I was in a bookshop last Saturday, browsing the shelves. I have always said I don’t want to read any books on How To Write – I think I am enough of a reader to know if my writing works or doesn’t, and no problem can’t be overcome by rethinking and rewriting (I’m probably wrong of course) – but I have heard that many writers have read Stephen King’s On Writing, so I decided I would go against my own advice and pick up a copy. As happens in bookshops though, I ended up spending too long browsing among the titles I would love to read but don’t have the time, money or shelfspace.
I took a metaphorical step back from the shelves and saw the miles of spines, the thousands of covers, and wondered. If my manuscript ever finds its way into an agent’s hands, into a publisher’s intray, beats off the countless other works fighting for their attention, and makes it to the near-unobtainable Eden of a printer’s press.. what then?
All those hurdles overcome, but the journey would still be only beginning. Even when the book is produced, it still needs to be sold by the publisher to the bookshops. It needs to find a space on the shelf (I can’t dream of ever getting a space on the table by the door, and certainly not a poster in the window) where a couple of copies can sit and wait to be stumbled across. And even if they sell, they need to sell widely enough and quickly enough to be replenished. And again. And again.
Later during my morning of shopping, I was in one of those cheap shops. Not a pound shop, but not far off. Anyway, there were racks and racks of remaindered books at low low prices, all of which were unknown titles by unknown writers. All of which would have led their authors to think they had arrived, this was it, they were living the dream. If I overcome all the hurdles, if I make some sales in an actual bookshop, even if I get a few copies on the table, who is to say that my work’s ultimate destination won’t be the ignored shelves of 3 for £3?
But as disheartening, demoralising, self-destroying as this was, I still went home and wrote. Because I’m a writer.