When punk rock exploded onto the music scene in the mid-seventies, anybody could smash out three chords and call themselves a band.
How cool is that?
The Ramones and The Sex Pistols turned the musical establishment upside down, flushing its fat, bloated, overindulgent head down the toilet pan. Gone was the legend of the unattainable, mythical rock star looking down upon the little people from the heights of their lofty perch. Suddenly it was all about those little people instead – about you and your spotty mates and what you could do to change the world. You – yes you – could be in a band, even if you couldn’t tell one end of a Fender Stratocaster from another. Because even if you weren’t particularly talented, you still had every right to make your voice heard.
Who’d have thought?
But that was the beauty of punk rock. It was an original thing. That’s why in its early days, it truly was a revolution of its own making. It shook the world and rightly so.
But what do we mean by ‘punk’?
Is it aggressive guitar music? A Mohican haircut? What about safety pins, razor blade bracelets, studs, pins, badges, or any other fashion accessory for that matter?
No, that’s the ‘rock’ bit see?
Punk has nothing to do with fashion. It has nothing to do with music either.
What is Punk?
Punk is an attitude. It’s anti-conformity, anti-establishment and all those things. It’s about originality and going this way when everybody else is going that way. It’s what we all want to be. It’s what we say we’re going to be when we’re young and idealistic, but then ‘reality’ and ‘necessity’ interfere with our lives and we give in and tragically, our inner punks slowly die of boredom.
Historical examples of punk
Guess what? Jesus was a punk. Yes he was. In Mark Johnson’s book, Seditious Theology: Punk and the Ministry of Jesus, he emphasises the disdain that Jesus had for the religious leaders of the day. He compares this to the punk rockers of the seventies and their own “confrontational anger towards the hypocrisy of the leaders of a nation and their moral bankruptcy”. Let’s not forget that Jesus was a seriously confrontational guy. A true original and yes, it’s hard to equate all that with the portrait of the gentle white hippy that you see splattered over church windows.
The inventor of the wheel = Punk. Original thinking.
The early Abolitionist Movement in the 1830s. Punks.
When Rosa Lee Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to white people on December 1st 1955, not only did she break the existing segregation laws and bolster the Civil Rights Movement – she also showed the world what a seriously bad-ass punk she was.
The young Elvis Presley was a punk. Hips that changed the world.
This guy below – August Landmesser – refusing to salute and show allegiance to the Nazi Party in 1936. Quite rightly he’s become the Internet poster boy for not giving a fuck. Talk about ballsy. Talk about original. And talk about punk.
Punk is not loud guitars and mohicans. What it is, is true expression. It’s who you are deep deep down and best of all, it’s anti-bullshit in our bullshit drenched times.
Punk is 100% authentic. 100% original.
Indie publishing – at least in the digital age – is a modern innovation that initially inherited the DIY and DIYW (Do It Your Way) spirit of punk.
Its growth was (and is) a reaction to the status quo of traditional publishing. Just like punk rock in the mid-seventies was a reaction to the sheer wanky pretentiousness of Rod Stewart prancing around the stage in a pair of leopard skin trousers.
Likewise, the rise of indie publishing was a reaction to the limitations of traditional publishing. Amazon unleashed KDP in 2007. Mark Coker founded Smashwords in 2008. Authors had the ability to offer their work directly to readers and not a handful of business people who presumed to know what readers did and did not want to read. Writers were empowered. Readers were empowered.
And things have never been the same since.
For a while, it was truly punk. But indie publishing isn’t punk anymore. It’s pretty much become a mainstream pursuit these days, which isn’t a bad thing – it just means a LOT of people are publishing independently now.
Like many readers, I get a large dose of the latest book deals in my inbox every day – 99p deals, free deals, that kind of thing. Now lot of these books are by indie authors and here’s one of the major reasons that indie isn’t punk anymore.
Far too many indie books are just pale imitations of another franchise.
Here’s one example.
There are a shitload of writers out there trying to replicate the Lee Child thing. That is, they’re trying to do what Lee Child has done with the Jack Reacher character. They’re writing a fast-paced thriller about the former secret services loner guy with the bad ass combat skills who moves from place to place helping people. It seems like every other day, I see THAT cover with the former secret services loner guy with the bad ass combat skills standing in the middle of the road/desert/street or whatever. Moody, dark, but completely unoriginal.
And don’t even start me on the gazillions of Fifty Shades erotica rip-offs out there. Holy shit! I’m talking about books so blatantly unoriginal that the covers are almost identical to Fifty Shades. These books might as well be called Thirty-Eight Shades of Marigold and have done with it.
Please believe me – I’m not trying to be a dick. You might think I am, but really I’m not. You might say that’s what we love to write and who are you to judge us Mark – you dick!
And you’d be right!
If that’s the kind of book you absolutely love to write then do it. If your heart tells you to do it – then do it. You absolutely have to be happy with what you’re writing and if that’s your thing, then do your thing. Life is too short so be happy and write what you want.
I do think that too many writers out there are chasing the market. Too many writers are caught up in trying to be smart businessmen/women and as a result of market chasing and following trends, there’s a lack of original ideas out there. There is. Truly, imitation and cashing in on someone else’s idea seems to be the modern way.
It’s Happening on TV!
Look at all the bland and uninspired reality TV shows constantly cropping up on network TV. Here in Australia it’s a fucking joke and every time an advert for My Celebrity Kitchen Reality Wife Swap (or whatever they’re called) comes on, I wish – oh I wish – I could be like Elvis and shoot the TV.
Where are all the original ideas? Where are the twisted minds? I know they’re out there somewhere. Tell me where can I find a truly inspired television show like Red Dwarf these days? Remember that? A masterpiece with original content and top notch writing. Where are all the great sitcoms? Or shows like The Prisoner. If they’re anywhere, they’re nowhere near the networks because the networks are too busy churning out the same old reality dross, which is designed to shock just for the sake of reeling viewers in.
No wonder Netflix and Amazon Prime are chewing up the networks.
And don’t even get me started on what the film industry is doing with all these 80s remakes. Lazy unadventurous bastards cashing in on the past, instead of investing and nurturing fresh writing talent.
Back To Indies
In the case of indie authors, so many are enamoured of self-publishing success stories and riding the bandwagon of a certain genre/character/formulaic plot style. The thinking is that because Hugh Howey or E.L. James sold millions of copies writing dystopian fiction or erotica that they will too.
For better of for worse, they’re thinking like businesspeople. Yes, marketing your work is important, of course, but it should be the lesser part of your writing career. The art, remember the art! Everybody wants to sell you the secrets of book marketing, but I don’t see any Facebook ads reminding you to flex your imagination once in a while.
Authors – indie, trad or hybrid – just write a truly great story. Write your story and not a rehash of something else (unless it’s a cool mash-up or an inspired modern take on a classic).
Here’s what I love (for what it’s worth). I love the truly original ideas. Perhaps it’s the reason I love alternate histories so much because here’s a genre that truly encourages the use of the author’s imagination and original thinking – what if?
The Author’s Legacy
Because when all is said and done and you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil and the money thing is irrelevant, it’s your work that will live on. Your art is your legacy, not your marketing skills or your craftiness, or your ability to follow fleeting trends.
Even if just one person – maybe in the year 2347 – stumbles across your book long after you’re gone, it’d better be a good book. Because with the passing of time, it’ll become obvious to Mr and Mrs Future Reader if you were just a pale imitation of another writer, writing books you thought would sell in a long since obsolete fashion…
…or whether you were a true original.
Great art outlives us. It outlives our grandchildren too. So of course, think about your pockets, the practicalities and the marketing side of things – nobody’s saying that isn’t important, but for God’s sake don’t just write a book to imitate fads or trends because you think you’ll strike the jackpot.
You can do better than that. It might not make you rich – but then again, it might. The point is, nobody really knows what they’re doing here – not one ‘indie author expert’ or ‘publishing guru’ out there has a clue what’s going to be the next big thing in the land of books.
Original ideas are what will make you immortal. So by all means – put food on the table, but try at least to be a little bit great too, okay?
Remember you’re an artist, more so than a businessman/woman.
Because that’s the punk spirit. That’s what it means to be a punk. To do something that nobody else has done and to write something that nobody else has written. That nobody else would dare write.
To invent the wheel all over again.