I’ve never fallen in love with docile and nice girls. There was a groupie from my musician days that was called the Witch who did the nasty in her best friend’s bed despite the fact her best friend had been trying to sleep with me for a couple of months, dutifully following our patchy rap collective around the south of England as we searched for stardom. Then there was the Princess, who funded a drug-fuelled hotel binge with me on the credit card a sugar daddy had given her because he had refused to by her a Mercedes and left her in a VW Polo. Then there’s my wife, who has managed to out-nasty them all, her worst quality is a unceasing desire for me to adopt reasonable goals, living habits and open communication methods. She’s such a b*tch.
Anyway, at London Book Fair in 2018, I feel like a man about to throw himself off the top of a tall building with no ropes, no parachute and no trampoline. I am dizzy. I am restless as a hungry bunny rabbit. I know these symptoms as I have dealt with them all before. These are the symptoms that confirm I am ready for a life change. I’ve had them before turning down fantastic job offers and then quitting, before every break up and before every time I’ve ever said ‘I love you’. Today is one of those days. I can feel it.
I am Jonny Virgo and, in my infinite egotism, I came here today with an idea that would reinvent publishing and save all these people’s jobs, which I am SURE are under threat. With my mind synched to a playlist of inspirational music, hand-picked for such active disruption, I walk into the buzzing amphitheatre of literary commerce, cocksure and ready to f@ck up the cordial atmosphere with my super pitch:
JV: Do you want me to save your company?
Publishing Maven: From what? I don’t need you to do anything.
JV: (shaking my head) Let me show you how to save your industry.
This has not gone well. The first few people I met humoured me and looked at me as if I was one of those people that wonders the high street dressed up like Elvis Presley or The Who in their heyday when I had finished my spiel. What’s the big idea, Virgo? I hear you ask. Well, dear friends, we’ll get to that but, before we do, here are a few of the observations that I made from the floor of the throng:
1. It seems to me that lot of white women work in publishing. Does this matter? I don’t know. I am married to a white woman (eagle-eyed right wingers, I say this to insulate myself from your accusations of reverse racism ‘how dare this black man observe this!’, ‘what difference does it make what colour they are?’, ‘what are you trying to say?’) Well, imaginary straw-man that I have constructed for the purposes of this blog, I am saying that I do not know what effect this particular fact, if, indeed, it is a fact, has. There seem to be many panels claiming that it is a bad thing with catastrophic effects that must be remedied immediately. I am speculating that this explains why so many literary fiction novels refer to chablis, Prosecco, pilates and quinoa. In an attempt to gain industry traction my choose-your-own-adventure conspiracy thriller novel will now reference these concepts extensively. I have experienced all four of these things with varying degrees of success and will do some targeted research over the coming weeks to overcome my painfully obvious shortcomings.
2. Everyone in publishing is superficially very genteel. In order to establish how deep this seam of gentility ran, I tried one of my social experiments yesterday morning, deciding to jettison my natural reserve in the name of social science and push through the crowds deliberately, so as to jostle and knock everyone I could for a period of three hours. It was a heroic task which I performed for the greater good. If I had filmed it, I would be garnering political acclaim like the woman that walked around ethnically rich areas of New York in a shabby track suit while blankly ignoring compliments, sexual harassment and men who would later have a lot of explaining to do to their significant others. Unlike that woman, in my pushing experiment, which I will subsequently call The Great Publishing Push, I did not discriminate. I shoved everybody that I could: male, female, white, black, old, young, homosexual, straight, Hindu, muslim, christian, atheist. Anyone within a seven-foot diameter was summarily jolted as I continued this one-man crusade. Why was I doing this? I hear you ask. (Please don’t comment about that. I will answer in due time). I was testing the mettle of the finest figures the publishing industry as a whole and, dear readers, I was disappointed. Why? No one pushed back. No one told me to f*** off. Not one person. If I am looking for someone to generate income from my blood, sweat and keyboard blisters (yes – I do type too hard, I know . . . .huh) then I want them to be a five star c*nt, who has, for some obscure reason (probably similarity to a dead son) decided that I am a good bet. I want the type of person that I have to EXPLAIN to my friends and family – oh he/she’s very nice when you get to know her, not the type who would apologise if I spilled my scrumpy on his suit/or smile sweetly when I steal her seat. This probably speaks to my childhood.
3. There exists a mountainous *ss-dump of books that are released each year. Many of them seem exactly the same unless you read to page six or something, a task which seems to be a equivalent to travelling to a planet a million years away when you have a thousand books to read. This makes me have a sh*t load of sympathy for the people who have had to read all of the hackish drivel that they still for some reason inexplicably publish on a weekly basis, much of it with extravagant marketing campaigns. Many of the people I confronted made the tried and tested argument that they were subsidising interesting and invigorating work with blockbuster content but they didn’t convince me. I was left with a quasi-messianic urge to throw over the tables in the room and shout: where are your weirdos? Where are your eccentric authors and inspirational figures mentally idiosyncratic enough to sacrifice their lives on something that, although it does not fit what your list might have done for the past couple of years, is revolutionary, affirming and dangerous? I don’t want a smooch at an All-Bar-One! I want a tryst and shout on the Amazon with a snakes and critters urging me on to glory. However, walking from stand to stand, I saw so many stalls marketing the same protagonists, the same plots and the same book jackets that it became a blur. It made me think that the people in charge of this circus who do generate the hits, those transformational pieces of literature that change society, are either geniuses (don’t sweat the Latin plural – I know about it, I’m just not a pedantic pr&ck) or lottery winners who organise in increasingly larger syndicates while trying to maintain the appearance of working on provincial factory floors.
So, in light of this information, what is the solution for publishing? Well, I could tell you this, dear reader, but I’d have to shove your gullet full of redundant and derivative dead trees until you decided that it was a great idea to publish a novel where the protagonist had permanent mumps or something. It’s no secret, the words were emblazoned across the conference hall as surely as they were absent from the mouths of all except the most craven service providers that lurked around the edge of proceedings, picking off stray publishers and authors who recognise that something is deadly wrong but still don’t understand quite what it is. What should everyone be doing, Virgo? I won’t say. It’s probably none of my business as the publishing business will adapt and grow and innovate or it’ll wither and suffer for decades but it is a blessing for an introverted, extroverted *sshole such as myself to live in interesting times. Had I tried to write, produce, publish and market fiction as a fresh-faced teenage prodigy, I would have, no doubt, given my all to get that elusive deal with a major publishing house. The more I see of the book industry, however, the more I realise that any publisher that does publish my work must be one that inspires me, one that innovates, one with elbows, stilettos. I want a b*tch that will f*ck me in her best friend’s bed.