Wednesday, September 24, 2014


A SHORT WHILE AGO, I was having dinner with some friends, non-writers, who I care for and who care about me. One of them asked how sales for The Tattooed Witch and The Tattooed Seer were going. They had read the first book and were looking forward to reading the second. In jest, I replied, "Oh, the books are selling like hot-cakes."

"Really?" they asked.

"No, not really," I said. "I wish." I went on to explain that because my publisher was a small Canadian press (and an excellent one, I might add - this post is no criticism of Five Rivers), it also meant that I had to rely on mostly my own efforts to promote the books and that sales were steady but slow. Small presses do not have the cash flow to spend on promotion that the larger publishers do. Plus, there are many books out there from which readers can choose.

My friends nodded in sympathy, and then one of them offered to 'lend' my book to the other. They were happy to share the book with each other, as if they were doing me a favour. I sat there and said nothing. I had just finished talking about slow sales, and instead of thinking of buying a copy of my latest novel, my one friend promised the other to lend her the book. They thought they were giving me their support.

I was annoyed. I still am, whenever this occurs. There is an underlying belief out there that books are free, that readers pay the writer a compliment by reading their work. I suppose it's because we forget that other forms of entertainment, like television, seem to be free even though we pay for them via cable, Netflix, or whatever. Readers can finish a book in two days. They don't realize the amount of work that goes into creating a novel - years, before a writer may be technically good enough to produce a solid piece of work.

Nobody owes me a living, and nobody asked me to devote my life to writing. I have been fortunate enough to do that, blessed with the talent and tenacity to earn some acclaim and publishing success. But devoting my life to a creative effort has also meant I've lived with less financial security than I like. Many artists do. It's what we give up to be who we are. Few of us reach those heady heights where we earn six figure salaries. If not for my spouse who supports me, I would be a member of  'the artistic poor', as many other writers, musicians, painters, dancers, and actors are.

For those who think I complain of nothing, let me ask you this: would you expect a surgeon to perform surgery on you without pay? Or a plumber to unplug your pipes for free? If you argue that these things are necessary, that the arts do not fall under the same practical requirements, then imagine a world that provides you with no entertainment, a life without television, movies, books, or any kind of story. What a dull and uninteresting place it would be.

I am one of those who contributes to the world's imagination and colour. The reviews of my books have been excellent. Maybe it is worth paying for books, after all. The cost of a novel isn't so much, and it goes a long way to telling the author you appreciate what they do, that you recognize the importance of a bigger world than what the ordinary day-to-day offers. Yes, it's nice that readers are reading our work, but please - support the writers you know by buying their books instead of lending them or, even worse, by pirating them. After all, you'd spend the same on a novel that you might on lunch. Even less money, if you have an e-reader like a Kindle.

- Susan.


  1. I get it, Susan. I really do. But here's the thing about non writing friends. They support the heck out of us in other ways, and if they read the book and tell some of THEIR friends about it (and lend out that same book) you might make sales down the road, with your other books. That's the hope, anyhow. It is a long road, though, is't it?

  2. Eileen, you are the soul of graciousness. However, the non-writing friends I have who 'do' support the heck out of me have already bought their book and 'don't' lend it, they rave about it and point their friends to the places where they can buy it. You can't buy lunch on 'hope'. I really think we need to do something to change this culture of 'oh hey, it's your book, and I'm doing you a favour by reading it'. Maybe as writers, we are also part of the problem by not expecting more and letting people, thoughtlessly or otherwise, take advantage of us. What's that old saying? You only appreciate what you pay for?