As we walk away to do our shopping, it occurs to me that it’s a sign of the times when a newspaper editor is standing in the freezing doorway of a supermarket trying to drum up interest so I pop back for a quick chat. I explain that I can’t get this particular store - my local Tesco - to stock my books (central ordering), that - like her on this wintry day - I’m also constantly trying to find new and innovative ways to reach readers and finally that the main effect of giving digital content away is that consumers have come to expect it.
In the early days of Kindle, a special offer on one of my books was pretty much guaranteed to boost sales; here’s the heady moment, for example, when Turning the Tide first entered Amazon’s top 100 bestsellers.
But when Follow A Star was picked as a Black Friday deal, albeit very late in the day, it hardly flickered – why would it when there are now more daily and monthly deals and special offers than most folks have time to read? New EU rules in respect of VAT and the resulting increase in ebook prices will only make consumers baulk even more, especially when ebooks are often perceived as being cheap to produce despite the fact there’s still the author fee, editing, cover art, typesetting, marketing etc, etc which have to be covered. And of course, some people aren’t happy no matter how little they pay; ‘wish I hadn’t wasted my money’ complains one dissatisfied reader who paid 99p for Only True in Fairy Tales. Oh well, that’s what happens when you put your work out there - everyone’s entitled to their opinion.
In low moments, I wonder why I bother, all those months of work for so little return. Yes, I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been traditionally published and there are all kind of joys, like seeing physical copies of my books on my shelf, or receiving cards from people who’ve enjoyed them that I can’t put a value on. But a minimum wage would be good, let alone a living wage. What’s to be done? I wish I knew. There’s no turning back the digital tide, that’s for sure, but how about a bit of ‘paying it forward’; write reviews for little-known books, spread the word about new authors and admit that unless we want a race to the bottom some things are worth paying for.
And to end on a more cheerful note, I’m delighted to see Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, a book that I’ve been banging on about for ages, winning the 2014 Costa book prize in addition to the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction that it won last November. In a month where the film of Fifty Shade of Grey will see EL James novels dominating the charts again, it makes me very happy that a beautiful, haunting, lyrical tale of grief, loss and training a goshawk can still shine.
The painting is Rain Setting In, Pembrokeshire Coast by Tom Tomos