Advent Day 4
For reasons too complicated to explain, my husband’s current contribution to family life is the restoration of a vast Lego Millennium Falcon. The sitting room is covered in the kind of carnage that once indicated the eldest’s bedroom and the pieces are migrating through the house in a way that makes me feel as though the clock has been turned back, except now it’s the children yelling at their father when they step on a piece in bare feet. All the Best Books of 2018 lists are coming out and, while I’m delighted for the writers who feature, my heart is full for those who don’t.
Writing is a glorious thing; publishing, not so much. If only every book received the same marketing and attention. If only sales teams were allowed to push the books they love; if only tube posters and book prize entries were free. Once upon a time, books carried a uniform price tag and the bestsellers subsidised the new and emerging voices. Now, bestsellers are created before they’re even published, with advertisements and interview opportunities and sales hooks. All the marketing spend in the world cannot guarantee a bestseller, of course, and there is the odd book that catches fire unexpectedly – but on the whole, more books are bought by publishers, then quietly left to sink or swim, than are bought and promoted. And truly, what chance does an unpromoted book have in this crowded and noisy market? Apart from anything else, they’re so hard to find.
Publishing is a business, of course. If the publishers don’t make money, the writers don’t get published. But without the writers, what on earth would the publishers publish?
I would like to see more support for writers within the industry. It’s easy to care for a writer who’s flying high; harder, perhaps, to remember the vast majority of us. With so many brilliant writers as yet undiscovered, the harsh reality is that the industry will never need to take any responsibility for those it lets fall. There will always be another stunning debut to champion, another aspiring writer desperate for a chance. It’s not only a cruel way of doing business, but an inefficient one. How many superb writers have been lost to an industry whose very operating structure requires it simultaneously to revere them and to prey upon them? Invisibly they slip away; unwitnessed, their words disappear.
I can’t control which books appear on these lists, any more than I can control marketing spends or industry trends, but I can say this: I’m looking for your books. I want to find and read your words. There’s an army of us out here, reading, writing, waving, drowning. If we can help each other to keep swimming, however alone we feel, we might just find we’ll survive.
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