‘The Writer in the Digital Age’ – The Reader’s View

How can we negotiate our way, as both readers and writers, through the world of books and literature in this era of great change?  As greater consolidation is underway amid the traditional publishing houses,  small independent houses pop up every day, and direct digital self publishing becomes easier and more accessible, choice and selection can be confusing, and so it was an opportune time to attend a discussion on the subject hosted by TLC at the Free Word Centre.

I am both a reader and a writer, so I am interested in how to negotiate the new environment in both capacities.  How can I find interesting new things to read, and how can I get my own work out into the market place in the most effective way?

How do we choose what to read?  Understanding how that choice is made, can inform how I might choose to publish my own work.

With all the changes in the publishing environment, browsing in a book shop today, I can have the feeling that I’m seeing only a fraction of what is available in the market; but, equally, I don’t particularly enjoy looking through listings on internet book sites, as I feel over faced by all the stuff that’s there, and don’t know how to gauge the quality of what it is I’m looking at.  I know that there are books out there that have been carefully crafted, edited and cared for, but also there are even more that have not.  How can I tell the difference?

Before this recent period of upheaval we used to rely on mainstream publishers to make the broad selections for us, to essentially curate a collection from which we could choose our preferences.  For the moment, it is not clear who has replaced them in their curating role, but it seems inevitable that from the chaotic multiplicity of the current marketplace, that some new ‘ taste-makers’ will have to emerge.  They might be book bloggers, book groups or other collectives and networks.

The idea of brand is as prevalent in the book business as it is in bottled water,  But which is the relevant brand now?  Is it the writer or the publisher?  Many readers make their choice on what to buy by reference to the writer; I certainly did in my early reading years, and have the complete works of Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch and F Scott Fitzgerald in their 1970/80s paperback livery to prove it.  Others rely on the reputation of the publisher,; that was probably me too as I loved the line of Penguin orange spines arranged on the shelves in my bedroom, because I was confident in relying on most of the choices they has made for the compilation of their lists.

Some small publishers, today are tapping into that pleasure for book lovers of having a beautiful row of co-ordinated volumes on their shelves, or like And Other Stories  are inviting readers to subscribe a financial contribution to the publication of future books, hoping that their reputation for making excellent choices will create a group of followers/’stakeholders; the short listing of Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home for the Man Booker prize will only enhance their reputation.

Talking of the Man Booker, it is interesting to note that this year the judges short listed three books published by small independent houses. Were they trying to make a point?  Are there more interesting things being published outside the major houses?  And if they are, why is that?

How can the average reader find all these gems without the help of some sort of filter?  The big trick then is to find the right filter for you.

Tomorrow I’ll write about the discussion points I found interesting from the writer’s point of view.

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