Mistake No. 45: Not buying books and magazines

Writing Magazine is a bloody good read these days, and with the 2-in-1 merge with Writers’ News, editor Jonathan Telfer has done a terrific job in freshening up the formula. There are lots of new writers with new ideas and I really like it. I advise all my students to read it, as well as FMN, and to look at other writing magazines, such as Writer’s Forum and The New Writer.

The February issue featured an article called Credit crunch writing… by Diana Cambridge – a long-standing contributor whose advice is often solid, but with which I sometimes disagree. Practical ways for writers to save cash for the year ahead, was the theme of the piece. A perfectly decent idea for an article, and there were perfectly decent tips included – saving a little bit of every fee earned, time management, that kind of thing.

But other aspects I disliked. There was advice to not spend money at bookshops, to buy cheap books from Amazon, to swap books with friends, to buy second-hand books from dealers who buy them back from you once you’re done… no royalties or PLR fees for writers in that little selection. There was a boggling recommendation to spend up to £150 on a lamp which supposedly cures Seasonal Affective Disorder, about which I shan’t comment further in order to spare my cardiologist an emergency callout.

I vented a little in a letter and sent it off. It was published unedited in the April edition.

Why was I upset? For me, it was the seemingly cavalier disregard for publishing that came across, combined with the breezy selfishness of the philosophy being recommended, a model which if everyone adopted tomorrow, would see our industry collapse within weeks. Or maybe it would not. But I was and still am a bit annoyed – because it might.

What’s wrong, in these austere belt-tightening times, with looking after No 1, you might ask? Well, nothing, but at the absolute expense of No 2? What if we applied this thinking to, say, recycling? “Don’t bother to sort out your recycling – just chuck everything into your ordinary black bin for landfill. You’ll save lots of time to do more writing!”

We all recycle. I do my papers, glass and plastics. We could probably all do more. I don’t do vegetable waste due to various, dull reasons – but if I really put my mind to it, I could. But I contribute – and I presume so do you. Because we should.

Similarly, we should contribute to the publishing industry. I’ve been known to swap books sometimes as well. I buy second hand books too – though often feel guilty about it. But I also buy from independent booksellers and I also use my library – and I hope you do too.

It’s not all about books, of course. The same principle applies to magazines. Sales are down and they are folding. Aside from the obvious fact that writers need to buy and read for too many reasons – research, market analysis, and all the rest of it – my feeling is writers should also buy and read to support the business they expect to support them. And if money is the sticking point for any doubters, then Mistake No. 17 may change minds.

And don’t only buy for you – buy for others too. Birthday present to acquire? Consider giving a book. Or a magazine subscription. And if it’s for a writer I can’t think of a better gift than a subscription to Writing Magazine (£44.90), Writer's Forum (£36), The New Writer (£27) or Freelance Market News (£29).

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