Not buying books and magazines (Mistake #45)

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).

Comments 9

  • Getting books from the library seems like a much better way to save money than to buy them second-hand from Amazon.

  • Absolutely agree about buying all those writing magazines – I get most of them and often recommended them. I was pleased to see you fired off your letter and it was published.

    I've just emailed a letter to WF (which I love every month) strongly disagreeing with inaccuracies in an article in the new issue (a different topic), so I'm glad others do the same!

  • Personally, I believe all writers should subscribe to all of the writing magazines – they are our trade publications.

  • Definitely buy the writing magazines- but I do buy 2nd hand books.
    If the traditional publishing world is going under then writers buying books isn't going to keep it going – we are all going to have to learn to adapt – and new books are expensive for all of us.

  • @ Rosemary – must buy WF. Been too long since I saw it.

    @ Ann – "If the world is overheating, then writers recycling isn't going to stop it". Not saying we don't have to adapt: fine – buy an ebook. But we can (and should) contribute.

  • Agreed – we must support the industry we are in. I buy far too many books, almost all new, many direct from independent publishers. I just love them.

  • I had exactly the same opinion when I read that article in Feb. Seemed a little contradictory – especially, the lamp the writer recommended! Fair enough, everyone's taking measures to spend less nowadays, but there are exceptions! Books I've bought are multiplying and I need new shelves…

    Writers News is generally a fantastic read though, more than useful.

    Louise Gibney

  • Reviewing books can help as much as buying them, i regularly review books on my blog and often there are at least a couple of people who say they'll then buy the book or get it from the library.

  • Thanks for comments womag and Louise.

    Super point, CGP – hadn't even thought of reviewing from that perspective. Excellent way of contributing.

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