Internet Authors Dont Need Cut-Offs

by : Mike Scantlebury

When our children were younger, and still at High School, we moved house. The new place was further away from the school, and they told us that there might be financial help available for us towards the cost of our kids' new bus fares, which would, of course, be more expensive. We were sent a letter. It said that money was paid to people who lived '8 miles away and further'. We measured the journey in the car and it certainly seemed about that distance. Weeks later we got another letter. Our application was denied. We 'didn't live 8 miles away'. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. No, according to their calculations, we lived 7.9 miles away. That's seven point nine. Not enough, they said. After all, there has to be a cut-off point.

Would-be authors keep coming up against the same problem. They send their work to Traditional Publishers, and immediately encounter problems. Say they've written a novel in the Horror genre. Oh, the publisher says, we do operate in a range of popular genres and we publish Science Fiction and Fantasy, for instance. But no, not Horror. After all, they say, you have to have a cut-off somewhere. Or let's suppose you've written a Spy novel. We don't publish spy novels, they tell you. But, you say, consulting the publisher's current catalogue, you are publishing two spy novels this month and you actually published three last month. Ah, agrees the publisher, but we decided we've published enough spy novels for this year now and that's why we're stopping this month. After all, there has to be a cut-off somewhere.

A worse problem concerns money. You read in the newspaper that a certain publisher has just paid a fortune to a famous author for his new thriller. Ohoh, you think. This publisher likes thrillers and is willing to pay out large advances. Nothing so simple! When you send in your manuscript, you're given short shrift. After all, the publisher says, we've spent our budget for this year, (you know on who). We've had to cut-off all advances until next April and the start of the new financial year. Sorry.

Internet Authors don't have this problem. They know that they can go to a website like Lulu and get their books published there ' no matter how many, what genre you've chosen, and what time of year it is, (or day or night, come to that). They know the service is superb and you can order copies in small or large numbers, as you wish. In fact, there are no limitations at all. No cut-offs.

Because, you know, we're not robots. We don't have to live in a world where good things are cut off at some arbitrarily chosen point. A few weeks ago I went into a self-service restaurant one evening, hoping for a quick meal. I patiently queued at the counter, but when I got to the head of the queue, the man behind the counter pointed to a sign and said, 'We stop serving at 9 o'clock'. It was one minute past the allotted time. He insisted he was right, but then another chap came out from the kitchen, tray in hand. 'Serve up', he said. 'I haven't started putting things away yet. All the food is still out'. It's true, it was. It was no trouble for me to be served, no extra effort. It just meant breaking that rule that said there was an absolute and unequivocal cut-off. The second bloke wasn't so fixed in his views, and was willing to be flexible. I got fed. That was important to me.

What's important to hide-bound and inflexible bureaucrats (like the employees at most Traditional Publishers houses) is that The Rules are stuck by, adhered to and never questioned, (even when made up and changed at random). Why? In the first example, because 8 miles was the limit and that was that. Why? Why not 9 or 10? Had someone checked how many people lived outside this boundary and drawn the map accordingly? Nothing so sophisticated! Had anyone thought to check whether the bus fare for a 7.5 mile journey was any less expensive than an 8.5 mile journey? Not at all. The problem is that when people design these 'rules' they like to make them appear so scientific ' without actually doing any science ' and usually simply base their demarcation lines on sheer prejudice and blind faith. The usual reason such 'rules' are important, is that, we are told, if they are broken ' well then, oh dear, walls will crumble, culture will vanish and civilisation will collapse, (or something worse). Would it? Had anyone checked how many applications had come from people who lived at 7.5 miles or 7.3 miles? After all, if they bent the rules and let us through ' at 7.9 ' well, they could say that they might get flooded with all those other people within a decimal point or two short, mightn't they? Well no, only if such people existed, and nobody could tell me that. They had no record of how many people had been declined or how close they were to that magic figure 8.

The saddest fact from the school story is that the budget for assisted bus fares was under-spent at the end of the financial year, and the school had to send a leaflet round to all parents, inviting them to apply again. That's what you get for 'sticking to the rules' ' you don't get the outcome you want! You don't get to helping the people you want to help and you don't get to spend the money you've got available. The alternative? To grow up and realise that the 'cut-off point' is drawn up in an office by a balding man with glasses and a pencil. He's not divine; he's not a superhuman genius; and his decisions can be challenged or circumvented without destroying the carefully crafted system. That's not anarchy, it's simply common sense.