Prediction of the not-so-distant future?
“DADDY, WHAT WAS A NOVELIST?”
By Adrian Scott
Let’s, just for a moment, take a hypothetical situation: let’s say I am one of the best-known and most widely-read authors in the world…I’m probably far from it, but let’s for the sake of the session, say I am.
And let us suppose, then, that Johnny Bloggs goes online, to his favourite online bookstore, and purchases the latest Adrian Scott novel. He downloads it, and knowing he has ten friends who also enjoy these novels, puts it into an email as an attachment and sends it to each of those ten friends.
Those ten friends each have ten friends who also enjoy Adrian Scott novels – so they do as Johnny Bloggs has done, and the world continues to revolve.
But what has happened, at the end of say, one week, to Adrian Scott’s latest novel? It has been read, potentially, by more than a million readers. And now those same million readers eagerly await the release of their favourite author’s next creation…but it never comes!
That’s right, readers. Adrian Scott, tired of working for a pittance, has retired, accepted the pension, and no longer writes.
You see, his annual earnings from writing novels – when expressed as a percentage of the yearly annual wage in the days of the Industrial Revolution in England – would have been regarded as an income placing the receiver in a situation where he was unable to afford even the most miserable of leftover food-scraps for his dinner-table and actually starved to death!
Not only this: Adrian’s publisher, unable to pay wages, insurance, or any of the other myriad debts incurred in the daily running of a business, has gone into receivership and closed her doors. And the online bookstore, where Johnny Bloggs originally downloaded his copy of that novel, has closed its website and now sells golf-clubs.
And so, dear reader, an art-form has ceased to exist; a business has gone the way of the dinosaur, and faded into history; and a retailer has been forced to find another means of earning an income. And why?
Because one reader sought to do his friends a favour, and save them the expense of paying a miserable five dollars for the latest novel.
Exaggeration, you say? Then let us look at fact: the real Adrian Scott, at present, has had thirty-one novels published. And my total income, over the last four years, from the day the first of my novels was published, has reached a massive one hundred and seventy-three dollars.
Forty-three dollars and ten cents average income per year.
Would you, my reader, remain in an industry not even paying you enough to purchase a new pair of shoes once every two years, let alone pay the rent, electricity, purchase food for the table, or even afford to live?
Let us look at the fact that novelists –creators of works of fiction for the entertainment of the masses – now teach Creative Writing in colleges and universities, or write for travel magazines, or maybe earn an income by typing up assignments for university students. No point in depending on your earnings from writing stories born in your imagination any more – ‘cause it just ain’t gonna happen!
Of course, we could blame it all on technology, and the creation of the internet, which has made online bookstores and books now published without using paper or ink, all possible.
We could – just as we could, for argument’s sake, blame the pistol used to shoot Abraham Lincoln for his assassination on the grounds that it should have known better than to fire the bullet in the first place…but the pistol, like the computer used to download the book from the online bookstore, cannot do its job unless a human hand tells it what to do.
Nope, dear reader; unfortunately, the blame lies squarely with you.
Of course, we could argue that not all books sold are of the downloadable variety; some are still sold as paperbacks, even (in some instances) as hardcover varieties. But if enough were still being sold in the ‘old-fashioned’ format, then this situation wouldn’t arise.
In the end, we are left with only two possibilities: either the situation is as outlined above, or an author’s popularity with the reading public is not as great as he or she would like to think it is.
But whether an author’s actual popularity with the reading masses plays a part, in time, every author will find him or herself in the very situation I have outlined – the very situation that, for me, unfortunately, already exists.
You see, I am fortunate in that I am 68 years old, and so qualify for the Aged Pension – or Lord Knows how I would live! The pension – when I spend an average of five hours every day, seven days a week, working on novels that I know will not earn me enough to even breathe on.
But what about J K Rowling, you say? J K Rowling’s novels won the heart of Hollywood…and then went into sales of paperbacks and hardcovers , not ebooks. And you can’t attach a paperback or a hardcover to an email and send it to all your friends. But for the bulk of today’s authors, their work comes out as ebooks, because paperback or hardcover publishers will not accept unsolicited work from authors who do not already have names that guarantee their work will sell, in any format. So, unless you’re already a Stephen King, forget about paperback!
So if even I, with 31 novels already published, sent a manuscript to a paperback publisher who had not heard my name somewhere, sometime, it would end up in the waste-basket…unread. And being on a pension, I simply can’t afford to print off a full-length novel of mine to send to a paperback publisher, which is the only way they will accept them…that is, providing they’ve already sent me a letter inviting me to send them a manuscript.
So before you insert that novel as an attachment to an email; before you address that email; and before you click on that ‘Send’ icon – stop!
Consider whether you would really enjoy a world in which, eventually, there was no such thing as an online bookstore; publishers of 40-or-50,000 word works of fiction ceased to exist; and the writer of thrilling, adventurous, romantic or just plain entertaining novels became a figure only ever mentioned in history lessons.
And if you still feel like clicking on that little ‘Send’ icon, then do so. But so that all readers can still sleep at night with clear consciences, let’s place the blame elsewhere – let’s say it was all the fault of Progress.
After all, is it really such a great price to pay for Progress when we have to find another method of whiling away those endless periods of time spent sitting in doctors’ waiting-rooms, or on long train-journeys, or trying to make ourselves tired enough to sleep at night?
Is the price too great when little Harry, sitting on his father’s knee, points to a picture in a history book, and asks: “Daddy, what was a novelist?”
31 January, 2013