Support Your Local Writer

Cover art by Michael Doig
An arts magazine to which I subscribe dropped through my letterbox yesterday morning and sent my blood pressure sky high. This is a little publication which focuses mainly on art and artists. But the current issue devoted a large chunk of its available space to an anti Amazon, pro bookstore rant with the now wearily familiar exhortation to us all to support our local small businesses and shun those giant corporations like Amazon, Starbucks and Google. I'm assuming the editor doesn't use a PC or a Mac to construct his copy, but I wonder what he uses instead? Pencil and paper? One of those old printing sets you used to get in your Christmas stocking?

There was, however, a significant omission from his rant in favour of small businesses: the thousands of small business people without whom there would be no books whatsoever. 

You've got it. Writers.

It amazes me how often certain commentators speak and write lovingly about books (their smell, their feel, their physical form)  independent bookstores (struggling local businesses worthy of our support) and publishers (under threat, under pressure, under the cosh)  but relegate the one small business person without whom NONE of these would exist, to the sidelines.

A nice little hobby?
Part of the problem is that only a certain percentage of writers think of themselves as professionals, as people running a small business. But isn't that the same with any 'creative' pursuit? Back when my husband was wearing himself out (quite literally as it turned out - he now has serious arthritis) on huge woodcarving projects, people would watch him at work and remark on what a 'nice little hobby' it was for him. So for every writer who sees him or herself as a professional there will be a dozen happy dabblers - and why not? It's a good thing to do. But the knock-on effect of this is that assumptions are made, assumptions which we sometimes have to challenge.

I've had a long and interesting career but like all writing careers it has been a bit of a switchback. And I've learned that it is never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket. But right now, somebody is actually facilitating my business, distributing my books and paying me on a regular basis and that somebody is Amazon. Those by no means large but wonderfully regular payments are what allow my own small business to support many other small businesses, like the variety of young, self employed digital artists who have worked on my eBook 'covers' with me and the local company  Paligap, which built my Wordarts website for me. Not forgetting our village cafe  and pub to which I escape to from time to time. 

Encouraging customers to support one particular local business is all very well - especially if that business is well loved and is serving its community in all kinds of interesting ways. And I love indie bookstores. Especially the ones with cafes, the ones where local writers and book groups hang out, the ones which encourage readings, the ones where the owners are welcoming - unlike the indie bookshop which had better remain nameless, to which I delivered a small box of my very much local interest books on the explicit instructions of my publisher who claimed to have arranged the visit in advance, only to be met with something verging on hostility!

Sailing to a bookshop?

There are a few excellent independent bookshops which might loosely be described as local. Those in Wigtown - a beautiful place - involve an hour's drive along winding, hilly, country roads, pitted with potholes that might better be defined as craters and made horrible by log lorries, bouncing along the middle of the road at high speed. I shop there from time to time, but not often. The other involves an hour's drive in the opposite direction and 45 minutes on a car ferry. Forgive me if clicking on the great Amazon in the clouds so often seems like a much better option when I want a book right now, especially if I can get it for my Kindle and be reading it instantly. Good for the writer. Good for the reader. 

Asking people to boycott a system which demonstrably benefits producers and customers alike seems illogical and unfair. And as Hugh Howey wrote in a recent blog post, the real story is NOT him. (Although his is a wonderfully inspirational story for all of us!) No. It's the thousands and thousands of writers like me, writers who were told by their blinkered industry time and again that no matter how excellent their product, nobody wanted it. The midlist was dead. Well, turns out it was only taking a nap. Now that it has woken up, it's alive and kicking. And here we are, small business people, managing to connect directly with our real customers - our readers - and finding out that there is an appreciative market for our products after all.