Is the number of published books really a problem? or “Need a hug, Colin?”

Poor Colin Robinson. Are you okay, hon? Do you need a hug?

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, the aforementioned Mr. Robinson is an editor for OR Books and wrote a column in The Guardian this past week about the plight of the poor, put-upon reader. There are just too many books for readers to read, you see. And a whole lot of them—well, they just aren’t very good, are they? Who’s to blame? Writers, that’s who. So they should all just take a year off so the rest of us can catch their breath and catch up on their reading.

Bless your heart, Mr. Robinson, I’d love a vacation! (It’s your treat, right?)

Now, there’s something here that doesn’t quite make sense to me. And I think it’s this: “Paradoxically, the deluge of writing itself contributes to declining readership. It’s not just that if you’re writing then you can’t be reading.”

Yep, there’s so many books, no one knows where to start. This explains why Big Brother is a thing.

Okay now, show of hands, writer friends! How many of you haven’t read any books this year? Anyone?

Anyone?

Bueller? Bueller?

I have a hunch here—and it’s only a hunch; I don’t have any statistics to back it up, so I’m not going to pretend I do—that if you took all of the writers out of the book-buying market, the dip would be noticeable. I’ve noted on many occasions how book buying is a bad, bad habit for me that I doubt I’ll ever be able to shake (and thank heavens for it). So far this year I’ve read 21 books. Trust me when I say that’s a whole lot more than the number of books I’ve written this year (which would add up to less than one, at the moment, but I’m workin’ on it).

Mr. Robinson also mentions the disturbing statistic that one in four Americans did not read a single book last year. Or, I should say, this would be disturbing if this hadn’t already been the case for years. (Even the Pew Center says the increase is “statistically insignificant.” You know the saying: there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.)

Feel like the sky is falling yet?

However you look at it, in America at least, a lot of people don’t read. At least, they don’t read books. It’s not like we’re saying that a lot of people can’t read (although that’s a problem too, and one deserving of more attention). But let’s not overlook the fact that three-quarters of Americans did read at least one book last year. It’s funny, how often that gets overlooked. I mean, if the current population of the United States is 313.9 million (thank you, Google), then (gets out calculator) 235,425,000 Americans read a book last year. A few of them even read two or more.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a lot of books to me.

Back to poor Mr. Robinson, though. I’m worried about him. He sounds so put upon by his job: “Sometimes,” he writes, “on darker days, it seems that my job as an editor comprises little more than hacking away at the Gormenghast-like tangle of poorly crafted words in order to admit sunlight for the few well-composed ones that are left.”

(To be honest, I’d never heard of Gormenghast, so don’t feel bad if you hadn’t either. They’re a bit long, is what he’s saying.)

Now, if you happen to be one of the authors published by his house, you might be asking yourself, gosh, I hope he doesn’t mean me. Let’s not dwell there, because, you know, we writers are optimistic by nature. We start out writing a book thinking we’re going to finish it, and then that eventually someone’s going to read it. And not just our mothers. If that isn’t optimism, I don’t know what is.

The first person who says that’s insanity gets a stern finger-wagging.

“The writers would survive a break,” he says. Well, who wouldn’t love a year-long holiday? Of course, the bills would tend to pile up, and the mortgage might get foreclosed. And then there’s the matter of all those people employed in the publishing industry other than writers. Let’s hope the backlists would keep selling.

the to-read stack(s) on my nightstandI feel you though, Colin. (Can I call you Colin?) Longtime readers may recall the accompanying shot of my to-read stack back home. (In full disclosure, it’s not so much a stack as it is a tower block.) There’s a lot of books and only so much time. And yet I am still managing. But I’m more worried that you’ve been singing a version of this tune since way back in 2009. Babe, you need to relax. Publishing has not yet imploded. Readers have not run into the streets tearing out their hair because they haven’t been able to tell the good books from the bad. (At this point, I will not presume to tell them which are which.) And the innovations in publishing that have occurred have done more than just make it possible to publish many more titles in a year; they’ve also made your own enterprise possible. That’s a good thing, surely?

But perhaps you don’t see it that way? Well, that’s okay. Maybe you just need a break. How about some time off? Go for a walk? Work on your golf game? Let someone else tackle those manuscripts that need editing?

How about that hug?

One thought on “Is the number of published books really a problem? or “Need a hug, Colin?”

  1. Pingback: You need to write a cheap, crappy novel. No, seriously. I mean it. | Write on the World

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