“A career in writing is really, really difficult.” Kit De Waal.
Truth is, I haven’t been writing much recently. I often need ‘recovery time’ after finishing a novel, and The Pursuit of Ordinary was no exception. Partly, that’s due to the material I write – I need a break emotionally – but it’s also due to the fact I also run a business (with my other half) and am bringing up two young children.
Before I was published, I imagined the day I’d be able to write full time. Once I had a publishing contract, there I’d be, clutching my dream to my chest like a newborn, grinning with advert-ready white teeth.
The reality for most authors today is quite different (I’m sitting here on a Sunday morning drinking coffee in a dressing gown and, as I drink black coffee, I doubt my teeth are advert ready). Of course, there are the (well deserved) successes we all hear of, Joanna Cannon, Sarah Winman, Matt Haig… but for most authors, success doesn’t equal a paycheque they can live on.
I was about to write ‘and that’s okay’ – because this isn’t a whiny blog post, far from it – but the changes in the publishing industry over the past decade have more far-reaching effects than poor little old me also having to work while I’m authoring. The point is, I earn a decent wage and can make the choices I want to – but other authors don’t have the the same choices.
The Guardian ran an article this week about the crisis in Literary Fiction – sales have dropped so dramatically the genre is in crisis. Is this crisis silencing author voices that would otherwise be heard?
ACE’s literature director Sarah Crown says: “It’s a much more unforgiving ecosystem for authors of literary fiction today. We inevitably end up with a situation where the people best positioned to write literary fiction are those for whom making a living isn’t an imperative. That has an effect on the diversity of who is writing – we are losing voices, and we don’t want to be in that position.”
So does it matter? Does it matter than the only voices that will get through are the people who can afford to write full time? Is that even true?
On a personal level, I’ve always suspected having the time to write would actually mean I spread my time and didn’t write enough. Being a full-time author, for me, might be a poisoned chalice. Inherently, I’m lazy. I manage to fit a lot into my days because I have to. If I didn’t have to, I might find myself lying on the sofa, eating crisps and watching Netflix all day long.
But that’s a personal viewpoint – I might be shattered a lot of the time but I earn enough to live on outside of being an author. But what of the talented writers that don’t? Shouldn’t they be able to earn a living from doing something that’s arguably so important?
It’s true that publishing has changed – something not all authors, publishers, agents and even the reading public has caught up with – and like all things, I suspect we are only beginning to miss the ‘good old days’ now they’re gone.
We absolutely need fresh voices. Fiction, in my opinion, documents reality in a way fact can never do. It tells us something about the time a writer was writing, about society and the collective zeitgeist. If we narrow the pool of voices writing literary fiction, we risk losing it.
“Outside of the top 1,000 authors (at most), printed book sales alone simply cannot provide a decent income. While this has long been suspected, the data shows unambiguously that it is the case. … What’s more, this is a generous assessment. After the retailer, distributor, publisher and agent have taken their cut, there won’t be a lot of money left.”
But is it true that there are fewer writers voices out there, like this article suggests? Arguably, Amazon is the one single thing that changed the market so irrevocably, coupled with self-publishing and ebooks.
Traditionally, as most authors know, unless your publisher pays for expensive table placements in the bookstores and sinks a huge amount of money into marketing your novel, it has to fend for itself. Savvy authors and self-published authors can make inroads with their own marketing efforts but the fact is, with Amazon and the millions of other novels available to Amazon readers, each novels is now competing like the proverbial needle in a haystack.
The situation hasn’t gone unnoticed, however. The Guardian article goes on to say:
“The Arts Council England is now proposing to support more individual authors through its grants for the arts programme, to prioritise its funding of diverse organisations, particularly outside London, and to increase its support for independent literary fiction publishers – one of the few bright areas noted by the report, which pointed to “a flowering of new independent presses devoted to literary fiction”.
And perhaps this is the point. Evolution. Everything changes – and as long as we are mindful of that change and don’t just let it decay and disappear, something new for a new age can rise up.
Perhaps this isn’t the death of literary fiction at all – just a mutation, a reshuffle of the gene pool. My personal opinion is that the publishing industry is going through a bigger shake-up and change than most have allowed themselves to realise – but that doesn’t mean it won’t emerge from its chrysalis with burning wings.
Publish date April 2018, available now to pre-order
Following the success of debut novel Beat the Rain, Roundfire introduces the second book from bestselling author Nigel Jay Cooper.
After witnessing a fatal car accident, a homeless man wanders the streets of Brighton, trying to ignore the new, incessant voice inside his head. But he can’t forget the crash, can’t get the face of the woman cradling her dying husband out of his mind. She stared into his eyes, his soul. He has to find her.
Is Dan ill or has he really been possessed by the spirit of Natalie’s dead husband, Joe? If he hasn’t, why does she let him into her home so easily? Does she have secrets of her own? The Pursuit of Ordinary is a twisting tale of modern life and mental health where nothing is what it seems…
Learn more about The Pursuit of Ordinary here.
Other novels by Nigel Jay Cooper
Beat The Rain is Nigel’s debut novel and was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2016 for Best Debut Author. It was also the bestselling JHP Fiction title in 2016.
A love story about dysfunctional people. Can Louise move on from the loss of her lover Tom? Can she and Tom’s twin brother Adam really find a way to love one another? Or are they trapped on a path of self-destruction, moving towards a tragedy neither can avoid?
It is available now in paperback and ebook.