David M. Mitchell: From Punk Records to DIY Books via Fanzines and Myspace, D.M. Mitchell is a visionary editor of indie books… indieberlin met David M. Mitchell and got to ask him a couple of questions. Find out about self-publishing and the do’s, don’ts and dangers of it.
ib You were instrumental in the creation and running of Oneiros Books. Why did you do it?
I started Oneiros Books – the first version of it – back in 1998. I’d been working on and off, in a very informal way, since the early 90s with various people, most notably with James Williamson of Creation Books. It was all Dadaism, very anarchic and DIY. That was sort of the spirit of the time. You’d had punk rock and DIY records at the end of the 70s and you’d had ‘zine culture and Fact Sheet Five and Amok during the 80s and it just happened. There was no real plan to it originally. We were all gung ho and idealistic and it was mostly a lot of fun. Oneiros for me was just a spin-off from working with Creation. My own little annexe.
The optimism didn’t last all that long unfortunately. Big outlets like Waterstones started consolidating and pushing all the small bookshops out of the way. What that meant in terms of representation on the market is that you had a very few people making ALL the decisions about what would be sold and displayed in the shops and how it would be displayed etc.. And whereas they were all generally decent intelligent people, they were primarily company employees, business people. So things started narrowing in, imperceptibly at first but as time went on, more and more until it almost felt like a sort of censorship. I could go on and on about this…
ib: Oneiros books is a collective of authors and you have been a relentless editor and reader of everything before it goes to print. Has the experience of working with a large number of self-pulished manuscripts changed your views about the world of publishing?
I’m not doing this alone any more. Michael McAloran deals with all of the poetry and I totally trust his judgement. The books he’s brought into the fold have all been beautiful solid works. More recently Antony Hitchin has joined in an editorial capacity. Antony is handling avant garde experimental stuff – hard to define it really. Antony does what Antony does and Antony is Antony. I think last year I did a hell of a lot of proof reading and formatting. The pressure is off a bit now. Which is good, because it almost killed me.
I think I still act as sort of ‘uber-daddy’ for the project as a whole, just watching over it and making sure it stays on the right course. We had a bit of a crisis in the middle of last year. A certain person (I won’t name) volunteered to join as co-editor. The person I’m referring to is a brilliant writer, one of my favourite living writers in fact, and a very nice funny person to speak to – BUT he went a bit overboard with what he wanted to do with Oneiros, then he started making mad proclamations on Facebook. Much as I regretted it and had tried to avoid it, I had to send him packing as he was in danger of capsizing the boat. The fallout was very nasty and painful. So I’m still keeping an eye on things like that and will be around for the duration I suppose.
ib: What would you say to an author who wants to self-publish? What are the DO’s and DON’T’s?
(Lol) No, seriously, all I would say to anyone who wants to be a writer is that if you’re in it to make money – FORGET IT. Really. Stop before you start. Go sell insurance or work in MacDonalds.
ib: How do you think things will look 5 years from now in the world of literary publishing, reading, publicity etc.?
I think more people and groups of people will be doing stuff like us, networks will form and there will be no need of a dinosaur industry to disseminate writing, artwork, etc..
ib: Before Oneiros, you were already active in the alternative or underground arts circles with work in magazines and presses. What was that like? What’s your scene– and has it changed or stayed the same?
Fucking hell. I can’t even remember most of it. There were so many people doing their own thing. It was exciting. The 80s in particular was exciting, small presses everywhere, fanzines, the Amok catalogue, Re/Search etc… It started going sour in the 90s but things are picking up again. I’m excited about the internet, even excited about social networking and the possibilities it implies. Of course, that’s all become very boring and corporate nowadays. Facebook is a horrible experience at the moment. But when I discovered MySpace it was incredible. I felt like a kid let loose in a sweet shop. It was almost like having your own tv station and a captive audience. My friend Stewart Home had a huge following on his ‘Mr Trippy’ blog on MS so loads of people used to troop over there (virtually) every evening and get up to no good.
In retrospect I feel bad about some of the things I said and did in there, but at the time it was ‘what happens if I press this button… and what will happen if I say XXXX’. It was irresistible. Stewart took it all in good spirit. That’s where I ‘met’ Dire McCain and most of the people who composed the early Paraphilia ‘circle’. Thing is whatever happens, people will always find ways of circulating interesting work. One avenue gets shut down, we find another way through.
ib: What is your definition of “underground” ?
I’m not sure if I have one actually. unless it’s in the spirit of ‘guerrilla resistance’ or something like that. I really don’t think there is a definable underground scene – and I think it wouldn’t be desirable anyway. Best thing is to keep your eye on the ball, on the work itself, on getting it out. When you’re doing that, and all your energy is focused on that you don’t have time to think about terminology and/or niches.
ib: What are the biggest dangers or pitfalls, and what are the advantages of being an independent writer?
You could get your foreskin caught in your fly…. No seriously, I don’t think there are any dangers specific to that. I think if you have expectations and/or an unrealistic idea of your genius and worth and what the world might owe you simply for gracing it with your genius, then you’re going to walk a constant tightrope between disappointment and/or self-delusion. Writing as a career is dead – and should have been killed off a long time ago. A real writer writes because they have something to write. There are a load of very sad individuals out there who decide they want to be writers, and THEN, try to think of something to write about. Most of them have their ‘desert island discs’ list made up before they put pen to paper. But never mind. The muse will out.
Polly Trope interviewed DM Mitchell for indieberlin. Polly is the author of the book Cured Meat.
David Mitchell is author and editor at Oneiros Books, find it here:
Read DM Mitchell here: Apophenia