There’s a wee bittie o’ a stooshie gaun down in Gallowa’. That’s nothing unusual. But it’s beginning to get some attention. A petition has been launched. And that’s great, right? Maybe’s aye, mebbe’s naw. Let’s interrogate this a bit.
There’s this book called The Lowland Clearances. It was published by a wee publisher in 2003. The authors sold their rights (uh, oh, mistake number one). Wee publisher was then bought out by Birlinn (supposedly wee publisher but ‘indie’ is a very flexible word in publishing folks) who are now sitting on the rights. Authors want it reprinted. At least 200 people say they will buy a copy. Some of the great and the good are jumping on board to support the petition. Hurray, striking a blow for the Galloway Levellers nearly 300 years on.
Forgive me for suggesting this is Wrong Headed Thinking. Instead of lobbying Birlinn to reprint, the authors should be fighting to get their rights back so that they can publish themselves.
Why are they not doing this? Because in order to sell their books they still believe that only by getting a ‘reputable’ (that means capitalist) publisher to promote their book will it sell. (And that may indeed be true. If so, shame on us) They do want readers after all. And how do we get readers? We pay for it. It’s called marketing (hype) And who can afford that? Capitalist publishers. BUT they will only spend on the books they see as worth the money. And they decide that The Lowland Clearances isn’t one of those books.
The petitioners response is to shout loud and tell them there IS a market. People DO want this book. But even if they get 1000 people it doesn’t make it worth Birlinn’s while financially. Of course, getting support from the establishment will help – and there’s always the embarrassment factor if enough of a stooshie is raised about it - but can I suggest that now the petitioners are just doing the publishers marketing for them – and that even if successful, The Galloway Levellers will be a ‘token’ but not a spearhead. It’s a shame. While everyone is shouting loud for the ‘history’ book, spare a thought for another Galloway writer, S.R.Crockett. His fictional tale ‘The Dark o’ the Moon’ also features the Galloway Levellers.
Is it wrong of me to mention this? Am I treading on the toes of ‘serious’ history with ‘frivolous’ fiction. I beg to differ. I think both books are victims of the same system. And I don’t think that going cap in hand (even if you think you are ‘demanding’) to the capitalist publishers, will be a truly radical gesture. It may well get that one book reprinted, but what does it achieve for other books in the same situation?
My worry is that if the New Galloway Levellers/Petitioners achieve their goal they’ll go back to accepting the same old system. But why not use this as the start of a true revolution – readers demand the right to choice!
If the authors want their work published (and are willing to take their chances on how much/little they’ll get in return) and there are readers out there wanting to read it, why is a book out of print? We need to wake up to the fact that it’s all about the money. It’s not about the quality of the work or about the number of people who want (or would want if they knew) to read a book. It’s about the marketplace dominating. They tell us what we want, what we can have and they blanket bomb the marketplace because they have all the money. That’s capitalism folks.
But could we, just for one moment, consider that there are other publishing models. All publishing needs promotion. Traditionally the way this is done is through ‘market spend.’ But if readers really got revolutionary they could change the way things are done.
I’m beginning to think I understand how Marx felt. The conditions are all there, ready for a revolution. It’s perfectly possible to publish books cheaply. It’s perfectly possible for people to promote books cheaply – but you need a mass of people selflessly using social media to do it. But can we get the peasants to revolt? Not likely. They are all too busy waiting to be told what the next ‘award winning’ ‘bestselling’ ‘must read’ book is. And until we all stop being spoon fed our reading choices, nothing will change.
I know a ‘wee’ publisher who has published over 50 books in the past 3 years. They do not operate a capitalist model. They do not have a marketing budget. They rely on their own efforts and support from ‘readers.’ And guess what. It isn’t enough. Not to keep them in the capitalist model. But guess what? The books are still there, available. The guerrilla tactic is to offer choice. It’s choice, properly managed, that will set us free from our dependence on capitalist choice-makers.
The problem for the non-capitalist publisher is that they can’t afford to find those readers who might like but have never heard of their books - and the readers who DO like the books aren’t active enough in promoting them to other like-minded people. Just like Marx’s proletariat, people just want to read a book, they don’t want to think about what it means to be able to read a book – what real choice actually means.
I can’t support the petition because I’m not going to sign up to perpetuate a corrupt system. Not that it matters. My wee voice is completely insignificant anyway. My opinion doesn’t matter. But I ask you is Sir Tom Devine’s opinion more valid than mine? (I do understand epistemic authority of course, and I’m not suggesting I know more about Scottish history than him.) What concerns me is that in order to get anyone to listen, the ‘big guns’ must be brought out, or bought out. Can we assume that if David Tennant said his favourite book was ‘The Dark o’ the Moon,’ I would see a flurry of sales? Can we do nothing without celebrity or establishment endorsement?
Isn’t that part of the whole problem? That we allow those in positions of power and authority to dictate what we read, and we have to rely on them to ‘support’ us or nothing will get done. And if they damn us – like MacDiarmid damned Crockett – then generations of people are denied the opportunity to read something they might really like.
The irony is that Crockett (alone among ‘bestselling’ Scots authors of the 19th century,) was a rural working class writer, writing about Scotland from that perspective. McDiarmid was of the urban intelligentsia and since he didn’t want to privilege the rural working class he concocted some nonsense about ‘kailyard’ and everyone followed his lead. The consequences are still felt today. But what if McDiarmid was wrong? What if he was talking rubbish about Crockett? What if he a) never read more than a couple of Crockett’s works and b) didn’t have the epistemic authority to say whether it was ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ What, shock horror, if he had an agenda, political or otherwise, for denigrating Crockett? (Note I’m saying nothing about McD’s poetic skill and only slightly questioning his political probity). I’m just saying.
The truth is S.R.Crockett is Galloway’s greatest advocate. He is the best Scottish advocate for the rural working class (and yes, I’m counting Lewis Grassic Gibbon in this equation too) and yet he has been virtually air-brushed from our culture. Sort of like what’s happened and is happening to The Galloway Levellers in reality and in print.
Is that not enough to wake people up and see the bigger picture? For a true reader choice revolution to occur we need to get active and challenge the system in a coherent and committed way. We need to think a lot more about what gets published and why, and what we’d like to read and why… we need to get active not remain passive. We don’t need to rely on recommendations from the establishment/capitalist media, we need to build underground networks and share and shout and support each other.
There you are, I’ve just done some marketing for you too. I’ve shouted about The Lowland Clearances. I’m happy to do so. Not just for the books’ sake but for the sake of history. But I’m shouting every day about all kinds of books and all kinds of writers who deserve to be read. I am all too often a lone voice, shouting in the wilderness. It’s just Rab off on a rant. What does he know about culture anyway?
Still, I’d like to invite others to come join the cause. No petition, just action!
In Book Week Scotland 2015, why not turn away (just for a moment)from all the books they’re telling you are ‘great’ and try and find some other books that you might enjoy just as much. Books that are not the darlings of capitalism. There are plenty out there.
In less than a month the works of James Leatham will go into the public domain. He’s nothing like Crockett but he’s also been air-brushed from Scottish cultural history because he wasn’t mainstream enough. My work for the revolution (apart from my contemporary rants on McRenegades – trying to get folk to realise there’s choice beyond the ‘bestsellers’ or Amazon listings for contemporary Scottish writers) is about to come to fruition. From 14th December you’ll start being able to read Leatham’s writing again. The first edition of The New Gateway goes live on December 14th. I hope to see you there.
Join the revolution. You have nothing to lose but your reliance on the bestsellers listings in your capitalist media outlets. That’s the problem now isn’t it – we’re all capitalists now, even the socialists. Believe me, there’s plenty you can learn about that from both James Leatham and S.R.Crockett.
Here’s some links for books which will not be making a bestsellers listing near you any time soon!
The Dark o’ the Moon. https://www.gallowayraiders.co.uk/the-dark-o-the-moon.html
Buy the book paperback https://www.gallowayraiders.co.uk/store/p19/The_Dark_o%27_the_Moon.html
Buy the book ebook https://www.gallowayraiders.co.uk/store/p20/The_Dark_o%27_The_Moon_.html
And if that’s not your taste there’s plenty more books from Crockett on Galloway to read. Why not strike a real blow for the revolution and order THE COMPLETE GALLOWAY COLLECTION (32) volumes.
Or if you need to be convinced before you buy (and why wouldn’t you?!) you can join The Galloway Raiders for free, learn a lot more, plenty of free reading and discounts for Raiders members. www.gallowayraiders.co.uk
You’ll have to wait till the New Year for James Leatham but if you want to find out more about him check it out here www.thedeveronpress.scot
And next year also, a new online non-capitalist model bookstore is opening. It’s called ‘unco’ books. Make it your new year resolution to give it a visit! www.unco.scot
While you’re waiting, why not check out the plethora of short fiction from McStorytellers www.mcstorytellers.com where choice is king and no one’s in it for the money, just the story. There are regular new short stories and a new McSerial starts on 1st December. All free!