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Publishing across the Generations

Along with many business models, the book publishing industry has seen a dramatic overhaul in recent years. With the introduction of laptops, tablets and mobile devices, the way we read and the methods in which we access our reading material has changed. And where once there were dozens of publishers and agents working to help new writers reach a traditional hardback and paperback audience, today there are a handful of major publishers whose businesses appear to be driven more by marketing than literary aspiration. So what is a new writer to do when their work doesn’t fit into the business model that requires a ready-made Instagram or YouTube following to get them a book deal?
Self-publishing is one option. It has become very sophisticated over recent years and there are many companies offering routes to becoming a published author. But it can be a lonely and often depressing experience for those that have spent years working alone with a keyboard. And that can be daunting.
Bridport based Siobhan Harrison is one of many local writers who have experienced the knockbacks from publishers who ‘don’t want to take a chance’ on a new author. So, with encouragement from those who had read it, she decided to self-publish her first novel Carnaval under the pen name S A Finlay and followed that by producing an audiobook for the title.
It was a huge learning curve. However, having learnt the basics of the publishing industry from first principles, type-setting, design, ISBNS, formatting print and ebooks, commissioning and producing an audiobook and making all her errors publishing her own novel, she decided she didn’t want the whole process to be just a vanity project. So she then put all that experience into publishing a second novel by another local writer Bardy Thomas. She followed that by commissioning and publishing her first Anthology If This Then That and followed it up with her first non-fiction book by locally based photographer and writer Robert Golden. At which point she decided to join the Independent Publishers Guild.
Siobhan brings more than a writer’s creativity to her business. She named her company WriteSideLeft because she is irritated by the ‘compartmentalisation’ of thinking and lifestyle associated with whether someone is ‘in the “creative world” or not’. Her day job uses a financial qualification whilst her publishing and writing are creative. ‘In real life, you need to use all of them to operate’ she says.
WriteSideLeft explores a theme of intergenerational issues, and she is determined to mix the age range, especially in her anthologies. ‘I really love the idea of introducing new young writers’ she says. ‘Their writing is raw. I don’t interfere with that. You get the odd young writer hitting the big time, but I think it’s tougher for them to know which—always online alleyway—to turn down. Their experiences, thoughts and interactions are Insta- fragmented—disorientated.’
Siobhan’s authors range from a remarkably talented seventeen-year-old student from The Sir John Colfox School to seasoned writers with a wealth of life experience. ‘I like the idea of a conversation between the older generation and the younger generation’ she says, ‘#baby boomers versus (and with) #snowflakes—in fact, that’s what literature is—a conversation down the ages.’
This year Siobhan is working on two anthologies: one on the theme of Asylum and the other on the theme of Christmas. ‘I am looking for stories and poetry on the theme of “asylum”’ in terms of human connectedness’ she says ‘whether that’s on the private stage—tucked up with your smartphone or a cup of coffee—or at large, publicly or politically. Asylum actually means “inviolable”. I’d like a mad bad and dangerous to read Brexit one—we must all have stories to spin about that. I like irony and dark humour and satire. That’s my thing.’ Her interest in satire and comedy she says is because ‘it’s the only response when you have a bunch of cartoon characters running America, the UK, Russia etc. So what is the response to that for our time?’
Although writing a cyberpunk novel herself at the moment, she thinks there is a lot of ‘better talent than me’ out there. ‘I don’t have any vanity or ego when it comes to me and writing. Which makes me a solid editor or gatepost—I’m just a gatepost. My original aim was two books a year, and if I consider anything I write to be good enough I’ll do that as well.’
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