“Literature was dying until the bookstores began to disappear.” David Wills, renowned editor of Beatdom, speaks to us about being an indie publisher

David Wills of Beatdom Books

When I founded Beatdom in 2007 I didn’t really know a great deal about “indie publishing” outside of the mimeograph revolution of the sixties and seventies. As for self-publishing, my knowledge extended about as far as the oft-quoted fact that Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson had paid for their own work to be printed, and that it had somehow come to gain a very negative reputation in the twenty-first century, despite similar ventures in film and music having gained a great respect in the previous decades.

That was the year that I graduated from university, and already the traditional path for someone with a degree in literature was becoming harder to follow, and so I began looking for alternatives. Ultimately, Beatdom seemed a better idea than stacking shelves at Tesco. It was partly laziness and a disdain for convention that prompted me to establish a small Beat-themed literary journal, and to launch it online rather than by any conventional means.

I utilized MySpace as both a forum for attracting perspective contributors, and also as a means of advertising the journal. Indeed, over the years, social media would remain integral to the journal’s success as we, like so many other new publications and presses, existed in a world where using social media was the only logical means to obtaining a receptive audience.

The first issue was published in September, 2007, and featured several high profile interviews. It was very popular, and whilst a lack of funding had pushed the price of the print edition rather high, the digital version was a run-away success. I momentarily regretted having made the decision to run Beatdom as a non-profit, as I was unemployed and desperately poor.

I’d like to say that Beatdom continued to grow at an impressive rate, but in fact it stumbled and stuttered for several years, before finding its feet only when I’d found a job in – of all places – South Korea. It was the website that first succeeded, and with a strong internet presence, the journal attracted regular readers and contributors, and stabilized finally when we moved from MySpace to Facebook as our primary means of communicating with the public.

In 2010 I founded Beatdom Books, completing an expansion that I had always intended. This was the publishing arm of the company, and over the next few years we published a number of novels, a novella, and several works of non-fiction. Alongside these, we have continued to publish Beatdom twice a year. All our titles are available worldwide, although only in English, and we sell large numbers of Beatdom and our other Beat Generation titles to each continent. Quite simply, this would not have been possibly via any traditional route.

If you were to ask me now what I know about indie publishing, I would have to think long and hard about my answer. Beatdom has become the prime focus of my life, consuming most of every day. If I am not maintaining the website, I am editing or writing an essay, proofreading a book, designing a cover, dealing with customers, printers, distributors, writers, editors, doing interviews, managing the social media and handling related issues. If I allow it, it takes up to 18 hrs a day of my time. Yet it pays well below any minimum wage, and I still need to lecture and pick up tedious freelance jobs just to pay the bills. I would call it a labor of love, but that’s perhaps too romantic. So, then, why bother?

I used to care about the Beat Generation and I used to think of writing as a terribly important, almost religious, activity. These days I am less romantic in my thought, but also less pragmatic. I don’t view this as a means to any particular end, and certainly not as a stepping stone on the route to a job with one of the “big five” or even a mainstream newspaper. This is neither my calling, nor is it a money-making venture or a smart career move.
On the contrary, part of the reason that I – and like-minded people – have moved into the world of indie publishing, taking advantage of the internet in the same way as people took advantage of other technical innovations in the past, is a boredom and a dissatisfaction with traditional publishing and media. People talk about the death of high street bookstores and I say, “So what?” People talk about the death of literature, and I say that literature was dying until the bookstores began to disappear.

The rise of the internet and of POD publishing has allowed a diversification in literature. It has seen a boom in small presses, not unlike the aforementioned mimeo-revolution. It has seen the appearance of many talented new writers, and even the birth of a literary movement or two. At present one of the most exciting areas of literature is that of Alt Lit, which has seen tremendous innovations in literature. These writers have used the internet as a means to solidify a movement, gain followers, collaborate, disseminate their work in innovative forms, and even publish somewhat traditional books that take technology as both theme and structure as never before. They are being acknowledged by mainstream media, selling large numbers of books, gaining massive cult followings, and even attracting the interest of large publishers. However, they prefer to start their own, and why not? Companies like Muumuu House and Boost House put the artist in control. As in film and music, it’s a means of challenging the notion that the sale of art should be in the hands of decidedly unartistic people, and instead should be kept in the domain of the people who actually write books, and who are willing to forge and maintain relationships with their readers.

Sadly, the term “indie” gets misused a lot these days. You have “indie” films and “indie” music released by big labels that are most certainly not independent. Perhaps for this reason indie publishing lacks the respect and attention given to other allegedly independent art forms. Yet this is my home, and this is my life. Like other indie publishers, I care a great deal about literature. We may all have very different ideas of what literature should be, or simply what we prefer, but in those differences we ensure a level of diversity in form and subject that is not afforded by the dominant publishing houses, who prefer to find something popular and milk it for all its worth.

We all have very different means of running our businesses. My goal was to start a magazine with zero investment, and to build from nothing. I have, like so many other publishers, utilized new technologies to allow for the cheap and easy dissemination of our products, allowing for a democratization of literature. When possible, I give Beatdom’s contents away for free, and I sell our books as cheaply as I can. This isn’t about fashion or profit; it’s about art and education.

David Wills is the editor of Beatdom Books, go and check it out and support independent thought and awesome books.

Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a 'recovering musician', he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.

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