I only started buying books around 10 years ago. I used to borrow books from public libraries or from friends. Back then, I didn’t give much thought about how the writer would get paid if I wasn’t buying. Ten years ago, I didn’t even own a bookshelf; now there is so little space on my shelves that I have started stacking them 2 deep.
I grew up around books, my mother had books piled on shelves in the living room, a stack of books by her bed. In later years there were books in every room of the house. I got the habit of reading in the bath from her, and I picked up Jane Eyre from one of the lower shelves when I was eight years old – it was the first adult novel I read. But I didn’t pick up the habit of buying them until later.
When I started writing novels and learnt how little most writers earn – even famous literary fiction writers often need a day job to make ends meet – I decided I would buy books. After all, I couldn’t expect anyone to buy my books if I didn’t return the favour, albeit in advance.
But in a week when the BBC reported that as many as 25% of school assignments included material copied from the internet (with one pupil even leaving in the website adverts) are book sales really in decline?
A quick internet search revealed some interesting figures. Some authors are doing quite well. According to the Bookseller David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas sold
fewer than 300,000 copies in its mass market edition
though presumably not a lot fewer, while Anne Enright, this year’s Booker Prize winner had sold only 824 books by mid August last year.
And Enright was probably doing well compared to other talented writers who aren’t lucky enough to be nominated for prestigious literary prizes.
Books by little known writers are harder to get hold of, the big chains often won’t take a chance on new writers. But though it seems the internet age hasn’t led to a shrinking book market, not yet at least, it does make the undiscovered gems a whole lot easier to track down.
To get you started you can buy direct from Tindal Street Press (I enjoyed Clare Morrall’s Astonishing Splashes of Colour). Jai Claire’s collection The Cusp of Something is available from Elastic Press. Or try something by Roxanna Robinson, a collection of short stories or the excellent novel “Born Free” by Laura Hird , Or The Liar’s Diary by Patry Francis.