Sunday, October 14, 2007

An act of faith

To be a writer or an artist or a creater of anything with an aesthetic value attached to it is an act of faith. You just have to do it regardless of the result. You do it because you love doing it.

My conviction in this line of thought got reconfirmed when I read this account of a writer/journalist covering this year's Frankfurt Book Fair.

Carole Cadwalladr likens publishing to "a carnage", if I haven't misread it (doubts always linger in my head). Though the article makes a central reference to the crisis at the UK's literary agency, PFD, the general impression that an aspiring writer may get from it is one of lust, caution. I am using lust here in the sense of lust for getting published, as in a lust for life. Confusing? Forgive me if I sound so. Read it for yourself to see what I mean by saying this.

Carole writes in her report, 'It's carnage ...' Inside the genteel world of books:

Oh, the writers. What becomes abundantly clear from Frankfurt is that if you've got a book inside, it's really not a bad idea to keep it there. Why does anybody even want to be a writer? And I say that as one. Two weeks ago the BBC reported that it came top in a survey of the nation's dream jobs. I end up ranting about this at the Bloomsbury stand, and Alexandra Pringle, the editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury, rants with me.

'I know!' she says, 'It's mad. It's a horrible job. It doesn't pay well. It's lonely. It's depression-inducing. It's frustrating. There's no fun to be had. But everyone has a drive to be a writer. And everyone thinks they can do it.

'Whereas to be one is some sort of mental derangement! They're all bonkers. When my writers say I could earn more money at the till at Sainsbury's, I say, well go and do it. There's no point writing unless you feel that you have to do it. You have to really want to do it and to be prepared to suffer to do it. Or else you really might as well go and work on the till at Sainsbury.'

Are you hooked? Getting gooseflesh? Well, good. Then read on:

Patrick Janson-Smith, whom I find in the agents' centre looking rather gloomy, says: 'You look around and you think the world needs another book like it needs a hole in the head.' I know Patrick because he used to be the head of Transworld, and the publisher whose signature is on my contract. He's also one of the highest-profile publishers in recent years to jump ship and become an agent.

'If you're not in a three-for-two or Richard & Judy, forget it,' he says. 'There's no point. If you ask me, publishing is in a mess.'

Even in the last two years, he says, fiction has got tougher and tougher. 'The retail side, Borders and Tesco have squeezed them so much that they've become completely risk-averse. It really is all down to what sales and marketing think these days. And, frankly, there's no point even selling to a publisher if they can't get enthusiastic about it - you might as well chuck it in the bin.'

But you can't let it get to you. Or maybe here I mean me. Alexandra Pringle is right about the madness, I think. Fiction-writing is just not a logical thing to do, so you've got to either get on with it and not moan about it, or head off to Sainsbury's.

If you haven't read this piece, read it for refreshed instruction on this game or for some juicy snippets from the world of publishing. There are some good ones there.

And here's a piece of advice too: 'No writer should ever go to Frankfurt. It's soul-destroying. You see writers being traded like pork bellies.'

So the thing is, as Carole says, if you want to do something, do it for love. You can never fail, can you?

PS: Got this bit from Outlook. Hope it makes some sense to you, dovetailing the above post, as it did to me.

India-born Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People may have made it to the Booker shortlist, but a recent UK survey gives him a more dubious distinction. Sinha’s book about the Bhopal disaster is the slowest-selling novel on the Booker shortlist: it has sold only 1,189 copies, which won’t even get him into the Indian bestsellers’ list. But the good news: it’s sold five times better than before he got into the shortlist (231 copies).

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