The remarkable thing about publishing a book is that almost nothing happens. In the old days, of course, you started to find your book popping up in bookshops. Even then, there were weird absences. Major bookshops which had unquestionably ordered the book but no books instore and no members of staff knowing anything about it. If your mother is like mine – and she probably is – she’ll have cooked up some dark conspiracy theories about why this might be.
These days, though, there’s not much need of conspiracy theories. Book retail is in crisis in the UK. Waterstones has more or less stopped ordering hardback fiction from anyone but known bestsellers. WH Smith the same. In effect, both retailers have abdicated proactive bookselling.
Newspapers were never guaranteed or prompt sources of reviews, but they did carry some heft all the same. These days, review pages are thinner than ever they were, and there are so many other sources of commentary now that a good review in a major newspaper may not influence sales very strongly or for very long.
Indie stores still do a wonderful job – but there’s a question of whether £17 crime hardbacks constitute a worthwhile product these days. And Amazon, gawd bless it, sells one hell of a lot of copies, both book-books and eeeeeee-books – but it’s still only one outlet.
So for the poor old author, these are strange times. Talking to the Dead has got lovely reviews from numerous high profile crime bloggers, including Crime Fiction Lover, Crime Thriller Girl, Milo Rambles and more. It’s also had lovely reviews from readers on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Goodreads.
But what does any of that mean for sales? How does a book by a largely unknown author take off if you can’t find it in a bookshop? Can a book – however good – go viral, if the starting price is £17? How does a publisher add value these days, when their old tools are starting to wither?
I don’t have answers to these things. (Except that I don’t think books go viral at that price point. No book ever has.) Trouble is, no one else knows the answers either. We’re at the most troubling stage of the transition to digital. The old order is collapsing and the new one hasn’t yet arisen.
Strange times, strange times. Me I’m doing what I’ve always done: tied black cats into knots and throwing mirrors into ladders. It hasn’t worked yet, but you never know …