Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The End for Writers

Stuart Jeffries examines How Waterstone's killed publishing. So great is the stranglehold of the book chains over publishers that he can't get any publishers to talk openly about the situation. Agent Bill Hamilton tells him that "They fear speaking out about how their books are being sold." Hamilton, a man who should know, tells us instead:
"There's been a slow bonfire of literary authors in the last 18 months," says Hamilton. "Publishers are sending out to pasture established literary novelists because they realise they aren't going to be sold by the chains. The complaint now from publishers is that most of their quality books hardly get a look in at all"

11 comments:

Vanessa Gebbie said...

But what I don't get is this: they are working to a commercial model. Fine. So does a supermarket. But supermarkets dont just sell baked beans and crisps, and apples. They stock salami, blueberries, uglifruit. Which dont sell in their zillions, but a few...
If Tesco can do it, why not Waterstones? Why not sell the small unpasteurised cheeses alongside the slabs of bland cheddar?
Why kill off the small things at the same time a plugging the big fast moving stuff? You'd think an article like this would worry them... but I bet it doesn't.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Interesting point, Vanessa.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

It's worth saying maybe not all Waterstones are identical? My local branch in Brighton has a dedicated short story collection section run by a dedicated writer of short fiction who is only in on Saturdays. And there's always something interesting, fun to find, there and elsewhere in the shop. Sometimes, I want to ask, when you read these articles...so who are these "masses" of literary writers who have been dropped? Its such emotive language - 'a bonfure of writers...'I want Waterstones to have a chance to reply.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, I do know that Brighton Waterstone's champions short stories. Names would be good re the apparently dropped literary writers, but maybe the reason we don't get them is that no writer pushed out by one publisher and hoping to move to another is likely to want to be known as 'dropped' and so will be keeping things quiet. One example I do know of is Fay Weldon, whose latest novel was turned down by her big publisher to be taken up by, I understand, an independent publisher.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

There is an interesting backlash to the Guardian article... see The Bookseller for a precis. Many comments left on the Guardian site point out that Waterstones is doing a good job. That they are far from stuffed with just tatforchristmas togivetodarrenwhoprobablywontreaditanyway.

And that really, if High Street rents are as bad as they are, why lose percious shelf space to easy chairs so one man can take up the space of a few hundred books to read at leisure about Seneca's suicide?

And what was he going to do with the book once he'd read it? Put it back on the shelf for someone in a year or so to find his fingerprints and the odd dropped nose hair?

SueG said...

That's phenomenal news about Fay Weldon. But as I just wrote on V's blog, I think all this is a sign of an industry in disarray and hanging on for dear life. Models are developing all the time whereby writers can cut out the publishers completely and market their books themselves, reaching a good audience and making decent money. We are on the cusp of something here. We have to hold our bnerve and keep doing what we do best, or give up and get jobs in offices somewhere. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I know what my decision is.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Mm, but the space that the chair would go in is not exactly filled with Seneca at the moment is it? As Jeffries says (I think), Waterstone's did have those chairs at one time and people did sit reading for hours. Don't know if anyone complained about the nose hairs...!

I have to say that I used to get interesting books from Manc W I can't find there now, and the staff used to be knowledgable, but very suddenly at the HMV changeover, staff knew nothing about books. I would say there has definitely been a move towards treating books as commodities and away from the bookshop role of creating (rather than responding) to a demand, which I think is Jeffries' main point.

I do think W Brighton is a special case: Manchester has several Salt short story writers but do you see them in Manc W?

And as one of those whose work has been raved about by agents and publishers but turned down as not quite commercial enough to please the bookshops, Hamilton's comments ring a bell for me.

Elizabeth Baines said...

My last comment was for Vanessa.

Sue, yes holding our nerve is the thing. I have definitely had to do that, and was rewarded by being taken up by Salt - new things are happening, and I think new independent publishers (as well as the new independent bookshops mentioned in the article) are stepping in to fill the gap.

Elizabeth Baines said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debi said...

The article made for depressing reading. Ian Rankin is the example I always use of an author who wouldn't have got a subsequent deal following initial unspectacular sales of his early books.

'Names would be good re the apparently dropped literary writers, but maybe the reason we don't get them is that no writer pushed out by one publisher and hoping to move to another is likely to want to be known as 'dropped' and so will be keeping things quiet.' Quite!

Indie publishers - and booksellers - are the hope for the future.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Well, as I said on Vanessa's blog, I don't actually find the article depressing, as this is a situation which has been going on for some time now unacknowledged, and it's good to have it aired at last, and great that people are starting to speak out about it.