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Wednesday, 14 January 2015


Buzzword Books Commissioning Editor, Dan Mills, muses on the information revolution:

Here is a quote from a recent essay in the New York Times Sunday Book Review by Leon Wieseltier: "As the frequency of expression grows, the force of expression diminishes".

Where are we going?
First let's examine where we have been.

I have on my bookshelf an enormous, weighty leather-bound tome filled with photo plates, maps, illustrations and pull out views of landscapes in colour that is the first in a two volume set. It is two inches thick.

The title is ARMENIA - TRAVELS AND STUDIES. The writer is H.F.B. Lynch. Lynch was author, historian and explorer. His vast book (Volume One is titled: "The Russian Provinces") was published by Longmans, Green and Co in 1901.

It was published in an era when even such a limited interest and comprehensive work was considered a marketable proposition - or at least as fodder for the back list. While I was examining this huge book the other day, I found this in the Preface:

"Why does one write a book? I find it difficult to answer the question, which, indeed, demands a knowledge of human nature greater than I possess. There are societies and individuals who, I feel sure, would offer a price if the potential author would agree to keep his material to himself. The sum might possibly be augmented by the contributions of weary students; and a revenue could be collected from these various sources far exceeding any royalties received from publishers. Moreover, the author would escape the foreboding of condign punishment, which he is made to feel suspended over his head. On the other hand, there is the fascination of feeling possessed by a subject stronger than yourself and elemental. And there is the joy and the impersonality of the work reacting upon the personality of the writer."

The situation has not altered since 1901. The more things change, as Karr wrote, the more they remain the same. The publishing business has vastly altered. Quantity and the accessibility of quantity has vastly outstripped quality. Frenetic digital distribution of books has done nothing to improve intrinsic worth. As Gilbert wrote: "When everybody's somebod-ee then no one's anybody." This, then, is the fact.

Against all this remains, still, the thin trickle of excellence achieved by the genuine scribe who is sincerely touched or affected by a confluence of experience and talent. Real books will still appear. Worthwhile writing will still develop. It may be lost in the deluge but it will be there. 

So where does this leave the genuine writer? Will you write if you know no one may ever read you?

Is the endeavour still worth the candle? Should the bread still be cast upon the waters? 

If your wish and will and substance decrees it - what else will you do?

You have heart the truism: No good deed goes unpunished. Here is another: Writing is its own reward. It is also generally its only reward. If that bothers you, you are not a writer and should immediately take up a more rewarding avocation.

If you can't, persist. And remember that it's not what you do but how.