Steve McKevitt chats to us about having Everything Now and what it’s like to work with an independent publisher like Route.
How did you come to write Everything Now & why did you choose Route to publish with?
The idea for the Everything Now came to me while I was finishing my previous book ‘Why The World Is Full of Useless Things’. I was struck by the impact of affluence on society: essentially I wanted to find out why – given the choice – we have opted for crazy levels of consumption and consumerism instead of leisure and welfare.
Telling people, in a secular, non-religious way that they’ll probably be happier if they consume less is never going to be an easy sell, so I needed to find a publisher that was in tune with that idea (so probably not Harper Collins). In the end it took me four years to find the one, but once I’d met Ian Daley, I knew Route was the right press for Everything Now.
What is it like to work with an independent publisher?
Whomever is your publisher, the process is exactly the same. Writing is a solitary business punctuated by a series of one-on-one relationships. I start kicking ideas into shape with my agent then, once we’ve found a publisher, I work exclusively with my editor. When the book is finished, I’m passed over to the marketing person and finally, as it’s published, to the PR person. Then it’s back to my agent again for the next one.
Notwithstanding the marketing budget at the end, the only difference really is the people you’re working with. The best thing about Route was working with Ian Daley. Ian is a brilliant editor – and the big difference was the amount of time he was willing to commit to the project. More than anything I’ve written before, it felt like a collaboration and he really pushed me to get to the heart of the matter. I’m really proud of Everything Now. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written and really seems to resonate with people. It wouldn’t have been the same book without Ian.
Everything Now describes how consumerism keeps us in a constant state of dissatisfaction. As someone who has worked for some of the biggest brands in the world, do you feel much personal guilt for having been part of the problem? Was the act of writing the book a way to appease this some?
Ha! I don’t feel guilty about anything. I didn’t ask to be good at branding and PR, I kind of discovered by accident that I was.
To be good at marketing, you really do have to understand people and my point in Everything Now is that the brands aren’t the problem, they’re just a symptom. We are the problem.
Sometime during the 1970s we abandoned the post-war notions of ‘common good’ and collective social welfare in favour of individual choice and competition. It’s what we’ve done with that so-called empowerment that’s the problem. Convenience is what drives us – not choice. And despite what David and George are telling us, competition doesn’t give you choice – it gives you winners. The brands are merely reacting to those opportunities. So what we end up with is the illusion of choice: the ‘choice’ to buy anything we like, as long as it’s from Tesco, or the ‘choice’ between 120 chemically identical, but differently branded, tubes of toothpaste.
The downside to this is that it’s hugely inefficient and expensive. Moreover, now we’re faced with the need to make some really fundamental decisions about energy, climate change, food and energy security, that will affect the future of mankind – and indeed determine whether or not we actually have one – we discover that our Everything Now culture, which has permeated every area of our lives, means we’re not at all geared up to the challenges.
Are you a full-time writer now?
It would be disingenuous of me to say that I am. I do lots of different things, and writing is the biggest single thing I do time-wise, but it’s by no means the only thing I do.
We are selling the book as part of Memories of the Future, which explores the relationship between analogue and digital mediums being used by independent creative practitioners. How do you feel about the move towards digital among writers and publishers?
I have very little new to contribute to the debate. I think the move to digital is inevitable. I’d like to think that the longform (i.e. books) remains the best medium to explore complex and important ideas, but I’ve no evidence to back it up. Who knows what’s around the corner? Even Facebook, last year’s big thing, is haemorrhaging users. Young people won’t go near it now – it’s something for their parents and grandparents. Who’d have predicted it would become the Daily Express of social media two years ago?
Has it levelled the playing field or is more creative work devalued through being offered cheap or free?
I started my career in the music industry, so I’m all in favour of quality control. I don’t subscribe to the view that there’s a book in everyone, or at least if there is, it’s where most of them should stay. On the other hand, it’s an uncomfortable truth that the publishing world appears much more interested in what Katie Price or Pippa Middleton have(n’t) got to say than some unknown writer (like me).
The idea of writing for free really does baffle me though. I mean, writing a book is such a huge and onerous undertaking, I’m amazed that anyone would do it for fun or on the off-chance. You need to find someone who’s willing to invest in your idea – with time or money -and help it reach a wider audience. Putting something up on the internet for free and hoping to find an audience is a bit like buying a lottery ticket and expecting to win the jackpot. Sure, there are one or two examples where that’s happened, but literally millions where it hasn’t. It’s vanity publishing, without either the vanity or the publishing.
Are you interested in exploring new media in writing beyond the obvious (blogging and ebooks)?
Not really. I’m entirely happy with a good book.
How do you feel about the trend towards ‘book trailers’ and the irony that a written medium is advertising itself through video?
I think it’s a really good idea. Reading a book is a big investment in terms of time. You need to persuade people that spending that time with you is going to be rewarding. Through book trailers you can ease them in easily. I can’t think of anything negative to say about this at all.
Do you think small businesses and individuals should be using the same manipulative weaponry as big advertisers, or should they be doing things differently?
They should all be using the same weaponry because it works. Successful advertising works because we respond to it on a fundamental, emotional level. It’s intuitive: we know when we like something, but we don’t know why. There are different ways to do it, but there is no better way to do it.
If Nike applied it’s marketing team to the business of persuading us that global warming really is the biggest challenge facing the planet, we’d all be swayed within a couple of months.
As we independents are also trying to ‘sell ourselves’, are we part of the problem or the solution?
Ah, but that is a red herring.
This is not a problem that can be solved by organisations operating in a free market independent or otherwise. If you want to succeed you’ll need to sell yourselves as ‘something’ different that makes a certain group of people (your target audience) connect with you emotionally. If you don’t, you’ll soon go out of business – you don’t have a choice.
The solution, I’m afraid lies in those currently unpopular, old-fashioned notions of ‘regulation’, ‘common good’ and politicians brave enough to take a long-term view when it comes to policy making. In other words, not the bunch we’ve got at the moment.
Many thanks to Steve McKevitt for answering our questions, ‘Everything Now’ is now available in our online shop. Steve regularly write for the Huffington Post, you may find his collumns here – www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/steve-mckevitt