Monday, 22 March 2010

Oi! Publishers! Get a ****ing move on!!

Some time in the next three or four weeks the US paperback edition of what they call No Survivors (or The Survivor as it was titled in the UK) will finally be published, a mere three years after I started writing the damn thing and 27 months after I delivered it. In the middle of August, the UK paperback of Assassin will appear, almost 18 months after its delivery, and at roughly the same time as the first hardback editions hit bookshops in Germany and Canada.
Now, I don't wish to prejudice my relationships with any individual publishers, because there is no suggestion that mine have been any more dilatory or careless than anyone else's. My schedules are everyone's schedules. So the following question is addressed to the publishing industry as a whole, to wit: am I the only person in our business who thinks that these delays are, to put it mildly, f*cking ridiculous?
I can't speak for other thriller-writers, but I put a lot of effort into coming up with ideas that feel contemporary and if possible slightly ahead of the game. There are elements in Assassin, for example, that were quite original when I first conceived them, but have now passed into the realm of the everyday. That may, in some sense, be a good thing: readers won't have a hard time believing things they now know to be possible. But I have the lifelong journalist's love of speed: I want to get the story out as fast and as fresh as possible. I hate seeing my words decaying over time like piping hot gravy congealing into unpalatable fat.
What frustrates me even more is that these antiquated schedules, essentially determined, so far as I can see by the available slots on supermarket and bookstore-chain shelves make no sense at all in an age of instant digital publishing. Very soon I will have on my computer the final, copy-edited, proof-read manuscript for my next book, Dictator. There is no technical reason why I could not put it online a minute later. Now, I'm not in the business of making my work available for nothing, any more than Tesco, Ford or your friendly local plumber are. But the point remains: there is no need for delay.
What's more, there's a fantastic opportunity here. Publishers and authors alike spend a lot of time fretting about the impact of the internet and digital technology, but less time embracing the ways in which it could revolutionize our trade, and art for the better. I'd love to be able to write books the way that Dickens and Conan Doyle did, in serial form. I don't know what the deadlines were for 19th century magazines, but I'd hazard they worked on lead-times of days, rather than months. So Dickens was able to respond to current events and affect debate by being absolutely of his moment. How ridiculous that we have gone so far backwards since then.
But what fun it would be to use modern technology to recover the immediacy and relevance that our distant predecessors took for granted and make fiction a vital, contemporary, spontaneous part of our culture once again!


  1. This is something I've thought more and more about over the past couple of years. I can produce proof read, well subbed copy (dutifully done by somebody else - a professional member of the SfEP), properly laid out, set and paginated for publishing on my iBook. I can eMail the result, or post it on a flash-drive or CD. All it needs is for the thing to be loaded into the machine and somebody to press a button: a matter of seconds. How come, then, that it takes more or less the same lead time that it would have had it been set by hand on formes using metal type?

    David Rosser-Owen

  2. The only hitch in progress seems to always be human. Technology is there waiting for us to use it, but old-school minds slow it all down. Too much focus is on resisting new technologies and systems. Sigh. You would the digital age we live in would make most things instantaneous. Good for you for speaking up!