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A good 'appetite for books'

21 January 2013

 As an antidote to general economic gloom and anxiety about the pace of change, it's good to have the Guardian blog posted by Stephen Page, CEO of Faber, who has recently pointed out that there are a number of causes for optimism in the book world in the UK:

'For some time the market for writing has been in demonstrable good health in the UK, with a large audience buying a great number of books. From the rise of Waterstones in the 1980s, through the mass-market explosion of the 90s, and more recently the arrival of writing for the web and the ebook with the new self-publishing model, UK readers have been a substantial, various audience with an appetite for books and reading. The hunger has been for writing from around the world, but it is especially well-served by a highly productive community of writers in Britain and Ireland, many of whom are read across the globe. Reading and writing are strong in the UK, not in crisis.'

It is the fundamental health of this market which is important for writers. With all the counter-attractions of the tv, the web and the games market which have been seen as posing threats to reading, it is still the pastime of preference for millions of people. Whether books come between hard or paperback covers or as an ebook is less important than the fact that vast numbers of people still want to read them, and show this through their book purchases and trips to libraries.

The music industry has been through a major downturn marked just now by HMV finally going bust. The newspaper business is still working out how to deliver news online and make it pay, a major challenge, but people continue to want to read book-length material because of the pleasure and the information they get from it.

The upheavals and change in the book industry will continue, although hopefully not at such a breathtaking speed as in the last year or two. It is hard to be quite so optimistic about big publishers, as their overheads are considerable and they are less flexible than independent publishers, but perhaps the consolidation which appears to be going on there will be a good thing. Certainly publishers have shown themselves as surprisingly good at jumping on the self-publishing band-wagon by picking up authors who have already built their audiences through successful self-publishing.

For authors, the widening horizon continues. It is harder than ever to get an agent to represent you or a publisher to take you on, but to balance this there are many opportunities to go it alone. The big self-publishing successes are the exception rather than the norm of course, but you can learn a lot and start to make your way, and to find an audience, through self-publishing.

In the end though it is those readers who are the arbiters. Reaching them is an important part of the task, but you need to make sure that your book is in the best possible shape before launching it on the world. A manuscript which needs a further draft, or which has not been copy edited, is not going to be something which readers will embrace. The old rues still apply - you have to have something to say and to say it well.

Stephen Page's books blog