I met an author on Saturday. I didn’t know at first that he was, he looked just like an ordinary customer. Joke. In case that doesn’t translate. Anyway, he asked me for a book, and he got the title a bit wrong but I knew what he meant, and we had a bookseller/customer polite conversation. We were smiling and chatting, and he asked if we had any books signed by the author. I assumed he wanted to buy one, and said that whilst we do, yes indeed, have signed books, we do not keep them in one area. Then he said no, he is an author, and we sell his books, and he wondered if we would like them signed. He looked uncomfortable asking this, and I enthused loudly to try to overcome the embarrassment. He told me his name, I fetched his books, he signed them, he left. I put special ‘signed by the author’ stickers on the front covers, I displayed one title in a bay, slotted the others back onto the shelves.
When he went I looked him up as to my shame I haven’t read his work. Not only is he an acclaimed writer of novels and short stories, he is also an award winning poet, and a playwright. This is a man who has ostensibly ‘made it’. Yet he still thought it prudent to put himself through the uncomfortable squirm of asking to sign his books. Sensible though, the books are now being promoted in our store more prominently than they were before. But should he have to worry about such things? It clearly wasn’t a matter of ego with him. (Yes, there are awful booming do you know who I am kinda people who demand to sign, he wasn’t one of them.) I assume that he has been told to do his bit to promote his work wherever he can. I dunno, it seems to me that a writer is never allowed to stop the scramble for acceptance.
Talking to one-who-knows-such-things recently was rather depressing. They pointed out that a beginning writer may sub work in the hope of small publications and so on, leading to bigger prizes and hopefully, ultimately, you may be lucky enough to catch the eye of an agent. The agent may like the work enough to take on the writer. They then try to sell the writer’s work to a publisher, who then tries to sell the work to bookshops and media, who then try to sell the work to customers. If you’re not in a 3 for 2, or a Richard and Judy, or on a prize winning list, then what sets your work apart. At the end of the day, bluntly, who really gives a fuck about reading anything that you have to say? You constantly sub work in the hope that it will be successful, and I was told (not sure if this is true or not) that an average author will only make £8, 000 a year.
That’ s why it has to be a compulsion. Any other motivation for writing other than it being that thing that you do because you simply must seems rather silly. It is my thing, my compulsion, and so…on I go.