Posted on October 25, 2013 in Archive

Let’s not take a break from writing, shall we?

An American publisher, proposing that all writers take a yearlong rest from writing, and give publishers a break, wrote this article a few months back. It’s certainly an intriguing concept, but I’m not sure it’s one that I agree with.

The article quotes facts and figures that support the idea that there are just too many books in the world today, and that ultimately this is a disincentive for readers. Having too much choice can be a bad thing, apparently. It also says that, according to Google, roughly 130 million books have been published throughout modern history, and that figure is not slowing down.

The “deluge of writing” available today is what is causing the decline in readership, according to the article. This author seems to have completely missed the invention of social media, television and the Candy Crush Saga. In this age of Tweetering and Facebonking, it’s hard to keep the attention of the average person for long. Is it so unreasonable to admit that maybe the average reading habits are changing to reflect the rise of technology and social media? By my own personal standards, this isn’t something I’m thrilled about, by the way. I used to bust through a few books every fortnight. Then (semi-) adult life got in the way, and now I’m lucky if I get through two a month. It might just be a fact of life now – people enjoy reading, but they just might not have enough time for it. That doesn’t mean you should completely ban all creative writing for 12 months, though.

The outrageous ego of writers today and to some extent, self-publishers, is also part of the “problem”. They only add to the enormous amount of what is currently available, and what they add is not of quality. I have a problem with this assertion – that all writers are hugely self-important, and that is why poor quality stuff gets published. I think you’ll find that, leaving out the self-publishers, traditional publishers are the ones going around picking up bad books to distribute to the masses. How about, for a change, publishers go for what they think is a good read, rather than what they think would sell well? (Trashy romance sagas, I’m looking at you.)
If you want fewer literary eyesores, then don’t publish them. Simple. Whether you work at McDonalds or as a CEO, these days you need confidence to get anywhere in life. Don’t begrudge writers for doing the same thing as everyone else, because nothing would get published that way.

How are we as readers supposed to know when to separate the good from the bad unless the market decides for us (and by us)? Readers as reviewers are fast becoming the gatekeepers for quality books, and I think this worries the author of the article, Colin Robinson. In any case, the number of books published in the entire world is almost irrelevant to the modern reader. The reader who gets through a steady number of books each year probably already knows what they like, whether it be genre, length, or a particular author. They are going to continue to visit bookstores (be it online or brick-and-mortar), browse and read books at the same rate that they always have. No amount of facts or figures is going to speed that up. Nor are they going to read this article, swoon and say “Oh, it’s all too much! I can’t possibly cope!”

Liquid State - break from writing - image of page in a book

That’s too many words – take it back.

Therefore, according to Robinson, stopping all creative writing for a year is the appropriate response. It will allow people to catch up on their ‘to do’ reading list, or maybe pick up a bigger book that they wouldn’t ordinarily. To me though, this seems to be a case of ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’. If you stop all creative writing for a year, there’s no telling what literary gold dust you might be missing out on. Punishing everyone for the crap ramblings of a few just doesn’t make sense.

In general, this ‘writers should take a year off’ malarky really does a good job of painting a bleak picture of the publishing world today, that is overflowing with garbage writers and non-existent readers. This simply isn’t true. The publishing industry is currently undergoing a multitude of changes, digital publishing being just one new facet. These changes must seem like a huge waste of time to Robinson, if he thinks that there are too many books and not enough readers. Robinson also markedly changes his opinion of readers as a group throughout the article – he starts the article by portraying them as starry-eyed acolytes, hoping to learn and experience new things through books. Then he proceeds to depict them as semi-literate buffoons who haven’t read a book in decades, or who need to be paid $2 to read a book. He just can’t make up his mind.

So sure, there are a lot of books in the world. But there are also a lot of people in the world. Of course a reader wouldn’t expect to read every book that was newly published each year, because there are a fair few (1.8 million published in 2012, to be exact). There should never be a “too much”, though. You wouldn’t expect to shake the hand of every newborn baby in the world, would you? So I say, if writing is what makes you happy, ignore this guy. Keep on at it. Just because there are already a lot of books out there doesn’t mean yours doesn’t deserve to be read.