by Alison Flood)
He is a major force in British acting and a much-garlanded playwright and director, but Steven Berkoff has chosen to self-publish his two new books after failing to find a conventional publisher.
As the founder of self-publishing platform Smashwords predicted that "indie ebooks will account for 50% of ebook sales by 2020", and as debate rages over whether self-published writers should be allowed to call themselves professional authors, Berkoff announced that he would be joining the self-publishing "revolution". The actor, known for playing villains in films including Octopussy and Beverly Hills Cop, is releasing two books on Amazon: Bad Guy, a journal of his time on a Hollywood movie "where the conditions were so appalling, and the directing so absurd, the whole cast was in a state of semi-shock", and Richard II In New York, which records one of his career high points directing the Shakespeare play in 1994.
Berkoff's books have previously been released by publishers including Faber & Faber and Methuen, but this time around the actor and playwright failed to find a home for his writing. "For a publisher, they have to make money, and the bigger they become, the more important they feel they are ," he said. "They want to make money and consequently if you maybe didn't make as much as last time, they will find that no matter how worthy the work … they will reject it."
As a writer, however, "your motivation is not money. Your motivation is the desire to have your work out there for the public", and taking the self-publishing route "returns your sense of independence, and even dignity, and that is so important", he said.
Berkoff funded his own first theatrical production, an adaptation of Metamorphosis at London's Roundhouse, himself, after going to a money lender, he said. "I often had to put my hand in my own pocket so I'm used to this," he said. "In the past, self-motivation inspired many writers and artists. In the past, actors frequently created and funded their own productions, and it was considered quite normal. Even Oscar Wilde had vanity publications. Now people can't seem to move unless they are supported by funding – state funding, Arts Council funding … I think self-publishing brings back a sense of self-worth."
The "main thing", said Berkoff, is "to get back your own sense of purpose and not to be kowtowing to other people". His two new books are "of great value … as interesting or as informative as anything I've written". Bad Guy, in which names have been changed, is a "rollercoaster account of the frustrations created by mindless shackles on creativity" and "shows the bright lights of Hollywood on a dimmer setting", while with Richard II in New York, he "felt it was such an unusual topic to be directing one of Shakespeare's greatest classics in New York with a group of dynamic American actors", that he "wished to record it in a journal since I felt it would never be seen outside that particular theatre again".
Berkoff's decision comes as Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, predicts that self-publishing is only set to grow. With almost 400,000 books self-published in the US last year, Coker posited that indie authors represented 15% of the ebook market for 2013, and that a "fairly conservative" estimate would give them more than a third (35%) of the overall trade book market in seven years, and 50% of ebook sales by the year 2020. The dramatic change to the publishing landscape brought about by the mushrooming of self-publishing has led to concerns, with the editor of publishing news site Good e-Reader, Michael Kozlowski, saying there needs to be a debate around what constitutes being an author, because "calling everyone authors who put words on a document and submits them to the public devalues the word so much, it makes it meaningless".
Berkoff's move into self-publishing follows Pulitzer prize-winner David Mamet's decision to go it alone last year "because I am a curmudgeon, and because publishing is like Hollywood – nobody ever does the marketing they promise". The bestselling author and mountaineer Joe Simpson, meanwhile, set up his own digital publishing company last year after falling out with his publisher.