Ok, so I published another book – Black Box, a collection of short stories from the dark to the whimsical and back again. It’s available as an e-book and as a c-book (c for carboniferous), just like my last book, Slender Threads. I’m not so interested in their relative subject matter as I am in their formats, and how they’ve fared in the (relative) marketplace.
It’s a good thing to publish, when you’re a writer. There are, as ever, advantages to being read, an the thorny issue of writers writing for ‘exposure’ has reared its head again. This sort of writing is most often internet-based, and on my part things I have written for free include three articles for Prospect online, one for the Guardian’s Mind Your Language series, and a couple for all Out Cricket. These are commercial publications. They presumably only published my pieces because they felt they added value to their presence (indeed, two of the Prospect pieces lie behind a paywall). I ought to have been paid, but no; spurious nonsense such as ‘profile’, ‘exposure’, and ‘we’ll commission something soon’ came and went. By the way, this isn’t a rant at not being paid to write, but this is a related problem.
In terms of print publication, they have mostly been paid gigs, and while my academic collection Negotiating the Jacobean Printed Book has only netted me (tiny) royalty cheques, such works are part of the academic life, and you’re effectively paid by your institution to produce them. It tickles me that my mother’s coffee table sports a music magazine, a cricket magazine, an academic collection, a book of short stories and a, well, whatever you’d call Slender Threads. I ought to send her some of the other random publications I’ve been in: The Argus, The Kemp Town Rag, Latest magazine, and so on.
But things are really changing. To an ancient bugger like me, the real joy is seeing your work in print. To know that someone has decided that your writing is worthy of making a physical impact on the world, to take up space, to be inscribed in ink on the flesh of dead trees … this is what writing is about. A writer is one whose words endure. The coming of the internet shifted the goalposts, naturally, and blogging meant that anyone could pretend to be a writer, but still the print medium was the ultimate arbiter of writerliness.
But then something happened. One day I went to press. Delightful images and quite a few words impressed upon paper. All bound up in a magazine that you can, like, buy an ‘ting. At WHSmiths. Naturally, I tweet my jolly exciting news a couple of days before the publication date. I receive one tweet which says ‘do I have to buy the magazine to read the article ? (or loiter in WHSmith)’, and a few more asking for the link. I explain to stonily empty text boxes that it’s only available in the real world. In the real magazine which costs real money.
When I retweet the magazine’s own tweet including the URL to their website with cover and contents on, I get a message saying the link doesn’t lead to my article. The print medium is changing. It is no longer the first port of call. It actually seems to be becoming an irritation to some, a way of keeping writing off the internet. At least, in terms of articles, essays. People use the web presence first and foremost, with a few sites biting the bullet and erecting a paywall. The print presence of these magazines is rapidly becoming a shop window for the web presence, which is where the real stuff is happening. Which makes print a sort of luxury version of the bog standard web presence. A sort of status symbol.
As I said, Slender Threads and Black Box are available in both formats, but something interesting happens here, and it’s statistical, like. The percentage of e-book sales for Slender Threads is 36.7, but for Black Box it currently stands at 20.8.
There’s something about the physical artefact that makes a book important. As one of my readers, who had seen the stories before, noted: ‘It is true the book in a bound form makes it more serious and the cover is amazing.’
This cover business is also interesting. Perhaps a book ought to be judged by its having a cover. It is a fantastic cover, conceived and created especially for me by the wonderfully talented Helen Masacz. Of course, the primary mode of promotion is also now online, with one tweet regarding the book mentioning the amazing cover, and including a photograph of it – it elicited this response:
paul haine @paul_haine 1h
@helengrantsays That cover’s fantastic. I’m getting the book for that alone.
I hope he’s not too disappointed by the cover’s innards.