Thursday, 8 October 2015

Book sales, tractor repairs

Everything is written down, in columns, in a big red book. (My father ran a farm in the early 1950s: I remember seeing a ledger with numbers written down in columns in black ink – wages, sales, transport, hay bought, tractor repairs – and then the ledger was lost, and sometimes I think that the whole of CBe has been an attempt to reconstitute that ledger, which seemed to me a very grown-up thing.)

In 2013 I took some photos of my red book (one of them above) for a blog post in which I noted similarities between my columns and an exhibition of Outsider Art then on: obsessive repetition, endless tiny marks. (Outsider art is produced, Brian Sewell wrote in a review of that exhibition, ‘by anyone who is, at one extreme, intelligent but mildly unhinged, and at the other, either entirely lacking an IQ or raving mad’.)

The information in my red book is not stored digitally. (What happens if the house burns down? I was asked today. Good question. As also, what happens if the national grid goes down, if the internet implodes?)

I’ve never made a spreadsheet (I associate spreadsheets, for some reason, with motorway service stations). Can you run a publishing outfit for eight years without making a spreadsheet? And by handwriting every address label, and lugging boxes of books from printer to distributor’s warehouse on public transport, and queuing at the post office almost every day rather than using a franking machine? (And without Arts Council funding, and without interns?) Apparently yes.

I don’t want to make a fetish of this, I really don’t. Nor do I want to become Bartleby, the prototypical ledger-clerk: ‘I’d prefer not to.’ This is all just how it’s happened; my old-fogeyism wasn’t calculated, was never intended as either protest or manifesto for slow publishing. But now that Inpress (the wonderful company that represents the titles of many small presses to the trade) is equipped with the kind of database that all the big publishers take for granted, and requires digital info fed into it, and now that my columns are becoming narrower (40-odd books in print) than my eyesight is comfortable with, I think I’m going to have to, as they say, upgrade.


billoo said...

Charles, this loss of a way of representing things (and the loss of farming) reminded me an article I read in Prospect. Not sure if the whole thing's online but here's a passage:

But there is real pathos in this dying people. These are my people-my own father, brother, mother, aunt and uncle...Yet I have no illusions: the death of these archaic [people] is inevitable. But it is also the case that something rich and timeless that binds us to our roots and past, something central to our cultural being lost.

--G. Bowley.

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Charles

My poet father used to say that trying to sell poetry was as fruitless and frustrating as trying to sell double glazing.

Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish