On the shelf

authors, books, Dumfries, Ewart Library, fiction, libraries, novels, The Sleeping Warrior

THE journey of most debut authors – whether mainstream published or self-published – is a long and arduous uphill climb. Few are fast-tracked to the top of the world’s reading lists and even fewer make a good living out of writing.
So why do we bother to do it?
There was a time when I believed there to be no feeling more satisfying for authors than holding a real copy of their first novel.
The ability to thumb through the pages and recognise parts of one’s own work in tactile print creates a significant sense of achievement.
Although most authors would say they write books to satiate a personal need, there is also a necessity to share the work with others. Authors of fiction are storytellers and storytellers need listeners. There is little point in telling tales in front of an empty auditorium.
I’ve just received another five-star professional review of The Sleeping Warrior (http://readersfavorite.com/book-review/25265) in which the reviewer Danielle Pinzon described it as ‘remarkable’. It is little words like this from complete strangers that make all the effort meaningful and there is nothing better than a sense of worth to raise confidence in a writer and spur them on to do more and do it even better.
The highlight of the month for me was a visit to my local library where I saw a copy of The Sleeping Warrior placed in a prominent position on the shelves. Seeing my book displayed for public access can only be described as one of life’s true joys.
The success of a product lies in its potential value to the purchaser –  in an author’s case, the reader – and the only way to increase recognition is to give readers the means by which to spread the word and share their good experiences. That’s why reviews, libraries and bookshops are so important to an author: they provide the physical channel for public access to your book that no amount of social networking can compete with.
Although Amazon is the biggest seller of books throughout the world, its shelves are endless labyrinths of virtual words and books that don’t sit in the top one hundred of any particular list will normally fail to get noticed by potential readers. Amazon is also very fickle in that anyone who knows how to manipulate their way to the top of the lists can become an Amazon best-seller for a nano-second and then it’s all over.
There are, of course, many exceptions to this rule and I would never seek to underestimate the power of the mighty e-book nor the honest efforts of fellow writers.
I think I’ll put what’s left of my hard copies to good use and attempt to sell them to more libraries and bookshops: especially the ones with a geographical and genre connection to the book.
I will also try and find more professional reviewers to increase the list of candid, independent analyses.
How that will equate to more readers and sales in the long-term is yet another story to be told.

Genre Benders: A speculative approach to fiction

Amazon, authors, books, FeedARead, Henlein, libraries, publishing, Smashwords, speculative fiction, writing
THERE was a time when all ‘genre’ fiction was regarded with haughty disdain by librarians and publishers of quality, realistic literary works. As more people learned to read, however, access to books was no longer the privilege of scholarly bureaucrats and popular fiction was born. 

In order to feed the voracious appetites of patrons and readers respectively, more novels were commissioned and written in a wide variety of subjects, themes, structures and functions. This led to the classification of popular fiction into subject matter or ‘genre’ as we know it.
Publishers rely on strict classification for promotion and marketing. Bookshops require that each new work of fiction is labelled with a ‘genre’ in order to maximise readership and revenue. By placing a book on the right section of the right shelf eases access to buyers’ preferences, thereby increasing sales. Libraries need a classification system by which to help their patrons choose what they want to read.
This has been the traditional way of the fiction market for a very long time and authors whose works crossed those fixed genres had a high chance of being turned down by publishers for the sole reason of failing to belong on a shelf.
Only a few years ago, most speculative, or cross-genre, fiction was sniffed at by many publishers who couldn’t see past their profit and loss accounts to take the risk of baffling bookshops and libraries with works they could not label. A similar treatment was given to erotica which was deemed only to be read by dirty old men in raincoats.
The very word ‘speculative’ denotes conjecture, chance, theory over practicality and a high risk of loss, suggesting that whoever dreamed up that category had a very cynical view of crossing stereotypical classifications. That said, there have been some very successful novels written in this sub-genre of general fiction but they are few in comparison to other more traditional genres.
Speculative fiction, as a concept, has been around for millennia. It was written by the great Greek dramatists and by Shakespeare long before Robert Henlein wrote Life-Line. In fact, every work of fiction can be said to contain a speculative element, no matter how subtle. It is only since the ’40s that the term has been further stretched and distorted to include an element of fantasy, sci-fi, horror or paranormal in the narrative.
The coming of the mighty Amazon, has opened the minds of publishers as well as the locks to their submission gates to speculative fiction as reader trends have demonstrated a hearty appetite for the genre. As superheroes, vampire-slayers and boy wizards wage war against evil in contemporary or dystopian societies – and also on far-off planets – on television, cinema, computer and hand-held screens, spec-fic novels are being gobbled up by new fans and are even appealing to younger readers who would otherwise say that books are for bores and losers.
E-pub websites have revolutionised the publishing business in that readers are now choosing what they want to read as opposed to publishers telling them what they should. The effect has been brutal on the established publishing houses who are all reeling in the wake of the e-book explosion and the movement away from the traditional business model. Without the watchdog of a publisher, however, the absence of quality in many self-published books is a serious cause for concern as is the saturation of the market by thousands of new books being published every day that is giving readers too much choice.
For authors, the likes of Amazon, Smashwords and FeedARead have granted them that freedom of expression that traditional publishing houses have denied them. Now anyone can be an author. Amazon et al have no limitations to their lists, no selection process and no submission constraints. They don’t discriminate on quantity or even quality but instead allow readers to enforce the rules.
Whether this is good or bad is a completely different subject for debate, suffice it to say that now every book has a chance to be read and speculative fiction in all its many guises has an undeniable position on the shelves of quality literature.