On Saturday we took Daniel on his first train journey. Thankfully he was a good little boy throughout and apart from doing what all babies do, i.e. shouting loudly, pointing at people, laughing and sucking his own socks, it was a pleasing day-out without any problems. The fact that it was York was a bonus. A big bonus.
Personally, I love York. It’s a great city, steeped in history and with a great relaxing ambiance. We tend to go there about once a year, usually around Christmas time, and last year I had a chance encounter with Ed Alleyne-Johnson who was busking near Borders bookstore.
While this time I didn’t bump into anyone famous (or rather no one that I noticed) I did meet a fellow author, Jason Blake, who was signing books at Borders for his new novel “Sex, Drink and Yellow Fish.”
It’s perhaps not the sort of book I’d usually buy, but Jason is a nice guy and we had a good chat and I was soon reminded of John Connolly’s words about supporting fellow writers, so I purchased a signed copy all the same and gave him some words of encouragement. Jason’s done a few signings so far and has a few signings to come, so by the end of it he should become quite the seasoned pro.
If you see him lurking in a bookshop near you, don’t be afraid to have a chat with him, and if you are persuaded to buy a copy of his new book rather than another vacuous-in-time-for-christmas-celeborghostwritten-book, then all the better for you, for him and probably for publishing in general.
Anyway, without planning it, it would soon turn out to be a day of new writers and new writing…
If you’ve ever been to York, you might have noticed a bookshop called The Yorkshire Book Clearance Outlet, which is a “Cuprinol” shop if ever I saw one (i.e. does exactly what it says on the tin). It’s a clearance shop with a difference – you’ll find all manner of gems here, out of print books to first editions, including some real surprises and in some cases for less than a discounted paperback.
Now Macmillan New Writing hardback editions are pretty special books; they are so by design. They are intended to be special limited edition novels that will one day be of value to a collector in terms of debut novels and first edition hardbacks, as well as being a launch-pad for each new author. Goldsboro books for example, has done good business on the back of the Macmillan New Writing books, and I’ve seen signed first editions of The Secret War in hardback going for anything between fifty and two hundred quid. So it was with some surprise, and slight dismay, to find a bookshop selling first edition hardback copies of some MNW titles for less than a quarter of their publishing price. Two of these books included Gavin Smith’s DogFellow’s Ghost (published October 2008) and the Sleepwalkers Introduction to Flight (Sion Scot-Wilson, published May 2008). These aren’t old books by any standards but were on sale for about £3 each. And they weren’t alone. There were four other titles on sale for £3 a pop, books that I’ve seen selling recently at ten times that much. Are Macmillan remaindering books too quickly, was the first thought. After all, as an author you read your statements and they detail returns after about 12-18 months but they’re soon sent out again to another bookseller. Rarely have I heard of any MNW books being remaindered so quickly.
I approached the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section with apprehension wondering whether or not one of my books would be sitting there. I was relieved when they weren’t but then I got to thinking “so what if they were?” Judging by the people walking out of the shop with armfuls of novels, if someone did buy The Secret War for £3, would it be such a hardship? True enough, I won’t get anything from that sale, but if it leads that reader to pick up another of my books, that must be good, mustn’t it? I myself have bought books from remainder shops and have then gone on to pay full price for another of that author’s books, such as Adam Roberts’ Salt and Tad Williams’ Otherland. And I admit, I did buy Gavin Smith’s novel there and then, and two copies of Sion Scott-Wilson’s book for friends. They were too good to leave in the shop.
So this leads me to another question about "what price is a book to an author?" Especially a debut book? Can a writer bear to have a debut book sold for bugger-all if it will lead to a following? Is it worth it for no gain in the short term only for a longer term outlook?
With the rights to my books reverting to me around summer of next year, there is a question about where do I go from here in terms of publishing and many people have suggested self-publishing. But what of the first book? Should this go out gratis to entice people to buy the next two or three? Maybe as an e-book? It’s definitely something worth thinking about.
And while authors nervously joke about it, and friends and family may tease that they’ve seen your book in The Works or a similar remainder bookshop, you know, I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. Remainder bookshops may seem like a graveyard for novelists, but perhaps its just a new beginning or an opportunity.
Whatever gets it out there, right?
UPDATE: You can read more comments about this blog entry over on the Macmillan New Writers blog by clicking here.