EL James Murdered Your Children And Stole Your Kidneys

…having insulted your dearly departed mother, and told everyone on Facebook that you love to torture dogs.

At least, I think those are her latest crimes. I can’t be sure. There are so many.

EL James Murdered Your Children And Stole Your Kidneys

The URL for this article actually says “What EL James’ Grey Success Tells Us About The Future Of Fiction”. Wow. I’d say it tells us… well, exactly nothing at all, really.

I love the Guardian. Don’t get me wrong. I embody many of the stereotypical attributes of a Guardian reader, except for maybe the sandals, the ethically-sourced attitudes to putting money in one’s pocket, and any aspiration to to make the world a better place (I rather enjoy having something to whinge about).

But in this article here, the Guardian says that blockbusters like James’ Grey not only destroy the earnings of other authors, but also ruin prospects for emerging authors.

Now. Far be it from me to defend EL James: what I read of hers, I found offensive, for at least 17 reasons I don’t need to go in to, here, because this post is not about her writing. (Although I still contend that if the millions of people out there buying her books had realised before the publication of Fifty Shades that the likes of Mills & Boon supplied all the Mommy Porn a girl could ever want, had she only known she wanted it, we wouldn’t be talking about EL James today at all.)


So, back to moaning about industry moaners. Back when I started this blog, I did some bloody great statistics on bestseller sales, if I do say so myself, which were highly illuminating [caveat lector, etcetera]. Unfortunately, none of you were reading this blog back then, so it’s high time they were rolled out again.

My Arse

I touched on the blockbuster quandary before, when I asked what effect blockbuster releases had on book sales. And the conclusion I came to was: not much, really. There is no indication, from bestseller sales volumes at least, that people who buy the major blockbusters do so instead of other books. It’s more likely that people either buy them as well as all the other books they were going to buy anyway, or that blockbusters are simply the only books they ever buy.

EL James’ trilogy, when it appeared in 2012, caused a spike in UK bestseller sales of 9.7 million units over the prior year. What I mean is: 9.7 million more top 100 bestsellers sold in 2012 than in 2011. That’s a lot of extra unit sales.

Are you trying to tell me that the 10.5 million people who bought the paperback Fifty Shades trilogy in the UK in 2012 would otherwise have bought a self-published book, or a literary prizewinner which only shifted 5,000 units?

My arse. Seriously.

EL James Murdered Your Children And Stole Your Kidneys

That thing! That thing what didn’t work out for me! That’s all your fault!


Big Bullies

There is also no indication that just because Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling bring out a new bestseller, other book sales suffer in the long-term (unless, that is, they’re released at the same time, in which case publicity for the smaller launch probably will get lost in the noise). And less well-known authors are particularly unlikely to suffer. If I’m in the market for a Rowling, it’s because it’s created its own market: the J.K. Rowling market. The only person who is likely to suffer is Dan Brown, because if I’m reading Rowling, I’m unlikely to bother with him (which is exactly what happened with me regarding The Casual Vacancy Vs Inferno. However, many, many people read both).

Even Mills & Boon weren’t harmed in the making of the Fifty Shades self-perpetuating pornomenon (new word for the day). They were far more likely to gain customers than lose them, because the market for erotic romance exploded (sorry) once it emerged (oops) into the pumping, torrential (stop!) mainstream.

So Who Gets The Pie?

The Guardian article asks “when vast sales are accrued by single authors… what long-term impact does it have on the world of publishing and bookselling?”, finding that top-earning authors grab both headlines and money at the expense of emerging writers, thus hurting their careers.

I find this unintentionally funny. In these early posts about bestseller sales in the 1980s and 1990s,  I spoke about the fact that it was just as difficult to get traditionally published then as it is today, but top authors were earning besquillions of megabucks back then, based on far less effort. In the 1980s in particular, there were significantly fewer bestselling authors than there are today: so few of them, in fact, that the ones who made it earned pretty much all the money, because it was almost impossible for a new author to break through. There were a few more emerging in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until more widespread self-publishing in the 2000s that we started to see more and more breakthroughs into the big leagues.

EL James Murdered Your Children And Stole Your Kidneys

1980s NYT Bestsellers: Only 33.5 No. 1 Bestseller Authors in 10 Years. Ridiculous

EL James Murdered Your Children And Stole Your Kidneys

The table speaks for itself. A mere 34 authors hit the New York Times #1 Bestseller spot in the 1980s, compared to 78 in the 2000s; and having hit the #1 spot, they stayed there for longer in the ’80s than they do now. But for more lovely detail, see links to the posts on each decade above.

There is no question that authors are earning less nowadays. At the lower end of the scale, it means that lesser known authors can’t make a living from their writing. This is unfortunate, granted. But at the top end, though, are you really upset that EL James and Random House are probably making only half today of what they would have made thirty years ago?!

That Was Then, This Is Now

The solution to pitiful author earnings, quality control in self-publishing, and changes in book format and distribution is not blaming and giving out about bestselling authors. It is also not blaming and giving out about readers. Perhaps with a little more strategic thinking, and a little less moaning, traditional publishers could capitalise on the fact that not only do we now understand more about readers, but that completely new markets are being created – with the help of social media – all the time.

The 7 Deadly Sins Of Best-Selling Authors

Help! Overwhelming success is ruining my legacy!

Or at least it might, had I any actual success to speak of. As of right now, I have to say my legacy is looking fairly safe.

But the other day, as I was perusing the all-powerful culture sections of the broadsheets, a thought suddenly struck me. Are successful authors derided without merit? Why are they hated so much?

Envy, of course. But is it something else? Is there a hipster tendency in all of us?

We’re led to believe that good literature must be important, and no literature can be important if it’s popular on a mass scale. In deriding popular literature, it helps if there are deficiencies in the writing to poke fun at (yes you, E.L. James) or if it’s considered too niche to count, regardless of cross genre appeal (RIP Terry Prachett).

But in general, achieving the status of bestseller before winning any literary prizes is enough to keep successful authors away from the inferno of critical acclamation forever.

There are many great writers whose legacy is dubious, in that they might be declared culturally significant only about twenty-five years after they die, if they’re lucky. So what are they doing wrong?

The 7 Deadly Sins Of Successful Authors

1. Writing too many books

The only thing worse than selling too many books, is writing too many. Stephen King. Jodi Picoult. John Grisham. Anne Rice. Ken Follett. J.K. Rowling. Judy Blume. All successful. None revered. In some cases, an author’s greatest sin is prolificacy. Apparently, you’re not allowed to write too many great books. And even worse, is if you write some great works, but bridge them with books that are not quite as good as the great ones. That wipes out your whole canon. Much better to write/publish only 1 truly great book, than 10 merely popular ones.

2. Being too well-known/popular

“To hell with his sparkling prose and vivid, gripping plotlines. Once I saw that woman reading his book on the bus wearing a Penney’s tracksuit, I says to myself, it’s all ruined, says I. The seething, unthinking underbelly of society has soiled it with its grotty fingers. Once they start talking about it in their pyjamas, it’s cultural death.”

3. Making it look too easy

Many of our literary greats take aons to painfully churn out heavy tomes of weighty wordiness. And it looks it. Sometimes it can seem as though the author wrote the book in their own blood, etched upon paper made of skin and bone, bound with the tears of a thousand desperate childhoods. Books that take forever to write can often take forever to read, too. Conversely, some best-selling authors can make it look like they dictated their book one rainy Wednesday afternoon whilst reclining on a day bed, à la Dame Barbara Cartland. It doesn’t mean they did. It might just mean they’re bloody good at what they do.

4. Earning too much money

Nothing will kill literary approbation quicker than making money from your books. Everybody knows that each thousand an author earns knocks 1 point off their IQ, and reduces the probability of their ever being mentioned in a college course by 2.654%. Millionaire authors are in fact assigned helpers to aid them with putting on socks, and cutting up their food.

5. Drawing characters too well

Take Maeve Binchy or Marian Keyes, dismissed as ‘women’s fiction’ (on a good day) or ‘chick-lit’ (on a day as bitter as lemon getting dumped on his birthday). But for many, their chronicling of the human condition is just as important as that of Hilary Mantel or Don De Lillo, and often far more astute. People don’t realise how difficult it is to write something which strikes chords in the hearts of so many people, without constantly submitting to cliché. There are few clichés in Keyes’ books she didn’t invent herself, but she often commits the cardinal sin of writing recognisable characters. And don’t even get me started on Binchy.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Successful Authors

6. Being too funny/shocking/sad/etc

Obviously, any book which elicits a strong response from a large number of people is too proletarian to be permissable in polite society. Books which make women cry are the worst offenders, taking them away from their own problems to cry over somebody else’s – disgraceful! A truly great work of art must keep its distance. For instance, I’ve read literary prizewinners which are supposed to be funny, and never laughed once. The closest I got was thinking ‘Oh, yes. I can see that he is technically making a joke here. Very good. Yes.’ But really funny stuff that makes people laugh out loud? Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Tom Sharpe, your one behind Bridget Jones? Nah. Not good enough.*

*One exception here is Roddy Doyle, who is funny, successful and a literary deity. To be fair, he could disprove almost all my arguments here, so we just won’t talk about him. ‘Kay?

7. Adapting too easily to the screen

Characters and a story that take to the screen like a cat to fame on YouTube? Just not good enough. Exciting battles, set pieces, denouements? Pathetic potboilers. No work of art can be considered important unless it involves a very large dollop of undramatisable internal struggle and pontification. For example, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice could have been murdered but for the fact that Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation was happily devoid of anything happening at all, and therefore considered to be the book’s equal in cultural importance.

Over to you. Are there authors you believe would be cultural royalty, if only they weren’t so bloody successful?

The 7 Deadly Sins of Best-Selling Authors

It’s My Blogiversary, And I’m Having A Tantrum About Greedy Publishers


Today is my 2nd blogiversary. On this day, 2 years ago, I published my first blog post, little knowing how many lives I was going to ruin. (Chiefly mine, because constantly thinking of things to give out about gives me very little time to do anything but eat unhealthy food, and make obscene gestures at Dublin Bus drivers who drive past me at bus stops.)

But I thought, seeing as it’s My Day, that I would think of something I would like to have, as a kind of present, if you will. But the thing I ended up thinking of is something I can’t have, and I’m very angry about it. It’s ruining my blogiversary.

Go On, Then: What Are You Complaining About Now?

I have a special place in my black heart reserved for maddening things. It is populated mainly by tangled earphone cords, pushy book marketing, that chafing on your thighs which comes from an ill-fitting pair of tights, and traditional publishers who don’t offer what I’m going to call multi-format book bundling (i.e. all of them).

It's My Blogiversary, And I'm Having A Tantrum

I’ve used this lady to illustrate anger so many times, I’m becoming concerned for her safety

Publishers just don’t get it. It’s like they roam helplessly about their offices, muttering “Kids today. They want so much stuff. But it’ll ruin us! Special offers will bring us doooowwwwn!”

Multi-format book bundling isn’t about giveaways. It’s about sense. I’m talking about giving book buyers the choice to buy both a paper and a digital version of a book together, for a tiny bit extra. It’s not a big ask. We’ve already bought the book: we’d just like to have a choice regarding the way we read it.

How Do You Read?

Look at this scenario. I currently employ a multi-formatted approach to reading. My preferred format is the paperback. My second favourite is a mini Android tablet with a Kindle app, which has pretty colours and allows me to hop onto the internet whenever I feel a burning desire to look something up. I also have a Kindle Paperwhite, for reading outside. And finally, I use the Kindle app on my phone, for days out and about, when I’m only going to be able to read for 10 minutes at a time and I don’t want to cart a heavy book around.

It's My Blogiversary, And I Am Having A Tantrum

I usually read wearing a false moustache and standing with one leg in the air, but this photo’ll do

50% Extra Free (ish)

There’s a whole untapped market out there for people who have bought stuff, and for a little bit more money, they would like some more stuff. They are willing to pay money for this more stuff. And the book world just isn’t making us the right offer.

The music and film industries cottoned on to the ‘Special Edition’ notion a long, long time ago. For a couple of extra quid you can get extra tracks; interviews; DVD extras; a fancy gold case, or a signed picture of Elton John’s dog. And people buy into this. Superfans, mediocrefans, and grannies looking for a present for a taciturn teenager. It’s an easy sell: you’re going to buy this thing anyway. Why not pay a tiny bit extra and get lots, lots more?

But not books. They don’t want to give you more in the book world.

Given the choice, I’d read paperbacks all the time. I don’t like the fact that eReaders make it hard to flick back to previous pages easily. I also don’t like the fact that it takes unreasonable effort to have a quick look at the book jacket or blurb when in the middle of the book.

But nothing can beat the fact that I can be reading a book on my tablet, then find myself at a loose end on the bus on my way into work and pick up where I left off on my phone: so ebooks are winning the day on average, even if I’d much rather curl up with the paperback. Because the Kindle app allows me to be both a bookworm, and a functioning taxpayer.

It's My Blogiversary, And I Am Having A Tantrum

A sneer of publishers (true collective noun), upon hearing that once again I didn’t get what I wanted

At present, book publishers are treating each and every format of a book as a separate purchase. But if I’ve already bought a copy of the book, I don’t see why I can’t get a special edition which comes with a one-off code for a digital version too (and maybe even something tantalising, like a bonus chapter; a few illustrations; an author interview, or a retelling of something from another POV) for just a fraction more. A euro. A dollar. £1.79p. Whatever. Depending on what the DVD extras are.

But it seems as though traditional publishers believe that if they give me 2 differently formatted copies of a book, they’re losing 50% of their potential sales, or something.

Is Logic Too Much To Ask For?

I’m no more likely to hand over my 2nd (alternative format) copy of a book than I am to lend that book to a friend: that is, it’s the same probability. They’ll lose no more sales than they would in the normal course of events, where books are sometimes borrowed and lent between readers, and there isn’t a damn thing they can do about it, unless they’re going to sue the entire world.

So I don’t see any reason why I can’t get any book I buy in more than one format if I choose. The only reason I can’t, is because publishers won’t provide it. And it’s really, really, really annoying. Hence their position in the darkest corner of my book-loving heart. I want something. They won’t let me have it. It’s my party. And I’ll cry if I want to.

Anyone else out there think this is a missed opportunity?

The Secret To World Domination Is… A Hairy Irishman

They’re Irish. They’re hairy. And they’re taking over the world.

It’s all very well perfecting your craft – whatever that might be – and seeking fame and fortune on the strength of it. But the fact is that unless you grow the hair to go with it, you’re wasting your time. I lay the cases of the following indomitable Irish men in front of you in order to irrefutably prove my point. And I’m warning you: there is literally no point in arguing with my hypothesis, because it is perfect.

1. Hozier

Hairy Irishmen: The Secret To World DominationI was watching Glastonbury highlights the other day from the safety of my couch. And there he was, throwing his hair around like he hadn’t a care in the world: Andrew Hozier-Byrne. And indeed, why wouldn’t he? He’s only after writing one of the best songs of the last decade (Take Me To Church), finally persuaded to take his hair out of that awkward ponytail and let it flap round his face like the uncaged animal it is. About a year ago, his hair seemed shy and reserved, as though intimidated by its own violent popularity. But now the hair flies free, and it’s – sorry, I mean he’s – taking over the world.

2. Aidan Turner

Hairy Irishmen: The Secret To World DominationFollowing his turn on the latest incarnation of BBC’s Poldark, this gentleman’s hair got so popular that the Internet exploded and he was forced to keep it indoors, out of sight, for reasons of personal safety. Mind you, this also necessitated the keeping of himself indoors too, attached as he was to his hair, with the result that he hasn’t been seen in public since that kerfuffle when 600 early-to-late middle-aged women threatened to throw themselves over a cliff in Cornwall in protest at the prospect of a whole year’s wait for the next series.

3. Graham Norton

Hairy Irishmen: The Secret To World DominationAs if that wasn’t enough, there’s the darling of celebrity passport control: the man whose show A-Listers scramble to get on for a bit of actual real fun when in the UK on interminable promotional tours. Graham already had half a bumcheek in the throne when his hair hauled the rest of him over the finish line. Now, Graham bucked the trend by growing it on the front rather than the back of his head, but I think we’re agreed that this sudden beardiness was the final jewel in that weighty and witty crown. You just can’t argue with that much hirsute gravitas being issued with his contrasting boyish grin.

4. Daniel-Day Lewis: The Grandaddy Of Irish Hairiness

I know he’s retired about six times now, but we need to watch the hair. I don’t know how many films this guy’s made – and let’s face it, I couldn’t be arsed researching it – but his career has followed a strict hair matrix, and if he didn’t realise it, he’s not the man I’m saying he is for the purposes of this post. Each and every time the Day-Lewis has been nominated for an Oscar or BAFTA, let alone won one, it’s been with extreme hair. His short-haired, clean-shaven movies have been relative flops. All I’m saying is, if you see the Day-Lewis wandering about Wicklow with any noticeable hair growth, place your bets now. The evidence is simply overwhelming:

Hairy Irishmen: The Secret To World Domination

1. My Left Foot – serious beardiness at the end of the movie. Very effective. And did you see the hair (bottom right) with which he picked up his first Oscar?

2. Last Of The Mohicans – I get choked up when I think of his long flowing locks in this one. Simply magnificent.

2. In The Name Of The Father – Aidan Turner learned much from this tortured Day-Lewis incarnation. Much.

3. Gangs Of New York – That moustache! Those side locks! The plastered-down fringe! Extraordinary.

4. There Will Be Blood – More ‘tache. Some beard. Long, tousled top action. A keratin symphony.

5. Lincoln – This beard, sideburn and standy-up cow’s lick fringe combination had its own agent. You can see why.

But take heed, Irish men. Just like Samson, your strength lies in your hair. If you cut it or, heaven forbid, shave it, your reign will be over.

And if you love your country, and wish to do your duty by furthering her place on the world’s stage, for God’s sake, to paraphrase a recent Disney movie which conquered the world: Let It Grow.

The Secret To World Domination Is A Hairy Irishman

The Laziest Holiday In The World (With Mind-Blowing Photographs)

The Laziest Holiday In The World (With Mind-Blowing Photographs)

My office this week. I am not joking. Well, okay, I might have been joking about the mind-blowing photographs, but not about my office.

I took a holiday this week. At home. In Dublin. It was almost entirely unplanned, in that I only decided to have a holiday last Friday, and I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do any of the stuff you’re supposed to do on holidays in order to call it a holiday.

Here is a list of the stuff people do on holidays, which I did not do this week.

1. Go somewhere

2. Eat out

3. Buy souvenirs

4. Have a fight with someone dear to me

5. Clock up any experiences which would warrant a mention even if you were only mentioning them on the phone to the sort of mother who would happily listen to a rundown of your last toilet break

Here is what I did this week instead.

1. Lie down.

I did this a lot. I did it mostly indoors, on my bed, but sometimes I did it in the garden when the sun was shining. I cannot describe how nice this was. All of the lying down was fairly fantastic, if I’m honest.

2. Get better.

I had been ill, then I went back to work, and I was iller, which was so unkind. That’s the reason I took this week off. And my cunning plan worked. I cannot even describe how smug I feel right now.

3. Walk along the same route I walk into work, only when not walking to work, making it bloody lovely.

And I took this photograph of the kind of Irish graffiti which makes life worth living.

The Laziest Holiday In The World (With Mind-Blowing Photographs)

Is it ‘Feck. I can’t get down from here’? Or is it ‘Egad: my existentialist suffering should be proclaimed high enough for all the world to see’?

4. Get abducted by aliens.

One minute I was taking a photograph, and then…

The Laziest Holiday In The World (With Mind-Blowing Photographs)

I did wonder for a moment was this Twitter, arriving for a visit, in person

5. Go back in time.

There is a rather splendid rose garden beside where I live. I mean beside. Right beside me. You go out my front door, then around one corner, then around another, and there it is. And I only visit it about twice a year. I know. I’m a disgrace. But I wandered in this week and lo and behold, there the prickly little blighters were, in all the 5-minute wonder of a thoroughly full bloom. I am reliably informed that they are very late this year because of the spufincular malatemporal flux [meteorological white noise], or whatever the hell it was that happened in June.

But I was standing there, looking at the roses, and I suddenly realised that I was standing in a 1960s jigsaw. Or a 1970s postcard. All jigsaws and postcards in the 1960s and 1970s had rose gardens in them. They were bloody obsessed. As soon as they got mass colour photography they lost the run of themselves with the shagging roses. But anyway, there I was. Back in time.

The Laziest Holiday In The World (With Mind-Blowing Photographs)

This is every photograph ever taken in the 1960s. Poorly lit roses. Somewhat unreal looking. Like it smells ever-so-slightly of old cardboard.

And so we have it. The laziest holiday in the world. Not bad for someone who didn’t go anywhere.

Authors! Your Free Book Is Worthless

Authors! Your Free Book Is Worthless (To People Over 30)

You know you want it! Er… hang on. Do you…?

I’ve been wondering about book pricing for a long time. Specifically, whether making your book free makes me bothered about reading it or not.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not. Bothered, that is.

But before you start weeping and wailing (yes – you in the back, there) this has to be taken in the context of the market demographic to which I belong. And the fact that a clunky, unsophisticated and downright annoying scatter-gun approach to book marketing, which I keep ranting and raving about even though nobody is bloody listening, is yet again way off target.

I said before that books were decreasing in value – and they are, on two levels: both in sales and production.

Firstly, it stands to reason that if you charge me 99c for your book, or make it free, it’s not as valuable to me as something which cost me more.

Secondly, there isn’t as much investment in books at the production end, which makes them feel like lighter, less prized possessions. Indie publishers usually don’t spend as much on editing, packaging, and marketing as traditional publishers, and the end product can very often look cheap. (Actually, even traditional publishers don’t spend half as much on these elements as they once did. For instance, many traditionally-published authors are having to do all their own marketing if they want to sell any books at all. But anyhoo.)

Authors! Your Free Book Is Worthless (To People Over 30)

I know this is what you think you’re doing…

A decrease in value means we don’t respect these books as much. We may not finish them. We may not even start them. They become wordy flotsam: we wade through them to get to what we hope is the good stuff.

So what is this doing to your readership? Your potential future sales? And your writing career? I’ve been forming some not at all hasty and tenuous conclusions, based on my own reading and buying habits.

What’s Wrong With Free Books?
1.   If you make your book free, I am more likely to download it, but less likely to read it.
2.   If your book is temporarily on sale at a heavily discounted rate, and I download it, there is an increased likelihood that I’ll forget I have it because I put off reading it indefinitely in favour of something I prize more.
3.   If I download one of your books and end up a) not reading it or b) not finishing it, it’s a safe bet to assume I will never download anything of yours again.

What Price Should A Book Be, Then?

Some research has been done on the so-called “sweet spot” for e-book pricing. A couple of years ago, it was suggested that the pricing floor, beneath which a book was considered to be of poorer quality and thus rendered less attractive (to an adult market), was 2.99 (dollars, euros or pounds, apparently). I would say that floor is around 2.50 for me, and odd prices also work (i.e. if your book is 2.67 it looks better to me than a flat 2.50, for reasons not entirely clear to me, but probably something to do with coming across more like a sale percentage discount to a more conventional RRP).

But free? No. In 95% of cases, for me, it’s a turn-off.

Ask Yourself – Is There Really A Strategic Benefit To Discounting Your Novel?

STRATEGY A.  It’s the first title in a series.

I’m less likely to dismiss your free book if it’s the first in a series and you’re charging for subsequent titles, because then I can see a good reason for what you’re doing: you’re trying to hook me with a freebie, only to charge me for the sequel. But making single or standalone titles free just makes me think that they’re lame ducks that nobody wants.

STRATEGY B.  Your target market pretty much only responds to free or discounted stuff.

You must know your audience. A professional marketer would segment their target market and tailor their promotions accordingly. Why aren’t authors doing this?

Lookit: I am over 30. What I pay for things has a significant psychological effect upon my valuation of them. Young adults, on the other hand, may feel differently. An entire generation is now used to getting things for free (just ask the music industry). So, whilst making your book free to me does you no favours whatsoever, making your book free to an 18-year-old may conversely prove the secret to your success and fame (leading ultimately to a legendary and gloriously blind abuse of power).

So if you think your target market is more 18-year-old, and less Irish cynic of an unpublished quantum over 30, for Blog’s sake, don’t treat us as the same market with a One-Size-Fits-All strategy.

STRATEGY C.   Your discount comes at a cost. Sort of.

Perhaps those of us more likely to judge a book by its price should be made jump through a few more hoops in order for us to value your free or discounted book more highly. Give us a special promotional code. A clue in another book. A question which must be answered. A special discount to fans or previous readers. Special offer bundles. Make us make some sort of effort. Because otherwise, why would we bother?

Authors! Your Free Book Is Worthless (To People Over 30)

This is categorically not an author of fiction

What’s your view on free books? Do you have a cut-off price for discounted books (outside of sales promotions in actual bookshops), beyond which you think the book’s going to be a bit pants? Or is anyone out there a massive fan of the free e-book, and willing to fight me til tea-time about it?

Why Your Attention Span Is A Great Excuse For Someone Else’s Failure


I wasn’t well last week, and ended up feeling dreadfully sorry for myself. Now, there’s nothing on earth can feel quite as sorry for itself as an Irish woman, so it can get quite dark. Anyhoo, as I lay prostrate, bemoaning the state of both my health and my immediate prospects, my lamentations eventually began to transfer themselves to the world outside as well.

And it’s a dark world, lads and lassies. Society is broken. Rent asunder by social media, reality television, celebrity gossip and cat memes. As a race, we have developed the attention span of a hungover goldfish. We can’t concentrate on anything longer than a Buzzfeed article called 21 Things Only People Who Wore Purple Underpants In 1991 Will Understand. And nobody reads full novels anymore.

My last post on e-book reading statistics – the fact that we now have access to better statistics not only on what books people are buying, but also whether they finish them or not – raised a few questions, namely: Are people not finishing books these days because their attention span is shot? Or are they not finishing books because the books just aren’t good enough?

The “Can’t Even” Era

We can say that we’re busier, or that we have more distractions. But there are other things afoot, such as more competition to entertain us. Once, we might have paid attention to stuff we didn’t find particularly interesting, because there was nothing else more immediately attractive. Now we don’t have to. Social, geographical and economical barriers to media have disappeared. So much information is available to us on so many different channels that we can now choose whether or not to consume it.

And it doesn’t always follow that short attention-span stuff always wins. Look at the rise and rise of complex, slow or long-form TV like The Wire, Breaking Bad or Mad Men; see how binge-watching TV or binge-buying books in the same series has become a ‘thing’. If people really like something, they don’t hang about, waiting for the next instalment. They make time for it right now and they become wholly – almost fanatically – focused upon it.

In the olden days, we read what we had and thought that was it. Now we’re conscious that there might always be something better out there – or at least, something more attractive. Gone are the days when we all watched the same TV or read the same books because it was all we had.

But that still doesn’t necessarily explain how, having chosen a book, we don’t finish it. So why is that?

1. Books aren’t as valuable as they were. 

When books were more expensive, we had no choice but to read what we bought or borrowed. But now, we can download 10 free books during a toilet break. We may not read them. But we can still download them. (Whether or not making a book free devalues it to the extent we never read it is a whole different post.)

2. There are more books out there.

More authors are releasing books independently, meaning more books are being published. And much as we might hate to admit it, a substantial quantity of this might be badly edited, badly marketed, or just bad. We might get two chapters into a book, realise it hasn’t been edited properly, and run for the hills. I know I have.

3. Power has shifted.

We’re no longer solely dependent on big publishing houses with big budgets and connections with book critics to tell us what to read. And we don’t feel as beholden to sticking with a book the critics said we should read because we wanted to look intelligent.

4. Not All People Are Some.

So some people don’t finish some books. More do. Some people love big literary prize-winners. More don’t. I’ve given books to people with gushing recommendations and seen them all squirmy-eyebrowed when asked for their verdict. Not everybody who consumes the stuff is going to like the stuff, dammit. Stop being all bothered about it.

5. Because The Internet.

Here’s the one point which might actually have to do with attention span – we are less willing to invest time into something which may not suit us. There’s such a barrage of information thrown at us these days, we’ve got used to making rapid judgements about articles and books based on a synopsis or first paragraph. And we’re less willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt if we suspect they might bore us.

Why Blaming Your Attention Span Is A Great Excuse For Failure

I don’t see what’s wrong with any of this. We’ve developed new and necessary survival skills in the Information Age, and it suits some authors brilliantly as much as it makes others cry into their gruel. There are winners and losers in every cultural shift and not always for reasons immediately apparent to mere mortals. The only thing that is certain is that the way we consume entertainment is changing. And there’s no point at all in sitting around moaning about it. Even if we have good reason to feel sorry for ourselves.