The censorship of Invisibility

This is an open letter to delegates at the Edinburgh World Writers Conference – and a wider public who may be interested in the issues raised.

Edinburgh World Writers Conference Censorship Debate. 

I have listened with interest to the first two days of the Conference. Several of the delegates have mentioned the role of the market and it would seem that the Censorship debate is the place to raise the issue of the censorship of the market.

Many writers are currently censored by the market where, as several of your delegates have pointed out, a quantitative version of success is promoted.  While there has been a bit of coy dancing round the subject of digital publishing and ebooks – some vague references to ‘the internet’ in relation to publishing – only one of your delegates has addressed the topic and this in the loaded term of a ‘class struggle.’  This invective is both immature and unhelpful. We resist, reject and ridicule this attitude.

We do not consider it appropriate to engage in the  epublishing debate using references to ‘the cultural elite’, or as we have been dismissed  by this delegate ‘the digital masses.’ We are not the Babylonian hordes he would have you believe. We are not coming to eat your babies.

We are, in most respects, writers just like you – with established ‘professional’ track records, winners of awards and with mainstream publishing credits – who have chosen to seek to develop a less market mediated approach to publishing our work.  We are all subject to (victims of?) market forces but we would rather that the reader has the power in this regard. To that end we strive for unmediated visibility and to develop a readership who can make personal informed choices about what they want to read and how they want to read it.

We no more threaten or challenge the ‘establishment’ than the Paralympics do the Olympics. As Ali Smith pointed out, it’s a big world and there’s room for all of us.

We are not whining or complaining about our position. We are not at war with anyone. We simply resist the current marketing model. We have a common goal with you : communicative interaction with readers.

We believe the censorship imposed by the market is ‘visibility.’ We are happy to note that the Conference adopts the mature recognition that ‘talent will out’ and ‘success is quantitative’ are myths delivered by a profit driven market model.  We hope that despite being in many cases locked into this censoring market, your delegates will be able to look to the wider world and realise that the new ‘indie’ writers as publishers do not have any argument with them, and are not either at war or in competition with them. Many of those now ‘indie’ publishing have been where you are now.  Many of you may be where we are now in the future. We are all writers. We all seek to find readers for our work.  The emergence of epublishing does not mean that any or all of us are turkeys voting for Christmas if we engage with it.

We have set up our own parallel festival (a virtual online ebook festival ) to run concurrently with the International Book Festival. This has been achieved in 8 weeks with zero budget and in the first week has received  6,500 views employing only grass roots promotion (which suggests there is clearly something of a market for independent writers). Our festival offers over 100 featured ‘events’ and showcases the work of nearly 50 writers.  We offer short stories, poetry, writers polemic, focus pieces, and commentary and discussion of issues related to publishing .  We aim to inform and entertain in equal measure. We hope to redress the mistaken belief that all self/indie publishing is low quality rubbish through the work that we showcase.  Included amongst authors at our festival are Bafta nominated writers, winners of established writing awards, several writers with over 40 mainstream and traditionally published titles, and many with professional track records over 20 years. One of our featured authors has been in publishing for 50 years this month. We also welcome emerging writers who are finding readers through their own hard work using social media.

Why have these writers chosen to engage in an independent model of digital publishing? There are many reasons.  Bringing back out of print work is one of them.  Publishing non mass market writing that does not fit comfortably into market fashionable genres is another.  But the primary motive of the indie writers we showcase is the desire to connect with readers, to throw off the cloak of invisibility which is the censorship of the market. To open the debate.

We are not demanding to be heard. But we respectfully ask you to acknowledge that far from being a battle between the ‘masses’ and the ‘elite’, the role of many independent writers as publishers in our current publishing revolution is that of opening the market and working against the censorship of ‘invisibility.’

These writers are not your adversaries.  We hope, like us, you will see beyond the myth of competition between writers and open yourselves to the possibilities of new co-operative methods of engaging with the reader.  Mostly, we hope that you, like us, will acknowledge that if writers are subject to a market driven economy, those with the power in that economy should be an informed readership not the profit driven publishing conglomerates.

Cally Phillips  Festival Director of the Edinburgh eBook Festival

and Editor of Indie eBook Review.