Tuesday 10 April 2012

Two articles about the state of literature and publishing

From a newspaper description of a program tonight: "A 31-year-old amateur poet from Bournemouth discusses his difficulties dating". The word "amateur" reveals the difference between the public perception of literary writers and the harsh reality. Here are 2 recent reality-articles that are well worth a read -

  • Poetry and Tribalism - Jon Stone's examination of poetry factions. He finishes by writing "Our collective responsibility, I think, is to change the mainstream without destroying it - or worse, replacing it with something similarly flawed."
  • The real story: publishing, four and a half years on - Sharon Blackie, of Two Ravens Press, writes about sales, marketing, blogs, reviews, money and motivation - "Even though our sales through Amazon, for example, go out at the highest discounts we ever give, we love them. Because they represent firm sales, and they never come back again." ... "We’ve had e-books for a couple of years now, sold through our website and also fully distributed through a major wholesaler, and our bestselling e-book has sold about ten copies."


  1. I saw that programme advertised too. Not sure I’ll watch it though. But I did enjoy the article on the Two Ravens Press site. ‘Enjoy’ is probably not the right word, ‘empathise’ is probably closer to the mark. As you may or may not know I published my third novel a few months back and a handful of reviews from old friends followed and that was it. Others—writers who I had fully expected to agree to do a review—made their excuses. As one put it, she would find it “very difficult to appreciate all the nuances of [the] book.” And she herself is what I would call a literary novelist. This has depressed me more than usual—begging people to review you book (yes that’s the right verb) is a soul destroying thing at the best of the time—but now I have to look at who else there is out there and I have to agree with what Sharon Blackie says: “The tastes of the reading population have become so impossibly homogenised that they take a look at books of the kind we publish and can’t imagine why they would want to read them.” So instead of presenting my book as a metafiction inspired by Beckett’s novella Mercier and Camier, which it is, I feel I now have to sell it to the world as a funny novel about two Irish layabouts who fun away from home by accident, which it also is but that’s not all it is. The worse thing is is that Milligan and Murphy is actually my fourth novel. I decided to make it available before The More Things Change because I thought that novel was a bit too heavy to jump straight to after the relatively light ‘Truth’ books.

    I’ve just written a lengthy review of an ebook that a friend pointed me to written in a style not dissimilar to Beckett’s How It Is (his most difficult novel by far) and it is a wonderful piece of writing that manages to transcend its derivations and become its own thing. No one will read it—next to no one anyway—and it is such a shame.

    Actually I’ve never found being a poet has done me any harm whatsoever when it comes to dating. They invariably want to read your stuff so let them read it, don’t press them for a response and never bring up the subject again. Unless they do. Which is why I’m married to Carrie now.

  2. I don't see a solution to the small press problems. I used to hope that Amazon would provide a showcase that was more equitable than what bookshops provided.

    Several people at my local writers group are sharing e-book experiences. I've not been involved. They realise that "Of course, e-publishing is the easy bit, marketing is the BIG challenge" and are trying out various things. Early days. A niche factual title has done quite well I think.