When Mick McCann struggled to find a literary agent, he decided to take matters into his own hand. Russ Litten met the man behind an operation he calls punk publishing.
As you are reading these words, someone, somewhere, is writing other words.
Lovingly written words that you will probably never read. Carefully assembled words that probably no-one else in the whole wide world will ever read, apart from the person who's written them, their close friends, and a few unimpressed literary agents and publishing houses.
They say that everyone has a book in them. But the road to its release can be a long and frustrating one.
But it seems that more and more people are yearning to become writers. The internet has served as a brilliantly democratic tool in this respect. Just as the X-Factor has convinced people that anyone can be a pop star, so the explosion of online blogs and diaries has provided ordinary, non-academic people with an instant outlet for their words and ideas.
This is obviously a very good thing, but outside of cyber-space, books written by ordinary people don't generally get published. And the books offered to ordinary readers are from a very narrow shelf indeed.
Go into your local Asda and you'll find books with the same ideas repeated over and over again in slightly different jackets. The story of a neglected child; the adventures of a football hooligan/gangster/murderer; the ghost-written life story of a 23-year-old reality TV show winner, hastily cut and pasted together before the second hand ticks swiftly down on their 15 minutes of fame. In 2008, most publishing is so formulaic that it makes painting by numbers look like a finely honed craft.
This fact that was not lost on Mick McCann, of Armley, Leeds. In 2006, he wrote a book called Coming Out As A Bowie Fan in Leeds, Yorkshire England – a biography of an anonymous young man who, inspired by the glamorous androgyny of the Seventies, decided to live his life as though he was a superstar.
Having put the last stop on his "memoirs of a punk romantic", McCann set about finding a publisher. He trawled the internet for a likely home for his book and selected one or two whom he felt would be receptive to such a work. The response was less than encouraging. In fact, it was non-existent.
So, McCann did what any self-respecting literary punk rocker would do. He decided to do it himself. But after looking into the logistics of self-publishing, he realised that he couldn't afford to pay for the printing of 2,000 books that no-one had ever heard of and would therefore probably not buy.
So he investigated route number three – print on demand.
"The beauty of POD is that you can print any number from a single copy to a million. To print one copy would be quite expensive but if you can sell 30 to 40 books, you can break even," he says.
McCann started putting himself about on the internet – anywhere he felt there could be a market for his book. A book that didn't actually exist yet.
After covering his initial costs by selling to family and friends, the subsequent sales took him into profit, and McCann was in a position to start his own publishing house. And he decided to call it Armley Press.
"Punk publishing" is the term Mick McCann uses for the ethic behind his operation.
"Punk publishing for me sums up what Armley Press is all about – it's independent, championing unorthodox voices, a 'get out and do it' attitude, as opposed to asking someone else's permission."
With this attitude and methodology, McCann has sold more than 1,000 copies of Coming Out As A Bowie Fan In Leeds Yorkshire England. And encouraged by this, Armley Press set about their next project. The criteria was to find a book that shared the same characteristics as Coming Out.. – social realism with a local flavour, and laced with large dollops of humour. The result was a taut thriller – Hot Knife – Love, Bullets and Revenge in Leeds, Yorkshire England – by John Lake.
Lake had an agent at the time, but saw the local left-field appeal of Armley Press as being more sympathetic to a regional writer. He says: "There's a general perception, even in the mainstream Press, that the major publishers will only back celebrity books and the London literary mafia. I've had publishers tell me my book was great, but they wouldn't invest in an unknown right now."
For its creator, Armley Press is about having a sensibility that's as strong and as distinctive as the writers it champions. As well as being local and independent, its print-on-demand method also incorporates a strong ecological stance.
Says McCann: "It saves on paper, there's little wastage printing copies that go unsold. You don't waste energy transporting thousands of heavy books. The only petrol used is in delivering it to the customer, as it only becomes a real object when sent to a person in the real world."
So if you're in the business of writing down words that you want people to read, don't ask permission from someone in London; get out and do it yourself. There's a literary revolution happening right here in Leeds, Yorkshire, England.
For more information, contact armleypress@ hotmail.co.uk