Navigating the book market can seem impossible to the outsider
I have looked at books in the bargain bins of Smiths or The Works and felt little bit of sadness. Not when it’s a novelty movie tie-in or a colouring book for adults; there’s probably too many of those anyway. But if I see someone’s novel marked down, I have a little sigh on their behalf. How did they get there?
Though I am sure this is how big business works, over-buying on some things, getting a better price on others, it makes you wonder who gets to defy the odds and stay on the shelves. When I see a book in Poundland they are often children’s reprints, Horrid Henry sold like that are presumably a gateway drug for the series. Each novel, I think to myself, has been so many hours of work for one person. It may not have taken quite as many years as me, but still blood, sweat and ink. So should I be sad to see books treated like this?
I have an odd experience of remainders. When I was younger, my father used to run book sales in Community Halls (the 1990s were a different time) I went with him to a warehouse of remainders being sold off. Seeing the piles, even though we took some as bulking stock, that stays with you. I was desperate for one of the books to come home with me and took one as my payment for helping at the next sale. Maybe even then I had an instinct to try and save just one book from being sold off cheap. Learning more about my personal blocks and saboteurs I can see that this image stayed with me. At the time it gave me a stomach ache and maybe it still does. After all the work, I could end up in a shed in Staffordshire, sold off cheap or for pulp.
I am an outsider to the industry, and so it’s hard to know what commercial decisions led to books not getting pushed, but instead ending up a bargain bin. At some point it dawned on me, what a privilege at least to have that chance. And the thought while still writing into the oblivion of possibilities, it might be enough, that you could get that chance.
There are even more bargain shelves out there – some I am only just starting to understand, bargain books on Kindle and places such as Netgalley and similar services offer books at such a great price it’s hard not to give in to a bargain (and I frequently do). Maybe we will read on subscription in the future or only ever listen to books, it’s hard to tell. But even to see these books come to my notice, albeit via algorithm, even that has to be the dream for the novelist in the modern world.
But the real dream is one day to be sold really cheap. Cheap and doing a little good in a Charity Shop. Because those are the books that have really made it. Enjoyed then shared so much there are two copies on the shelf.
And if you are a true runaway success, they’ll be a copy coming in every week of that book. The author may not get the money but the work, the work has been read and read again. Now that’s the dream, right?
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