Excerpt from an article in The Telegraph
|Will Self. Photo: Rex.|
What has changed in the past 30 years is that it has become impossible for the rump of the literary profession – those middling sorts (of sales, that is, not necessarily of brow) – to earn a reasonable living simply by writing books. The abolition of the net book agreement in the 1980s heralded two simultaneous developments: a vertiginous integration of book distribution and retailing, and a simultaneous collapse in the formerly steep-sided pyramid of critical authority. To put it bluntly: the punters would no longer buy what they were told to buy by literary types, and in any case, there were no longer cosy little bookshops in which they could order these recommendations. As for writers, whose earnings had been artificially maintained by a price cartel, there were only a few options available: the time-honoured promenade of Grub Street, some altogether non-literary job, or an ignominious – and often soul-destroying – retreat into silence.
The advent of the web, and a generation for whom free creative content is – quite literally – a given, has only intensified these pressures; but actually for the duration of my career, if you wanted to make a success of being a literary novelist (a synonym for not especially high-selling) you’ve had to be willing to work very hard indeed at publicising and presenting your own work to the public. And a key part of that publicising and presenting has been the reading of your works aloud. In the early 1990s when I began publishing, the standard literary tour consisted of doing a circuit of chain bookshops – Waterstones and latterly Borders – and reading to whoever bothered to pitch up. The author’s presence in provincial towns was designed to stimulate local media attention, and so units were shifted. [Read More]
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