Monday, 2 January 2012

Devils and Angels

Instead of boring you senseless with a generic ‘2011: wow’ comment, or an inane list of literary resolutions, I plan to stick to form and ramble inconsistently about my current feelings towards reading and writing books.

I’ve just finished a second spell doing Christmas temp work for a large, nationwide bookshop. I previously did similar work in late 2009 in the Chester branch, so the following feelings are certainly not isolated to the past 8 weeks. Forgive me in advance for the bloated egotism of the following, but this needs to be said (I’m sure anyone seriously interested in creating art will tell you something similar): for the artist, there will always exist a very bizarre discord between the creation of their new works and the consumption of them by the general public. This will invariably be compounded when any amount of finance enters the picture.

As writers, we need to make a living. Indeed, any opportunity to make some cash should be seized upon. In an ideal world, yes, we would expound our verse from a plinth in the middle of Northumberland Street and simply be fulfilled by the odd affirmative comment and round of applause. We know that such a world does not exist.

The argument for bookshops should be multifarious and very clear: without such places – and for the sake of argument I count everything from Amazon’s gargantuan warehouses to the second-hand corner shops in the Lake District – the important work being done by writers would not reach nearly so wide an audience. Working twice for a large, national bookselling chain, I can confirm that this base aim is being fulfilled. As someone straddling the fence between consumer and creator, however (for namesakes, let’s keep it simple and call me the ‘cashier’), I can also confirm that it is a supremely odd sensation to sell thousands and thousands of pounds worth of books by hundreds of authors to many hundreds of nameless consumers in any given six-hour period.

Don’t get me wrong, it fills me with glee that these people still deem it important to buy books; as a writer I’d be very worried if it had been quiet. My qualms are more personal and ultimately, I suspect, part of a universal ambivalence faced by any aspiring artist: namely, how much is my work worth?

In May, I will have the first opportunity in my life to sell my words. I certainly won’t make much money. It would be easy to say that I don’t give a stuff about how much the pamphlet makes, and in a sense that’s true, but I’ve already signed up for paying gigs and have already found out how much each copy will sell for. Implicitly, I’ve signed up to an agreement that my creative works on printed paper will exchange hands for money. Should I just embrace this? Get more gigs and flog the lot? The devil on my shoulder is saying 'fucking go for it, my son: you’re in thousands of pounds of debt for the courses that got you here, you give it your all; reap the rewards!' But on the other shoulder, some little angel says, 'only sell them if people want to buy them; don’t worry about the copies you sell or the money you make, as long as your words reach people, you’ve succeeded.'

My thoughts on this, as well as actual details of aforementioned publication, will continue shortly.

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