Whether it was artistic symbolism, a PR stunt or a knee-jerk emotional reaction, the one thing that really stands out about Jeanette Winterson’s book bonfire is the fact that we forget how many people pour their hearts and souls into publishing books.
Nobody with an interest in the world of publishing could have missed the symbolic book burning image tweeted out by acclaimed author Jeanette Winterson yesterday evening. It was a defiant response to the new cover and book blurb written by the team at Vintage which the author felt undermined her work…
I think that’s fair enough – we are talking about years and years of work there. But was the ceremonial burning – and subsequent tweet – really necessary? After all, it’s quite likely that somebody has spent years and years working in marketing, honing their skills and pouring their all into that book blurb which has been publicly shamed.
As somebody who has been published both traditionally and independently (or, to use the stigmatised term – self-published) I have seen first hand the number of individuals involved in publishing a book.
From manuscript assessors to my agent’s editorial direction, to the typesetter, marketing and social media consultants, cover designer and book trailer producer – many people have worked with me to get my book out into the world. Yes, it’s my story, but it’s not a book without everyone else’s input.
Which is why I feel that Jeanette Winterson’s tweet – whatever her intention – was unfair and demonstrated to me how little individuals working behind the scenes in publishing or the arts more generally are valued.
I have worked ‘behind the scenes’ of theatre shows, books, films, stand up comedy and dance for many years. While not the artist with a credit on the flyer, I always flexed my creative muscle to produce something that represented the work in the best possible way. And when you get creative, it’s incredibly difficult not to get passionate, too. So there’s usually a lot of emotion involved.
Of course, sometimes, I haven’t hit the mark. But on those occasions, there has been a meeting or a conversation or a direct email discussing the shortcomings of the brochure copy or show imagery with a fair critique and request for revision. Fair enough.
But frankly, I can’t begin to imagine how I would have felt if my one of my former bosses or clients, for example playwright John Godber, took to Twitter with a picture of burning theatre brochures to publicly shame my work. Godber is a straight down the line Yorkshireman, and he might have been blunt in his critique of the marketing team’s work at times and that’s perfectly fine. But he would never set out to humiliate.
Whether or not there was any intention of humiliation on Winterson’s part (to be honest, I don’t believe there would have been) I think this gives us all an opportunity to reflect on the huge number of individuals working their socks off to help get author and artist names and their works of art or literature into the spotlight. They might work for a big publishing name, but they are all individuals – just as an author is. By all means, a member of the public might tear a book – and its blurb – apart on Goodreads. Fine. But you don’t expect your collaborators or colleagues to do the same.
At the end of the day, it might be Jeanette Winterson’s story – but I’m not sure it can ever be solely her book.
Now, that comment about ‘wimmin’s fiction’…I think I’ll leave that one to others to dissect…
If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy my writing too….Check out The Twenty Seven Club, my first novel, below: