I woke up this morning, looked at my diary, and it clearly said "write blog." I knew exactly what I was going to write about, but as I read my friends' blogs over my morning coffee, I saw this scare-mongering article from the Guardian alluded to over and over: How Waterstones Killed Publishing. Okay. Deep breaths everyone.
Now, I have been called a pollyanna before (mostly by me). And I know that despite (or maybe because of) my propensity to go towards the bleak I try to look on "the bright side" as much as possible. But I can't keep quiet about this. Here are my thoughts. Be forewarned, my blood is boiling:
1. I have always told myself and all my students, if you don't need to write, then don't do it. Go work in an office. Sell ice cream. Be a fireman, whatever. Despite what it says all over the Writers' Guild literature, you can not write for money. If it comes to you, great. But don't expect it and don't rely on it. Especially not now.
2. Book shops and publishers and, yes, even agencies, are businesses, first and foremost. That, by definition, means that most will be risk averse, especially in a time of economic upheaval. It is not a surprise that the big booksellers only want to sell what they know will be bought. Nor is it a surprise that the publishers only want to publish what they know they can sell to the book stores. And it goes down the "food chain" from there. The fact that the writer is at the bottom of the food chain should also not be a surprise. It has ever been thus.
3. The more interesting question is not why, but why now? Yes, it's the economy which is making everyone suffer. But I believe it is about more than that. It is about technnology, and this, dear writers, is the good news. We are witnessing an industry running for its life. Every day, just like in the music business, models are developing whereby writers can produce their own work, market it, distribute it, reach a wide audience and make money from it. And all without the middle man. Today's technology makes this possible. The trick is to see this as an opportunity, not a death knell.
So to sum up: I love Waterstones. My own books have been on sale in their shops and it has always given me a huge thrill to see them on those shelves. I dearly hope and believe that my future books will be seen there as well. The people who work at Waterstones could be selling automotive parts, but they have chosen to put their considerable abilities towards selling books, and to me books are important and so kudos to them. But I REFUSE to be held hostage to their business plans. I have already given up writing out of fear once in my life. I, for one, am not going to do it again. Yes, I go to bed every night praying that some wonderful agent will recognize me and scoop me up and present me and my works to some huge international publishing house which will give me a 4 book deal, amazing advances and worldwide recognition. I already own the dress I will wear to the Oscars. BUT, even if that does not happen, I will still get my latest novel out to the public, not to mention my nearly completed poetry collection. There are people already waiting to read the new book -- maybe not 100,000's but enough to use the word "countless." If someone won't do it for me, I now know there are ways to do it myself. And it will be the publishers' loss, not mine. The list of writers I know personally for whom this is all also true is already quite long. And I'm just one lone blogger here in the sunny terraces of central London.
So for now, I'm putting on my little red beret, picking up my pen and daring to do what I love and what I do best. Write. I suggest that you all do the same. After all, if we don't do it, who will?