Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Importance of Ebooks and Online Selling

Over the festive period much has been said about ebooks and online selling, and in particular how rapidly sales are growing in this part of the bookselling market. Responses vary, with me sounding extremely encouraged by this, and some bookshop managers sounding worried – if you look on the Bookseller website you’ll see all sides to the argument.

The truth is that we absolutely need the ebook market to take off – whether we’re authors, publishers or booksellers. The crisis in bookselling is far more extreme than authors and readers realise, and publishers don’t want to dishearten authors by letting them know just how difficult it will be to sell their books should they overcome the first hurdle of getting published.

Ebooks also let publishers take on authors who are difficult to promote, perhaps because they live in another country and aren't available for the many events needed to help a book take off. Or they might write short stories, which are even harder to sell than poetry as there's no network of live events for short story writers. It also means publishers can take on long novels by debut writers, whereas the pagecount usually means the cost of printing and postage can't really be recuperated without a high cover price and/or high sales.

Bookshop managers tend to get defensive when they see the way ebooks are taking off. The Kindle sales this Christmas show that the UK is finally following in the footsteps of the US and the many people getting a Kindle as a present will no doubt follow up by buying some books for it. This is great news for publishers and authors at a time when companies are closing due to the difficulties selling our one product – books.

I do think bookshops can get in on the act too, rather than trying to defend an either/or position where ebooks are seen as killing the traditional bookshop which stocks books in print. There’s no reason why bookshops shouldn’t also have a screen where customers can buy the books they can’t find on the shelves and have them delivered straight from the publisher’s distributor to the customer’s home.

It would be just like buying on any other online bookseller site, but would be managed by the bookshop. And at last we would be able to order literary fiction, poetry and short stories through our high street bookshop if we wanted to, and not just the few they have in stock. Even the excellent bookshops that do stock plenty of poetry and literary fiction can’t stock everything, and they could offer everything publishers have registered on the central Nielsen database. Bookselling websites update automatically by feed from this, so it’s easy to manage.

Bookshop managers also complain that customers say they can get the books cheaper from Amazon, but customers know that Amazon isn’t reliable when it comes to supplying some of the books they take orders for, particularly poetry. Emails arrive for a few weeks saying the book is temporarily out of stock and finally that it’s unavailable. So I would certainly trust a bookshop more. I just feel that bookshops need to see this as an opportunity and adapt more than they’ve been doing so far.

With ebooks it’s tricky at this stage because Amazon dominates the market due to the popularity of the Kindle. But I’m not going to hold that against them and fight them over it. The situation will change. At this stage it’s helpful that Amazon is creating the market with the Kindle and Kindle books. We’d be doing a disservice to our authors if we didn’t go along with that and make all of their books available for the Kindle. Our fiction is all available for Kindle and we’re working hard on getting the poetry perfect at the moment – we didn’t stop over Christmas!

Amazon has a monopoly on Kindle ebook sales. But we’re also working on Epub versions which provide ebooks that can be sold on any website. This will provide even more of an opportunity for bookshops, authors, publishers, and anybody else, to sell direct from their websites. Amazon and Kindle are paving the way but it would be impossible to keep a monopoly in this market. It’s only possible to get an early lead.

What has surprised and encouraged me most this Christmas is seeing how ebooks have levelled the playing field between authors and publishers of all sizes. The major publishers have their huge budgets for promotional activities, which usually crushes others out. It’s impossible for a smaller publisher to get books stocked in bookshops over Christmas when major publishers have bought all the best space and there isn’t even shelf space left for new books by others.

I would have thought this would also affect ebooks and that titles by major publishers would dominate the list of bestselling Kindle books. And yet two out of the top four Kindle titles were by self published authors. They weren’t expensive ($3 and under) but they were for sale, so they weren’t just downloaded because they were free.

While one was a genre novel, and various genres do well on Kindle (it was the crime novel The Abbey by Chris Culver), the other novel sounds like literary fiction - Darcie Chan's The Mill River Recluse. The sales figures are also much higher than you might imagine and the books get into the New York Times bestseller list. High advances will be available from major publishers for those authors next time I think.

I’m not quite sure how these authors managed to compete with the promotional activities of the major publishers but I’ll be researching it in detail. If it really is possible to compete and win with ebooks then that certainly makes a major change in publishing, and we all need to take an interest.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Author Interviews: The Challenge of Live Radio

As authors we all hope our books will get noticed and invitations to be interviewed on radio or television are highly desirable. But I wonder if any authors look forward to these interviews with anything other than dread when the lucky opportunities arise? I have a feeling we all brace ourselves, aware that we could slip up and make complete fools of ourselves by saying the wrong thing live to the listening audience, including people we know.

I could hardly bring myself to say on Facebook that I was on my way this morning, but steeled myself and posted the link, especially as we were giving away five signed copies of the book for the answer to a simple question. You can still find it on the Colourful Radio website if you’d like a shot at winning.

Having spent most of my working life as a journalist I also feel more comfortable asking the questions rather than answering them. Making a guest feel comfortable is what I enjoy doing, and when I’m the interviewer I really enjoy the excitement of live broadcasts. You’re never quite sure where the interview might take you, because an unexpected answer from the guest can totally change the direction of the discussion.

It didn’t help that the Victoria Line was in trouble today, with delays, and I needed to get from north London to Vauxhall in the south in time for my live slot with Rosemary Laryea – a wonderfully professional presenter and interviewer. I got there by the skin of my teeth with just five minutes to spare, and Rosemary chatted to me and did a voice test while playing some of Colourful Radio’s gorgeous music.

The music is right up my street, so that was relaxing, and by the time the track ended we were ready for my first six-minute interview. Rosemary had told me she would then play another track and then we’d have another six-minute chat.

It’s incredible what a professional interviewer can cover in two six-minute conversations. For me it started to feel unreal once the headphones were on and I was trying to answer the unplanned questions without making a mistake. At times like that you go away unsure if you’ve given the right answers.

Usually when interviewed I make the mistake of speaking too fast to try to fit too much in, and I think that’s very hard for the listeners. Perhaps it was the early hour, perhaps it was the relaxing music, or perhaps it was the mantra I’d repeated all the way in the tube – ‘Don’t talk too fast, don’t talk too fast....’ but at least I avoided that pitfall.

It’s so hard to answer questions about a novel and fit your themes into a nutshell, but I suppose in the end it doesn’t matter. With more experience I suppose we can enjoy these chats and just make the most of them.

I had been invited to talk because the Colourful Radio book reviewer had been interested in the theme of homelessness in my novel Everything is Free, and particularly the fact that the main character Mel is a teenage runaway who moves into a shopping centre for warmth and comfort at Christmas.

I’m happy to talk about this theme and to draw attention to this issue. But I was also anxious because homelessness is just one theme in the book and the other major themes include racism and various types of prejudice including the way we view and treat women. One of the characters in the novel is in the BNP, and women are being watched on the sly using the CCTV system, while somebody in the darker corridors is attacking women.

Some of these themes can be difficult to talk about in a short interview, and I was wondering how the book reviewer on a black radio station might respond to my way of covering racism. I was both interested to get that feedback, good or bad, and also nervous. The review will be in another show, and in the meantime this broadcast is on on the Rosemary Laryea page if you click on the show for the 8th of December in the 11am slot.

I’m glad I did it and I’m glad it’s over!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Sponsorship: Why We Sometimes Have to Turn it Down

When Alice Oswald withdrew from the T S Eliot prize this week she attracted attention to what I feel will be a growing dilemma in publishing. I believe that sponsorship is an important way to move forward for those in the arts who have lost their funding, or who are starting new ventures with little chance of funding. But when we accept sponsorship we need to be very careful about who we are prepared to take finance from.

For Oswald, the sponsorship of an investment company involved in hedge funds was unacceptable. Soon after she stepped down from her place on the shortlist she was joined by John Kinsella, who left for the same reason. Perhaps by the time you read this more of the poets will have stepped aside. The shortlist is getting ever shorter, and I wonder if any poets have ever withdrawn from the T S Eliot prize before – it has long been considered one of the most prestigious awards in the poetry world.

I feel that sponsorship can work and we do invite this kind of funding at Ward Wood Publishing. However, I’ve talked to my publishing partner Mike Fortune-Wood and we both understand that we can’t take funding from just anybody. We don’t have adverts for all and sundry on our website, but we do talk to sponsors we would be happy to have associated with our name, and with our authors’ names. Reputation is so important in publishing and writing: it takes a lifetime to build and a moment to lose.

The Americans I’ve been involved with for years because of my nonprofit writing projects have shown me how they manage by attracting sponsorship, and I know it can work for small and large projects in publishing and the arts in the UK. This doesn’t have to be a large investment from one big sponsor – often they accumulate the finance they need from a number of smaller investors, including individuals just chipping in a little. I often chip in myself if the project is a good one.

The larger the amount sponsored, the more rewards the sponsor gets – usually including the publicity of having their name displayed as a generous patron of the arts. Smaller investors get other incentives – from the good feeling associated with making an arts project possible, to having some free tickets, or even greater benefits. I think all of this works well and is a good way to go. There are even websites dedicated to helping you raise funding in this way. If you know of any, please do post the links in a comment.

I do always want to reserve the right to turn sponsors down if I don’t want to be associated with their type of activity, or if I feel they’re offering me money because they want an exchange of favours I’m not prepared to take part in. Sometimes you don’t know what the exchange of favours will be, and sometimes you just have to be aware that the investor is giving you the feeling that they will one day ask for something in return. This can also be the case when people offer voluntary assistance with the workload. I’ve sometimes learnt the hard way over the years and it’s vital to make it clear from the outset that there is no exchange of favours. Sometimes I have to avoid some offers of voluntary help, much as it’s needed.

The Poetry Book Society seems to have made an error of judgement by accepting this sponsorship. On their site they have a message saying how gratified they have been to receive it for the next three years, and they have stuck to the decision by saying other arts projects also receive funding from similar businesses.

But if two out of ten poets on the shortlist have left because of this, then it’s clear that authors want ethics to be taken into consideration when sponsorship is arranged. Citing other festivals, literary prizes and projects that accept similar funding only draws our attention to the fact that we should probably be looking more closely at them too.

It’s a pity this has happened after a year in which we jumped quickly to help the Poetry Book Society when they lost their Arts Council funding. It puts the other poets on the shortlist on the spot, and it puts publishers like me on the spot too. It makes us realise we have to question the sponsorship behind projects we’re involved with.

It also makes all of the shortlisted poets, and us, think about whether or not we can continue our association with this award. Should we put our poets forward for the seasonal selections at the Poetry Book Society, seeing as any chosen will be considered for the T S Eliot prize? With two walkouts this year so far, we would really need to check with poets to see if they want their books to be submitted. Perhaps we shouldn’t make this decision as publishers, but let individual authors decide what to do.

The discussion among poets on social networks has divided opinion, although there’s a strong reaction against having sponsorship from a business involved with hedge funds. Some say that the loss of Arts Council funding means the T S Eliot Prize is at risk of closure if poets turn their backs on it in this way. But the prize is supplied by the T S Eliot estate, and the funding is for managing the award. Surely an ethical investor could be found, or a number of sponsors each providing some of the finance needed.

I do feel at times like this that I’d like more transparency and to see exactly how much money is spent and how. I don’t see how else I can decide whether or not an important literary prize is at risk of closure. I find it very hard to believe that it is. Arts Council funding may have been lost, but Arts Council funding is a privilege rather than a right and projects should always plan ways to manage without it.

There are so many people who work in poetry for little or no income, or finance publishing companies and other ventures because they believe in the importance of this artistic form. It’s hard to convince the poetry world that accepting sponsorship from sources they feel to be unethical is necessary just because the sums need to add up. It depends how much money you decide you need in a budget for each project, and if ethical sources aren’t available to pay the amount you want this means that the budget and the working methods have to change.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Mutual Support for Publishers and Authors: Bring and Buy Tables at All Events

There’s a serious crisis in bookselling. We do all know this but I wonder sometimes if people realise quite how serious it is.

As authors we’re artists, of course, and many independent publishers are also authors who are in this to keep outlets open for writers – I was told many years ago that you can’t make a business out of poetry and it’s true. As authors and publishers we have one product – books – and if they don’t sell then there’s no way to finance print runs. It’s as simple as that.

You might think this doesn’t matter, and that ebooks are the way to go. You may dislike the words ‘business’ and ‘finance’ used when talking about artistic creation. But if we want to keep printed books going we do need to look at ways to get enough sales to pay for the print runs.

Even if publishers choose to use print-on-demand, books do need to be printed in quantity because most authors and publishers tell me that 90% of poetry books sell at events. So you do need to have a stock, and print-on-demand can actually work out more expensive.

One way of increasing sales and keeping print runs going is by providing mutual support at events. Publishers and authors can work together, and not in competition, to try to get those essential sales to keep trickling along. This isn’t unusual in small press publishing, but we can find more ways to do it.

The first Poetry Book Fair in London this year showed how well this can work. Charles Boyle of CB Editions had the idea and was surprised by how many independent publishers wanted to book a table and a reading slot at the event. Even though it wasn’t an easy venue to get to, the fair was packed from morning to evening and people were buying books.

It was also great fun and wonderful to get together with such a great bunch of publishers, poets and book buyers. We don’t have many chances to see each other all in the same room for a day.

The only downside was that we really need this to be happening more regularly. I’m going to be drawing more attention to the ‘bring and buy’ book table at the Friday Night Writers events I organise in London, so that more audience members realise they can bring along any books they have published (or magazines). These can be displayed alongside the books brought by the main performers at each event.

So, events can be like a small market. It’s possible to set out a couple of books at a time, with more in your bag to replenish the stock if and when your books sell. Audience members can also make announcements about other relevant news items such as competitions they’re organising, or their own events. They can display flyers on the table.

Although I set up Ward Wood Publishing with Mike Fortune-Wood in summer 2010, I’ve been working on writing projects for much longer than that, and the events I hold are to support a variety of publishers and authors rather than just our own company – this has always been my approach on other ventures. Most of the authors who have been booked to read at Friday Night Writers in Swiss Cottage Library have come from other publishing companies.

It’s expensive for publishers and authors to find a venue or to get booked in London, so I’m hoping this helps. I would love to hear about more similar projects all around the UK and Ireland – and our authors do travel, particularly to the US, so do let me know about any venues there. The Twisted Pepper and the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin are two particularly good venues which have been approachable for new authors.

I don’t have any funding for the events, so can’t cover travel costs or pay a fee, but authors have found it a useful venue when they’re passing through London, and with two events a month I’ve managed to fit them in on convenient dates. This has the added advantage of bringing together authors from various regions – it’s surprising how regional we can become at times, especially in the poetry world.

I don’t believe the saying ‘Poetry is a small world and everybody knows everybody’. It’s easy to become part of a clique and not see the poets who are just off our radar. Making events open to authors from different publishers, and from different regions – even if they aren’t people who can normally support the event – can put a larger number of authors on to our radar. We can never know all the good poets who are out there.

I keep mentioning poetry, but the same is true of literary fiction, and it would be good to see an independent publishers’ fair that included both fiction and poetry. Many presses publish both forms, and it’s hard to help novelists get started because they lack the network of open mics and events that’s so well established and helpful to poets.

There is the opportunity to read fiction at Friday Night Writers, but I need to ask for maximum 500 words now due to the popularity of the event. With the event anthology there’s another chance to support a variety of publishers as well as aspiring writers. Authors can read from a published book at the Friday Night Writers open mic, and they can submit a published piece of writing to be considered for the annual event anthology. This would mean a credit for the published book should their submission be selected.

The next event is on Friday December 9th, with Sue Rose as the main reader, and open mic with a chance to submit to the annual anthology. As it’s our last Friday Night Writers before Christmas it’s a good chance to have a bit of a ‘bring and buy’ book market, so don’t be shy about bringing along some books to display. If you set them out a couple at a time we’ll have space for everybody. And there will be mince pies and other goodies too!

By keeping admission free, and by charging just £1 for wine (proceeds go to the library user group fund) I hope the event is accessible to everybody, and also that it’s more tempting for audience members to buy a book from the table – by whichever authors and publishers appeal most.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Publishing and Charities: Supportive or Exploitative?

As a publisher supporting a charity at events and also with a competition offering publication of a short collection to the winner I’m very aware of the dangers if this is handled in the wrong way. Publishing can really help a charity – the Lumen/Camden Poetry Competition attracted more than 1,000 entries in its first year and raised more than £2,000 for the homeless in two North London Cold Weather Shelters.

Sales of the short collection we published for the winner (An Apple Tree Spouts Philosophy) are still adding to that figure, and the competition also helped launch the winner Caroline Squire as a poet who deserved to have a book out and to be noticed.

I was immediately approached by agencies wanting to manage this competition and publication for us, which draws attention to the fact that there’s money to be made from such ventures. Of course I didn’t accept these offers. None of the organisers of this competition take a penny in income, so there would be no commission for an agency.

The idea for the competition came from Ruth O’Callaghan, the poet who runs the twice-monthly Lumen and Camden Poetry Series of events, combining poetry performance by published poets with open mic from the audience and the chance to submit to her annual charity anthology. These events and anthology add about £4,000 more to the total raised for the homeless.

All of this raises a high percentage of the money needed to keep the Cold Weather Shelters going – the last time I heard it was 60% and I’m sure it’s still growing. So it’s a good thing when publishers support charities, isn’t it? Or are there mistakes that can be made?

An article in The Big Issue this week reminded me of the risks, and I’m more than aware of them already. In the article readers were warned about online sellers offering Christmas cards to support charities. Even the reputable shops selling greetings cards for charities typically give only 20-25% to the cause, perhaps less. At the most, a good retailer like WH Smith, might give 70%.

This is often used purely as a way of boosting sales, and a number of the online sellers pay a minimal 1% to the charities. So, supporting a charity can be part of a marketing drive, rather than a genuine effort to help.

As publishers, authors, and book buyers we need to be aware of this, and as competition entrants too. When we see that a competition, an anthology asking for submissions, or any book is being sold in aid of a charity, we need to know how much of the income is actually going to be handed over.

As a publisher I’m very aware that I could get this wrong, and the only way I can see of doing it is if we take absolutely nothing for Ward Wood Publishing and give all proceeds to the charity. Carol Ann Duffy takes no fee for judging the competition, and Ruth O’Callaghan also works with me at organising the entries and passing them on. Taking no income from charity work does simplify matters.

I do understand why publishers sometimes take a commission for this work and I don’t blame them for it. The work involved in organising and promoting the competition was pretty heavy. I was worn out by the time the deadline arrived. If you don’t keep promoting a competition you risk getting too few entries and we wanted to raise as much as possible for the charity.

The entries had to be accepted, entrants advised that their entry had been received if they paid and submitted via the website, and all entries passed to Ruth O’Callaghan who then organised it for Carol Ann Duffy. The number of entries as the deadline approached meant I was dealing with a huge amount of email.

But I’m not sure a commission based on a percentage of fees or sales is the right way to respond to this kind of workload. Generally, when publishers produce anthologies for charities, they might charge a 30% admin fee. I’m not sure how much agencies charge to organise this for a publisher. When we were organising the competition last year people told me I should be taking this fee.

I wouldn’t have felt happy about taking £600 from the £2,000 we raised, because I don’t think people entering a charity competition would be expecting that, so I didn’t want to take the standard 30% admin fee. People want their entry fees to go to the charity. I think people would accept specific costs being taken from the entry fee, such as printing and postage. We did calculate just over £100 for this as these are unavoidable costs and we arranged as low a fee with the printer as we could.

It’s better to detail these costs and explain clearly how much is to be taken out of the proceeds. A 30% admin fee could be very little, or it could be way too much in the case of a successful competition like ours. It wouldn’t cover the hours we have to spend working on it, but I’m not comfortable taking an income from any charity project.

Of course, this means we can’t do too many. We can probably only do one or two because the work has to be completely voluntary. But, in my opinion, this is the only way to go. People may disagree with me. It might be that it’s seen to be a good idea for publishers to make income from taking a percentage from charity publications, and agencies may also be welcome.

Charity anthologies do offer all the writers submitting a chance to get into print. They can supply some income for the publisher – perhaps a reasonable amount to cover the hours spent working. And they support the charities.

All opinions would be welcome on this subject. I’ve been careful about it since my first collection was accepted in the 1980s and I wanted to support the homeless in a Kilburn soup kitchen and hostel with a percentage of the sales income. The publisher advised me not to, as he said too many people did it and it could look like a marketing ploy to increase my sales.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Occupy Books: A Naughty Suggestion

There’s a simple solution that can help us fight the way we’re going to have heavily marketed books thrust in our faces in bookshops and supermarkets all through the gift-giving season. It’s a bit naughty but could be a fun idea for the weekend. It’s the book-lover's silent but effective protest.

What you do is this. You go into the bookshop, careful not to look with distaste at the piles of books in prominent positions on the display tables. Just saunter along as you would usually and browse along a few shelves, picking out books at random and putting them back.

Then find a book you really admire and spend a little time with it. Wander along and select another. As you dilly dally along with your books, with that ‘Shall I buy?’ look on your face, choose an opportune moment and stick your favourite book on top of one of the piles on the best display table.

This works very well for novels and nonfiction. You might even want to put a cookbook with tasty recipes on top of Jamie Oliver’s barely edible inventions. Poetry is a bit more tricky.

If you can find the poetry books you like – in fact if you can find the poetry section at all (it will be very small and tucked away in a back corner or downstairs) you probably can’t get away with moving a book to the prime positions in the shop.

What you can do is take out the book you like best, read the blurb innocently, and put it back leaning against the others with its cover showing instead of spine only. It will look so nice like that. If you’re feeling very naughty you might find they have some special little stands tucked among the poetry books to display the usual suspects well and you can trump them with your selection.

Of course, you’re likely to find that the poetry collections you would most like to see displayed aren’t in the shop at all. Bookshops rarely take poetry, they dedicate a tiny set of shelves to it, and they’re unlikely even to take a good book sale or return. The shelves are crammed too tight already so they want to offload poetry whenever possible.

The only naughty answer to this is to follow the instructions in the Ann Drysdale poem ‘Between Dryden and Duffy’. Do Google it for the best methods – it’s one of the funniest comedy sonnets I’ve seen.

The poet in the poem looks along the shelf for her book, and when she doesn’t find it she clears that space between Dryden and Duffy and inserts one from her supermarket carrier bag. Of course, not all poet’s names fall into such a great position by happy accident.

So there are ways to get real books displayed. The prime display positions in the bookshops have been marked out and are all nicely prepared waiting for your choices. Something naughty to do at the weekend? I’m not going to admit if I’m already doing it.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Occupy Books. Celebrity Authors or Real Books?

OK, I know some celebrity authors can write and some of their books are good. But after yesterday’s post people complained at the way the market this season is dominated by highly publicised books that will probably never be read – not even by the ‘authors’ as so many are ghostwritten. These books are just bought as easy and lazy gifts at the last minute. I thought I’d add some statistics to this about how publishing and bookselling trends affect authors and what we can do about it.

I admit these statistics were gleaned from the One Show (a popular evening chat show on BBC One, if you’re not familiar with UK television). This made it more comical for me, because Gyles Brandreth revealed some figures about aspiring authors, rejection figures, and who gets published and paid for books. He did all of this with celebrity author Celia Imrie beside him, just about to plug her book.

Gyles answered the question many people ask me – which is ‘How many people can actually make a living out of writing books?’ I’ve always made my living out of writing as a journalist and nonfiction book author, as well as working in publishing as an editor and now a publisher. But they mean books of fiction or poetry.

He revealed that 95% of books submitted to publishers are rejected. Of the 5% that get accepted, 75% of the authors will earn less than £20,000 per year for their book (and most books only sell well in the first year). £20,000 might still sound reasonable, but really the vast majority of these authors will be doing well if they sell between 1,000-3,000 books per year. That’s the usual figure, and I’ve heard that even with a major publisher, the debut novel can be expected to sell about 500 copies.

So, about 5% of authors who submit to publishers will be accepted, and they are most likely going to sell fewer than 3,000 books. Even if they get royalties of 10% of the cover price and the book sells for £10, this would be less than £3,000 income. But most contracts with major publishers aren’t based on 10% of the cover price. All costs are taken off first and you get a percentage of the profit.

A while ago I posted about literary agents and the kind of advance they told me they go for. The agent I spoke to is very good and aims for a £25,000 advance for authors as her income comes purely from a percentage of what the author is paid by the publisher, if she succeeds in getting authors signed. This is standard – if you get an agent they manage your income by receiving it from the publisher, taking off their commission, and paying you.

But usually an advance is £5,000 or less. The book sales have to pay back the advance to the publisher before any additional income is paid, and you can see by the average sales figures that this is quite hard to achieve.

Gyles finished off by saying what happens to so many of the books that are published but don’t sell in large enough quantities. They are used in the construction of motorways and he said how many miles they were supporting, but sadly I can’t remember. Apparently they form a good, shock absorbent type of support.

I do hear people saying they think much of this is new, but I first worked as a fiction reviewer and an editor in the early 1980s and I was told even then about the massive quantities of books that were published only to be pulped. Authors are just becoming more aware of the facts nowadays, probably due to more information being available online.

At the end of his commentary, Gyles pointed out that publishers were more likely to take on authors who were already celebrities. They’re easier to sell. It was quite a comical introduction to Celia Imrie talking about her new book and her mouth was in a very uncomfortable attempt at a polite smile. I must confess, I've read some of her book and she's very good.

I’m not against celebrity authors, because publishers and bookshops say they provide enough finance for a lot of their other work. Celebrity authors could help support the publishing of less commercial books, and could also help publishers take a risk on authors.

Bookshops do have limits due to shelf space – a problem I’ve only realised to be significant over the past year. They can’t just take a risk on a book that’s good even if it’s sale or return. They always want sale or return, and they don’t have space.

The figures shouldn’t be depressing. When rejection slips come in, they need to be cast aside quickly and not be offputting. It’s hard to get published, and it’s even harder for those published books to sell in order to stay on a publisher’s list. We all keep writing anyway.

We shouldn’t see publishers as the judges of whether or not our writing is good, but we often do. We certainly shouldn’t judge by how much our book sells either, or all poets would stop writing.

All of this does mean that independent publishers and truly independent bookshops need to be supported if we want publishing outlets for debut novelists, poets, and risk-taking authors. The only way this can happen is if they’re supported by buyers.

Major publishers poach safe bet authors from each other – or so the literary agent told me – and they also poach from independent publishers. To keep opportunities open for authors I suggest looking at the good independent publishers and bookshops this season.

Sorry to repeat this bit, but I’m not saying this to promote my company or any specific company. In fact suggestions for good listings of independents and good review sites would be welcome.
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