The Death of the Hard Back Book?


Trying to succeed as a writer is difficult. It is even more difficult if you can never be bothered to write. I am my own worst enemy. I will clear an entire weekend to sit in front my laptop and pitter patter on the keys until some kind of literary genius comes pouring out.

Then I will make a coffee. Then I will make bizarre cooing sounds to my aging springer spaniel and rub her belly. Then I will remember that she smells like a stagnant fish pond and spend five minutes scrubbing my hands with Moroccan Rose hand wash, moaning about my ill-advised decision to rub the dog’s belly. Then my coffee will have gone cold. I will make another one. Then I will watch two episodes of Game of Thrones to relax. Clashing swords, ferocious deaths and token full frontal nudity is incredibly relaxing.

After this I will spend perhaps two hours perusing things other people have written on the Internet to ‘get in the right frame of mind’. Then I will sulk either because they are better writers than I am, or because they’re not but they still manage to have been published.

I will eat something, distract myself by chatting to whoever is in my direct line of vision, wander around loudly expounding about how bored I am, sit down in front of my laptop again, stare at a blank page for five minutes, then stoically give up, close the laptop and go to the pub.

Occasionally I will have a stroke of inspiration, tap manically on my keyboard for four hours straight and sit back, mentally exhausted and elated all at the same time. This usually happens when I am at work. Thus, I am slipping further and further behind and have a poker tournament, a white label launch, a summer party and a company holiday for 100 people to organise – none of which I have made any in roads into. I look incredibly busy as I studiously type away, but I am writing blog posts about incessant wanderlust instead of booking beach volleyball venues; and plodding away at a novel about subterranean London, as opposed to finding a Scottish castle to house 99 Scandinavians and me for 4 nights.

The truth is, it seems easier than ever to publish something. Literary magazines are everywhere, agents are popping up all over the place, Amazon are rolling out Kindles like hot cakes…and if no-one else wants to publish you, you can go ahead and publish yourself.

Literary agents are more accessible than ever – the London Book Fair housed The Pitch this year – where you can go and pitch your book proposal to a real life agent. The North London Literary Festival put on a ‘speed pitch’ event, and Faber and Faber held a talk on how to get published.

The website Authonomy, the Harper Collins created and backed literature-sharing forum, offers writers the chance to upload their work and have it either picked apart or lauded with praise from their peers – the material with the most votes winging its way to the Editor’s Desk at Harper Collins itself.

Open Pen publish scribblers of any ilk – pulling together a quarterly magazine that shows off a cross section of phenomenal talent. Their association with Berg’s Little Printer means that you can jot down a mere 50 words and still potentially have it published as their weekly short story for the Little Printer publication.

But is it really as easy as all of that? London is full of small, independent bookshops, but how long will they last? They only have so much shelf space, so is there room for new writers? I met a guy who had written a book called Beach Dogs, about his experiences as a middle aged waster in Goa. He had been offered a publishing deal, which in today’s barren void of publishing contract offers is a pretty laudable achievement. The contract is e-book only, however.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. Obviously times change, things move on, and we’re not reading from papyrus scrolls anymore. But I know that if I had my book published, and saw all of those tens of hundreds of thousands of hours of work condensed into digital form and perched as a thumbnail on an imaginary shelf, whilst bored housewife drivel such as 50 shades and its ilk still took up half of W H Smith, I’d be pretty bloody pissed off.

There’s nothing like holding a real book in your hands. I’m not one to donate a box of old books to the charity shop, instead keeping them, re-reading the ones I like and underlining sentences that made me remember why I love reading so much.

I still dream of having a whole wall made up of bookshelves, with everything I’ve ever read and loved neatly stacked, and a rolling library ladder propped up against the whole shebang so I can fly around the room like a crazed Julie Andrews.

Thumbing your way across an iPhone screen just doesn’t cut it.