Charles Dickens and Me. Or, Is One Sale Enough?

This post, by Helen Smith, originally appeared on the New Wave Authors site.

My new book is coming out in print on 4th September. It’s my pride and joy. It’s my masterpiece. It’s the best thing I have ever written. I want people to know that the book is available so they can buy it if they like the sound of it. I want reviewers to review it – favourably.

I have a virtual book tour set up in September and October. The book has gone out to ninety critics and book bloggers for review. I’m doing several events in London and (I hope) in New York to publicize my book. It’s exhausting. I’d rather not do any of it, to be honest. I’d rather sit at home and work. Or go out and get drunk. (Even that’s not true. Time is spinning by, more than half my life has gone by, and actually who cares about getting drunk? All I want to do is work. I’m worried that I may not get through all of it before I die. And I still smoke! But that’s another blog post.)

I don’t want to spend my time on promotions and publicity. But what choice do I have? When I’m feeling especially grumpy, I tell myself it ought not to be like this. In ‘the old days’ of traditional publishing, you only had to make one sale: to your agent. Your agent sold it to your publisher. You got on and wrote the next book. Before agents existed, you just sold your book direct to a publisher, but the model was the same.

That’s not quite true, of course – and it never really was. Charles Dickens ruined his health touring America reading excerpts from his book. He’s one of the most famous writers in the world. It’s not just that he was a prolific writer of brilliant books (though that helps enormously, of course, when planning your literary legacy) but he was also a keen self-publicist.

Even two of my childhood heroes, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, were more than ‘just’ writers. They were also reviewers and columnists who had useful platforms from which to reach a wide readership.

We’re in the midst of a publishing revolution, as you know. Anyone can buy almost any book online, very cheaply, whether digitally or in hardback or paperback, and read it instantly, or have it in their hands within a few days if it needs to be delivered by post. Soon all the books that have ever been written will be in print (i.e. available) and new books will never go out of print. We no longer have to go into bookshops and choose from a tiny selection which is only on display because a large publisher incentivised the manager to order a particular book. We can have anything we want. And it’s cheap. And (unlike with the second-hand market) the author gets paid for every sale.


Read the rest of the post on New Wave Authors.