Sometimes, when I'm in a hole - pen in hand, paper at the ready but absolutely nothing falling out of one onto the other - I wander back through Neil Gaiman's online journals just to remind myself why I ever decided a blog was a good idea in the first place. I've been blogging for over ten years now and even though I've hidden the majority of it for current purposes, I've kept going anyway.
Whenever I stop posting for any length of time, not a whole week goes by without somebody sending me a message wondering what's going on... which is weird because I've never blogged about anything specific.
Maybe people like to read about nothing specific.
It's possible. If this is true, please let me know because if you want a whole stack of books that aren't about anything at all, I'm the very man you're looking for.
Anyway... some years ago, Neil wrote this:
Writing fiction is not a profession that leaves one well-disposed toward reading fiction. One starts out loving books and stories, and then one becomes jaded and increasingly hard to please. I read less and less fiction these days, finding the buzz and the joy I used to get from fiction in ever stranger works of non-fiction, or poetry.
And these words are too true. You do get immune to the buzz. You start to read a book and there can be two people in your head. The person who loves reading who is willing to roll with it and the person who says things like 'that's a nasty adverb' to themselves along the way. I am one of the worst. I won't read anything with a shitty cover any more than I would sit in a restaurant with dirty windows - I genuinely think it shows a total lack of self-respect for your work - and for the record, I can tell the difference between a cover I don't like and a bad cover. They are two very different things.
I'm also one of those people who wonders how a book can be £1. When an author spends months... years even... of their life writing a book, surely they deserve more than a share of £1 from you? Surely no author can be that desperate for the world to say 'Yes! You are indeed a published writer!' to give their work away for the price of a two litre bottle of Pepsi?
Maybe if you wrote it exclusively for the digital market it's not so bad but when you look at the supply chain for a heavily discounted book... publishing/agency staff, shops, trees, lumber yards, printers, delivery trucks, discounted sticker manufacturers (and that's probably the tip of the iceberg) that £1 ain't gonna be worth too much at all by the time they've all taken their share.
I can't help but wonder why all books in supermarkets are so heavily discounted either. If all of the Big Publishers decided amongst themselves that the supermarket could go swing for their discounts, the supermarkets would be left with two choices: stop selling books (in which case people would be pushed into bookshops... if we could convince them that amazon is the most boring shop window on earth if you study it with care) or stock them at the price on the freaking label.
Whilst that doesn't sound good for a reader who likes to grab a book for a discount, in the longer term maybe the industry could begin to support itself again. Tiny things y'know... like handing out an advance that's not embarrassing to talk about with your friends. Employ illustrators instead of using shadowy stock library figures of indiscernible figures running into the fog/night/forest/train station. Taking a chance here and there on a real wild card. Making celebrity authors write proper books for their blow jobs from the obsessed.
I sound cross but I'm not in the slightest. I'm sad. Sad that things in my beloved book world have moved so far into the realm of mediocre just because the internet has all but killed the gatekeepers who used to keep us from being exposed to garbage. I'm no lover of literary agents - mostly because none of them would have me - but that doesn't mean they didn't do a good job.
I've come off topic. Damn. No wonder agents don't want to speak to me...
I'm not suggesting anything at all really with this piece, I'm just pointing a finger in the general direction of the world. In 2018, everybody can be a writer, everybody can be a critic, everybody can play... just like school sports day where everybody gets a ribbon for turning up... where the losers who suck at sports (that was me) are rewarded in the same way as the King of the Running Track even though the King of the Running Track will never get a merit badge for having a good stab at reading Moby Dick over the summer because it made it to his shelf due to a cool whale on the cover.
It's exactly the same thing but nobody said life was fair.
I know a cruise liner full of great writers, great tattooers and artists, great guitarists and songwriters who will never take their place in the pantheon because somebody with a bigger mouth and enough self-belief to fool the world is sitting in their chair.
Perhaps the world has always been this way.
Perhaps there's no Perhaps about it.
Everybody wants to change the world but nobody wants to die and all that.
Postscript: Here's a cover of Moby Dick because after writing that, I had to see for myself if there really were any great covers.
This one is the best I've ever seen, though I'm not sure if it's a real published cover or an art project. Whoever created this (and I will make an effort to find out) understood that Moby Dick is not about a whale at all...it's about a man's obsession. Points-a-go-go for reading the damn thing.