It will probably not surprise you to learn given I write a book blog for funsies, but I’ve been doing a fair bit of thinking about readers and writers and the relationships between the two lately. I review novels because I love them. Because there’s so, so many out there, some great ones, many average. Some are truly awful. You might see one or two books reviewed in your average mainstream weekend newspaper. There are far, far more worthy novels than that. But who would know? And how do you judge when the world seems to have devolved into an endless cycle of airport bestseller paperbacks and book club fancies. And, maybe more importantly, what about the new and small voices?
I have an addiction to first novels. Sure I’ll read the blurb, I want to get a vague idea of what a novel’s about but the one way to immediately sell me a book is to use a phrase like “debut novel” or “bold new voice” or some such guff that indicates this is by someone’s first foray into the world of publishing and who knows how it will go? What an adventure! Maybe this author is the next big thing?! This means I rarely read serials and I don’t really have a favourite author. But as a reader I do feel its important to give the new voices a good hearing. Possibly that book purchase means more too. But more likely my choices and reading habits are so insignificant in comparison to the size of the market that it makes no difference.
Being published feels like the opening of a magical door. You’re in. You’re an author. Your book is in bookshops, it sits there in the same place as Middlemarch and Gilead and Infinite Jest and all those other BOOKS. You’ve been chosen. And it is, it’s magical for a bit. And then the bookshops send all the unsold copies back and that’s it. You’re not on the shelves anymore, no one will review you, no one will ask you to be on a panel at a literary festival.
So, what can we do? I’m just a regular old reader. I try to shop wisely. I try to buy books locally at independent stores. I give books for every gift I can. I don’t take books out of the library any more, though I probably should, because my reading is so sporadic I end up returning them unread (or half-read which is worse). I recently bought a Kindle and when I realised Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (my review is here), which cost me $29 in the shop, was just $5 on Kindle. I had to hang my head in shame. If it is true that authors only make about $0.35 from the $0.99 Kindle books, which let’s say is roughly a third, Fowler is making $1 from each copy of her ebook sold. And that’s a best seller. What is N.A Sulway making from $4.95 Kindle versions of Rupetta, which, despite being utterly fabulous, I have never seen available in a bookstore (I looked)?
And then I stumbled on this by Stephanie Dowrick, a really great list of how readers can help authors. She says:
Identify the writers you care most about. Know who’s writing the books that actually enhance your thinking and your life. Buy their books. Give their books to others. Write positive, encouraging on-line reviews about them. Talk about them. Make sure your enthusiasm is contagious and active.
I rarely review books I don’t actually like because if I don’t like it I often don’t finish it. But is reviewing books really helping? There are so many amateur voices out there now, does anyone actually care about them apart from Amazon, which is no doubt quietly compiling our reading habits and selling them on? (Here’s an interesting piece from the ABC on amateur literary critics.)
So where does all this leave us? Reading is a pleasure and I’m guessing you likely wouldn’t be here if you weren’t a reader. What little steps do you take to do good in the publishing, writing, reading world?