Friday, February 13, 2009

Talks and thoughts

Last Tuesday, 10th February, I was invited to give a talk on how I became a novelist and how to write a novel. Not that I know, of course! The hotel was the Hythe Imperial, where I had hosted the CWA conference last year, and the ladies, none of whom were writers, were a lovely bunch. We had a great lunch and I sold all the books I had taken with me. Most enjoyable, and a break from sitting at the keyboard dredging up scintillating prose.

Last night, there was a programme on publishing on BBC2. How extremely depressing. Most of us novelists knew it all, of course, but to see it on The Money Programme really brought it home. So far, in the last few years, the government has gradually eroded the very cornerstones of my life. The independent bookshop has almost disappeared. The pub is following close behind, thanks to the smoking ban and the cheap alcohol in supermarkets. Oh - hang on! The bookshop's disappeared because of - yesss! The cheap books in the supermarkets.

The supermarkets, of course, keep a close eye on what, in the way of reading matter, they allow us to buy. So unless your publisher has the wherewithal to pay huge marketing fees to get your book onto their shelves, you're pretty well doomed. Therefore, you are relegated to the status of "mid-list" author, and who are the authors who are getting dropped to make room for celebrities who are asked to "write" romance novels? (Naming no names.) The mid-list authors. It honestly makes you wonder why we do it?

Neill Denny of The Bookseller believes the changes in the book world have led to a more democratic list for readers.
"The market is better reflecting the tastes of the entire population rather than an educated elite that went to bookshops," he says.
"That educated elite are still going to bookshops and buying books, but loads of other people are buying books now that weren't 10 or 20 years ago.
"I think that's a good thing." (Courtesy of the bbc website.)

Is he right? The problem is that these new readers are only given the choice of the books on sale in supermarkets, not the thousands of books written by people like me and many of my friends, who have to fight to bring our books to the notice of the general public.

I don't know - no smoking, no pub, no bookshop. Stop the world, I want to get off.


Jen Black said...

As a reader, I have to agree. When ever I visit Tesco, there are always people browsing the books section. I've bought a hardback and a paperback there myself in the last couple of months.
But as a writer, I deplore their control of the book publishing world. It's a bad as Amazon demanding a 60% discount from publishers. Why do they get away with it?
I guess the answer might be greed. Everyone, me included, likes to buy an item as cheaply as possible, and the supermarkets and Amazon do offer the reader cheaper prices.
Perhaps the only answer is to go back to the days when books had a fixed price and were never discounted. But then we'd all have to pay full price for anything we read. The spin off might be increased use of libraries.

Unknown said...

He's working the from the basis that the supermarkets know us well??? They target market us when we use our 'loyalty' cards or on-line shopping. But do they get it right? Maybe half the time.

On one hand books in supermarkets is good because it may well reach people who wouldn't buy books elsewhere for whatever reason. I think what is wrong with the equation is that Publishers have caved into them as if they are the only outlet. Yes, they are big and sell in bulk but publishers need to support all outlets and not be brow beaten by the big ones.

I think sometimes that Publishers forget they have a worthwhile product that people actually want. It shouldn't be that hard a sell. :-)