You Can’t Wrap Fish in a Newsfeed


Why do we want our writing to smell?

When considering which publishers I would prefer to harass, the first thing I do is check their sales figures for the genre I am writing. I know this is good practice, because my supporters at WOW tipped me off to do so, and there is nobody in the industry whom I trust more implicitly. Oddly, though, I always pass right by the Kindle statistics, which sometimes show much higher sales. The only thing that interests me, even today, is how many paperback copies of a title manage to sell.

This qualifies as Metacognitive Mystery #627, since most of the reading I do these days is using a reader. Yes, yes, I know the old arguments about physical books being more reliable, passive light being healthier for us, and the musty smell of water-damaged relics from our basements making us feel all blah, blah, blah… but I don’t think that’s where a writer’s connection to paper publishing really begins and ends. I think that the reason writers like me want to see our books in print, one day, is a matter of legacy.

More and more commonly, publishing has become something like a Top 40 list on the radio: those songs may set the tone for a Christmas morning or a summer road-trip, but by the time Santa comes back or a new flock of bikinis distract us from our driving, everyone involved, whether clad in spandex or a snowsuit, is humming a whole new set of tunes. The music is available forever, but only a few selections truly last. For the most part, nobody listens for long.

And that’s the fate of my eBooks; as much as I love convenience over clutter, I almost never pick them up a second time. As an author, I don’t think that’s what I want for my stories.

The books that are sitting on my shelf are the ones that I can’t forget; literally, I can’t. They’re in my way when I’m dusting, and lifting them triggers the memory of when I first read them; occasionally, it even inspires me to read the odd Updike anthology or Star Trek novel again. When we spring-clean every decade or so, our books tend to survive: many of the books we have read cling to our emotions like pets we would never exile, and those that we do put in boxes we bequeath to a second-hand store, knowing that someone else will read them. Even a book-lover passing away cannot erase a paper book they have owned. Anyone who has spent the hours needed to clean out an ageing parents’ century of possessions will have discovered and devoured words written by authors who have, themselves, long since passed.

But not without leaving their legacy.

I can imagine another endangered breed of writer, finishing his day in the newspaper bullpen to enjoy a delectably greasy order of fish ‘n’ chips near the local shore. Unwrapping his meal, he breathes in the pungency of food that he knows will taste better than it smells, but is still moved to pause before taking his first bite. There, on the paper that was used to wrap the fish, nearly obscured by a spreading stain of oil, is the reason he arises with the sunlight. His byline: still being read, like it was as it changed hands again and again, until it reached its last stop in the takeaway.

The legacy of that journalist makes me want to write something, too, that could be wrapped around the smelliest fish.

If anyone has successfully published in print, please leave comments about the pathway you took to achieve this in a digital world.


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