When I visited Aberystwyth a couple of weeks ago, I did my usual thing: I left my husband on the beach to supervise our children, and I went for a walk around the town.
I've known Aberystwyth all my life: I have a lot of family there, and it's familiar to me in an infrequent, surreal way. I know the layout of its streets, but not the names of them; I know the history of the town as it appears in my family's folklore, which often juxtaposes oddly with the more widely-accepted versions; and I know a series of landmarks through the town which help me to knit together my own mental street-map, and which provide a framework for all those inherited memories I have of the place.
This time, though, one of those landmarks had gone. Galloway's, the independent bookshop on Pier Street, has closed. The space it left behind is now filled with racks of tracksuits and boxes of cheap trainers. There are other bookshops, of course (and the list you'll find in this link still includes Galloway's even though it's gone, which pleases me): there is a branch of Waterstone's on the main shopping street and a couple of hundred yards down from it the small but brilliantly-stocked Siop-y-Pethe, both of which are wonderful in their own ways, and there are a few others too: but Galloway's, with its top floor full of fiction, its racks of small-press books, its spooky, echoing basement full of textbooks and odd non-fiction: Galloway's, which I've never once left without a satisfyingly fat bundle of books—Galloway's is gone. Because, as several people told me sadly, it just wasn't making enough money to remain in business.
I stood outside the space-which-once-was-Galloway's and stared in at the bright white trainers and the young men fighting to get themselves the right sizes, the best designers. It was never so busy when it was full of books. I found myself thinking of the wonderful literary magazine Cadenza, which came to an end this year not because of a lack of quality or reputation, but because it didn't sell enough copies to pay for its own printing bill; and of Salt Publishing, which earlier this year asked us to buy just one book in order to keep it in business (which appears to have worked, I'm pleased to say).
So here is my point. It is difficult to get published: this we know. But imagine how much more difficult it would be if the market were halved. Fewer publishers in business translates directly into fewer publishing slots; and as bookshops close, books and literary magazines have fewer opportunities to get into readers hands, which reduces book sales even further.
Over the last year I've read a lot of blog posts which have bemoaned the perilous state of publishing today: the suggested solutions to publishing’s financial crisis have ranged from sacking all editors (and in so doing prevent them rejecting the Brave New Literary Voice Which Could Alone Save Publishing (which is usually, coincidentally, the voice of the person writing the blog post in question) to cutting literary agents out of publishing's food-chain (because in their role of literary gatekeeper—how I hate that phrase—they’ve rejected the Brave New Literary Voice Which Could Alone Save Publishing, and we know who that is, don’t we?). But very few of them have pointed out that writers could do a lot to help keep all these publishers and booksellers in business until business picks up.
Every time you submit your work anywhere, support your submission by buying a copy of the magazine that you’re submitting to, or a book from the publisher you’d like to publish you. If you’re writing a novel and are nowhere near ready to submit then think about who you would like to publish you once you’re ready to go and buy something from them.
Buy just one more book; subscribe to just one literary magazine; use your local bookshop if you can; and then keep going. Every single copy helps: and there’s no need to stop at just one. If you can afford to, buy an extra book or literary magazine every month or every week; if you can’t afford to then order books at your local library and read them all for free—the library pays for the books it lends out, and every little helps. Because every time a publisher ceases trading or a bookshop closes its doors, it becomes just a little bit harder for us to get published. And if we writers haven’t supported the independent publishers, the small imprints, the many tiny but wonderful literary and genre magazines which put out fabulous work, then we can’t complain when they close, and another opportunity is lost to us forever.
(The two stunning covers I've used to illustrate this piece belong to books translated by John K Bollard with photographs by Anthony Griffiths: The Mabinogi, and Companion Tales to the Mabinogi. They're both published by Gomer, and I bought them from Siop-y-Pethe. If you're interested in the Mabinogion, or in Welsh/Celtic literature, culture or countryside, buy them both: they are the most beautiful books I've seen in a good long while.)