Is there a Future for the Book?For me? For you?
An Agent I met at a writers’ workshop this weekend sighed, picked her pert nose and said, “publishers just don’t take risks any more!”. The main reason being, of course, digital publishing. Kindle, Mobo, Ibooks etc. Even though a recent Guardian article claims there has been a fall in digital sales, their stats are questionable. The dinosaurs of traditional publishing are closing ranks and panicking, in fear of digital apocalypse. Dunno. So today the question I’m asking you is, Is there a future for traditional books?
When she asked me to name the category I fall into, I was forced to say “literary fiction.” Which means, to read me you have to be smart. But that’s wrong! I say, to read me you only need a sense of humour; to be tickled by the bizarre and the insane. And when I showed her my portfolio of work in progress, she said “You work with big ideas”. Wtf? I think she meant, basically, as far as plots are concerned, you don’t do anything normal. Darn right. Even my little Sally, housewife from the suburbs, rapes a man, does a casual murder and steals some drugs. Which was what led her to say “publishers won’t take risks any more.” So that’s what I am, a risk. Me and the rest of new writers producing literary fiction. Original, perhaps bizarre, experimental, different, daring work. Work that plays with the brain. There is nothing more boring, as I’ve told pupils many times, than normal.
The categories of books that line up in the Boring Lists fall under two main headings: Richard and Judy and “Book Club”. So what do they include? Well, thrillers, chick lit, which is a sub-category of “women’s’ fiction” crime, cooking, millions of those accursed Celeb Biogs, established authors…historical fiction, if it’s by big names, will always sell. Poetry? Forget it! Even Faber won’t consider a new, unpublished poet.
The WH Smith bestseller list this week has a story to tell. (https://www.whsmith.co.uk/chart/books/fiction-02×08974) The number 1, Victoria Hislop’s Cartes Postale from Greece looks suspiciously like Women’s Fiction. Two (The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena) is a Thriller. Three and four, both Women’s Fiction. Then Crime, Thriller, Women’s, and on and on. If Proust or Vonnegut or Sharpe were writing today, would they be on the WHS Bestseller list? Would Dickens? Would a publisher nowadays “take a risk” on Shakespeare’s Sonnets?
I don’t see a great deal of humour amongst best-sellers. Unless, of course, it’s by a celeb.
On Amazon the king of kings is Jamie Oliver. That boy can sure sell! https://www.amazon.co.uk/Best-Sellers-Books/zgbs/books. Le Carre’s Legacy of Spies comes second. Bully for him! I happen to think he’s not just a good writer, but a good man too. Number 3 is This is Going to Hurt, by Adam Kay. Subtitled Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor, this is obviously reality TV in book form. Then comes a surprise – JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. Hey! An author from Back in the Day. A seriously classy writer. Did I miss an adaptation on the box? That’s usually the reason for the re-issue of a classic.
And tomorrow? There are people who see a resurgence in Real Books. They remind me of those beautiful people who keep predicting that vinyl records will rise from the grave. And to some extent, they have! People are actually buying turntables and it’s very trendy to invite guests to admire your repeating grooves. But you visit hipsters these days you may well be unsurprised by the total absence of bookshelves, unless they are there to display decapitated herrings or artwork made of rabbit shit or blood. Were you to ask them if they ever read books, they may direct your attention to the Kindle in the corner, covered in spiderwebs, discarded beard wigs and dust.
Ah, so whither Literary Fiction (capitalised to show respect)? Classy, original, demanding, delicious Literary Fiction? I suppose mostly dropped like a stone into the echoing vacuum of Self-Publishing. (Vacuums, btw, are silent. As a writer of Literary Fiction I have the right to fuck up metaphors.) (My vacuum has echoes. And the cries of frustrated egos) To moulder and die with all those narcissistic autobiographies of sweet little old ladies who once met the Queen.
Well, what the hell. Me, I will continue to throw my madness down the well of nothingness until somebody notices. There are people I know and respect a HELL of a lot who like it. Like you. And maybe one day there’ll be more. I am reminded of that Irish bloke who only ever wrote one book, and I can’t remember the damn title even though I read it and loved it years ago. He tried and tried to get a publishing deal and couldn’t, so he killed himself. And his mother, bless her, got a deal and the book became a major classic of the genre. £5 for anyone who can remind me of the title, I want to read it again.
So I’m shouting into the vacuum…..helloooooooo….anyone in there…….????
(You’re going to LOVE my next book!)