FINDING NEW VOICES
DEFINING NEW GENRES
I was thinking about Monica Bellucci today. Not that I do this constantly you understand – at least no more than once a day anyway. Maybe a couple of times. And despite what you might think (I’m not always that predictable honest) I was thinking about Ms Bellucci because I can’t believe the fuss that is being made about her new role in a Bond film. The oldest Bond girl ever!! Shock!!! My god, a 47 year old Bond is going to no doubt snog someone who isn’t half his age, what is the world coming to!!
Now putting aside the fact that there are probably quite a few of us who’d like to snog Monica Bellucci (okay, I am that predictable), I think this does have some bearing on what I do, as frankly the constant, rather shallow obsession with there being no value in what you know unless it is presented as something ‘new’ gets on my wick a little bit. The coverage has almost been desperate to imply that this role is a comeback, a career renaissance, ‘groundbreaking’ – but isn’t it actually just a very smart director employing a very talented and experienced performer for the right role?
Before you suggest I should just reach for my pipe, slippers and calming mug of bromide, let me waffle a little. Did you know that Raymond Chandler didn’t actually start writing his incredible detective stories until he was 44? I’m already a year older than that, and while I haven’t started writing detective stories, I am very much in the early days of making Urbane a publishing powerhouse . What’s more I’m being ably supported by a number of collaborators who despite their ‘elder’ status, are proving their creativity is flowering more brightly than ever before. This week alone I’ve worked with Steven Berkoff on his debut novel; John Simmons, a force of creative nature who seems unable to do anything other than compose ever more beautiful prose; and Christopher Lowery, who at 73 is not only enjoying great sales of his debut novel but is about to have his first album produced! I don’t look at these authors and feel I have to compose some glib promotion around oldies ‘cutting it’ creatively, or being given a chance to shine despite their age. Rather I simply think about the impact and inspirational nature of what they do and write, and the fact that others want to read their words as well (and are willing to pay to do so!). Just as I don’t lament the fact that Monica Bellucci is no longer 20. Far from it. The only thing I lament is being far from it. Her I mean. Ahem. I’ll move on. Swiftly.
So what’s the relevance of this, other than a pathetic ploy to mention Monica Bellucci? Perhaps that we should learn to focus on and have faith in quality. In publishing there is often talk of finding the next trend, or a groundbreaking new way of ‘delivery’ that will save our industry, while simultaneously obsessing over the fact that our trusted 500 year old model is busted, destroyed by pesky, heartless, unforgiving new technology and platforms, a digital age that has destroyed quality, where publishers are held to ransom by those that control technology, data and channels to market. How will we survive and thrive? Will it be a subscription model? Will everyone read on their phones, destroying print forever? Can I only reach customers through Amazon-fucking-Prime? We often bemoan this stuff, but we also look to it constantly as being the answer to the future of publishing. Weird. The fear is that there’ll be no future for a publisher unless it’s willing to give heart and soul to channels such as Amazon, put its publishing efforts into a huge digital slush pile, or buy its way into an ever-diminishing shop window.
But it’s all bloody nonsense of course. The answer isn’t to throw out what we know for the sake of change, because what has always and will always drive successful publishing is great authors and quality writing. It’s about blending the best of what we know with the advantages that progress offers us. As you know I get very cross when people write articles about print making a comeback, as if it is a quaint old tradition that is being revived like a cult band from the 80s. I also get rather peeved at suggestions there is no place for a collaborative publisher-author relationship if a publishing company wants to drive commercial success. I publish print books because I have readers who want print books. I also publish ebooks, because there are readers who want to access words digitally. It’s not difficult. And I run a business where the author lies very much at the heart of the business because frankly there wouldn’t be a business without them. I mentioned business a lot there; an editor would have the red pen out.
So what am I going on about? Ah yes, that the future of Urbane (and, fingers crossed, its success) won’t be driven by worrying that the best days of publishing are behind us, or that everything we knew is now redundant and that the only way forward is to template processes, slash costs, reduce promotional opportunities, treat authors like a production line and rely on limited avenues to customers. It won’t be a strategy tied to change for change’s sake, and it won’t rely on me trying to reinvent the wheel. Its future is fuelled by taking the best of what we know and making it better, and cherry-picking innovation to drive opportunity. I’m going to stick with what I believe in, and ally that with the innovations that benefit Urbane, my authors and our readers.
John Simmons wrote two wonderful words this week – only persist. And I think this is so important for anyone who aspires to write, to create, to succeed, and for anyone like me who wants to create a thriving, exciting, successful and profitable publishing business. I’m going to persist in collaboration, care, putting authors and content first, and continue putting my faith in the readers who ultimately decide the success of publishers – not the processes, platforms and channels to reach them. For me it’s about quality, it’s about skill and knowledge, it’s about trusting authors to deliver the right words and readers to recognise quality. Print, digital, young new voice, experienced author, website or bookshop, it’s simply all part of the wonderful opportunity offered by this fantastic calling.
F.Scott Fitzgerald said there were no second acts in (American) lives. Maybe he was right, because I think we continually shape, hone and enjoy one act, and frankly I’ve barely started it. Perhaps we worry so much about the second act we forget we’re still in the first. The players are only just making it to the stage and the audience is ultimately going to decide whether they like our play. Now all I need to do is persuade Monica Bellucci to write a book……