I really love meeting readers because they provide insights that I have never considered before.
But sometimes readers – usually unthinkingly – say things which aren’t quite so encouraging. So, as I prepare to embark on another frenetic round of book signings, book talks and other events to publicise the publication of my third novel, The Poppy Factory, I thought I’d record some of the things that, in my short career as a novelist I’ve been told – or overheard – and why it hurts to hear them.
1. I never pay full price for a book.
When did it become a badge of honour to get something as cheaply as possible? The full price for a paperback is around £7.99: the equivalent price of two very small glasses of wine in a bar, a posh starter at a restaurant, a tiny pizza, a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of cheap wine at the supermarket. For the same money, a novel will bring you pleasure for much, much longer than any of these.
2. I never buy real books, I haven’t got room in my house for them
And nor would you have any room for those empty bottles of wine, pizza boxes etc (see above) if you kept them all. Buy a book and then give it away, so that a charity can benefit from reselling it!
3. I don’t have time for reading
But you do have time to watch television, play on social media, have your nails done. Why not divert some of that time to reading – it is soooo much more satisfying.
4. My mum/gran will love this book.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but what is this generational thing? Okay, I am no spring chicken, but that doesn’t mean my books are only for reading by your mum/granny etc. Many of my characters are in their twenties and thirties.
5. I only read romance/horror/crime fiction
Fair enough, we all have our favourite types of book. But why not break out once in a while and try something different!
6. I love my Kindle
Yes, okay, so do I. I love it for travelling, to save carrying heavy books. But I never enjoy books that I’ve read in electronic version quite so much, never feel as invested in them, as emotionally engaged, as with a physical book. They are less memorable, not least because you don’t have covers to look at and enjoy when they’re not being read. You can’t flick back and re-read passages that really caught your attention. You can’t check what the character said, two chapters back. Books that I really want to savour I buy in physical form and will often give away afterwards, unless I cannot bear to, for I too have little room on my shelves. Electronic books are really here to stay: they are really convenient and often helpful as bargain basement ‘loss leaders’ to introduce readers to a new author’s books. But I really hope that we will go on loving and valuing physical books too.
7. I only buy books in supermarkets, it’s so convenient
Supermarkets have an important role in bookselling and authors love them because they sell loads of copies, albeit usually at knock-down prices. But we absolutely must support independent booksellers, too. By always buying in supermarkets, you are spelling the death knell for those few local booksellers clinging on in difficult times, whose existence enriches our high streets and our book-reading lives. Supermarkets only stock a limited range of the thousands of books out there, and only new releases, so you are denying yourself that choice and each bookshop closing ultimately reduces the choice for everyone. If you’d like to support independent booksellers sign up to the Books are My Bag campaign.
8. I loved your book so much I lent it to all my friends.
A double-edged sword, this one. It’s great that you loved the book, but I so much wish you had bought copies for all your friends’ birthdays or Christmas presents instead, rather than passing round that single dog-eared copy!
9. Would you read my manuscript?
I love talking to and trying to encourage other writers, but writing is a full time job for me and there are professional manuscript reading services that would do a much better job.
10 You must be making a fortune, getting all these books published.
Excuse the hollow laugh. The cut-throat discount world of bookselling (see 1, 2, 6, 7, and 8 above) has ensured that 99% of authors these days have to do other jobs to make ends meet. I read somewhere that the average income an author gets these days is £11,000 a year, so we can assume that 50% of authors make less than that and only a tiny handful of very big names (and whose books get made into movies) actually make a ‘fortune’.
NB It goes without saying that none of the above reduces the joy I have in writing, the delight in seeing a book come to reality, and the absolute pleasure of meeting readers. Which is why I will be smiling with genuine pleasure to meet you at any of the events over the next few months!