyway, in my day job I get to meet lots of very industrious lawyers, consultants, engineers, architects, pharmaceutical people, equipment people, financiers etc... you get the picture. Last night I went to a conference at Pinsent Masons, one of the top legal companies in the Healthcare field. The topic was "The Importance of Collaboration in the International Healthcare Market". There was a Question Time style panel and the discussion was lively and interesting. When I got home my mind turned to the subject of collaboration and how the publishing industry has evolved from that of a truly collaborative process, with writers, agents, publishers, editors and marketing all working together for mutual benefit, to that of an Amazon-inspired, isolationist policy, where writers, to a large extent, are disconnected from industry knowledge and help.

Put it this way: once upon a time, if your novel was good enough, an agent would take you on and bring on board a publisher. With them came an editor and marketing expertise. You'd still have to be available for readings, but you knew you had a team beneath you, supporting you. One you didn't pay for up front. One that worked hard on your behalf because they believed in you, and hoped to get rich off you. It was a win-win for all but those who fell by the wayside. Thus, most books published were, at least, well edited and a great many were, in some people's eyes, worth reading. It was a collaborative process.

At the conference I went to on collaboration, the panel were keen to point out the need for focusing on your area of expertise and finding others to collaborate with who have the missing pieces of the puzzle. Only in that way can you plug the skills gap. Working collaboratively enables you to take advantage of different ways of thinking and working.

With the digital era and Amazon's open door policy to publishing, no one needs to have an agent, a publisher, an editor or a marketing team. All they need is a computer and an internet connection. Hey presto! You're a writer. Members of online forums for writers discuss endlessly the need to 'do it all' and 'be a good marketing person' and to 'build your platform'. The only problem is, unless you're already fairly well off and can afford to pay others to do these things for you (and most can't), then you're left doing it all yourself. See what's wrong with this? Whilst industry in all its guises acts in a collaborative way to plug skill gaps and deliver a professional, joined-up solution, writers seduced by the lure of 'one-stop-shop' digital publishing find themselves out in the cold.

I for one would rather focus on my writing, than struggle with the correct format for uploading to Amazon, or copy editing, or the vagaries of marketing etc...There are people out there who have made whole industries out of covering those aspects for authors, and if you follow the tried and tested process, by submitting to an agent, who sets the collaborative ball in motion, then you don't have to pay for anything up front. Of course, you have to be good enough.... and thereby hangs another problem. Lots of self-published authors are great. Don't get me wrong, but lots, in the past, would have been rejected by trade publishers and really, should never go into print at all.

So there it is. I don't think we do without the traditional, collaborative route. Savvy writers are starting to turn their backs on the likes of the Amazon self-publishing bubble. They're starting to submit, once more, to literary agents so they can take advantage of the support mechanism that comes with the deal. Bookshops are full of books. Good, bad or indifferent. One thing is true, most bookshops worth their salt sell books that are well edited, well regarded and worth reading, even if not your particular taste. Most self-published books on Amazon will never make it to the bookshop shelf. Some will, but most won't... and you can argue until you're blue in the face, but if it isn't a professionally delivered product, created through a collaborative process, then it probably won't make volume sales. Call it Art, with a capital A, and be done with it.

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