I hear and read about it all the time.
The reason WH Smith, Borders, Waterstones etc don't stock Westerns is that there is no demand for them.
I for one am a big book buyer. However, I never bought Westerns when I visited the big chains because I couldn’t find them. Pure and simple. When I asked the assistant why they didn’t stock a range of Westerns when every other genre is so well represented, she told me, “They don't sell!" How do they know if they don't stock them?
Like many others, I get my Western fix from the local library where there are dozens of them - great! When you look at the inside back cover you find lots of scribbled initials, markings and symbols. These are, the librarian tells me, where people mark their books with their own ‘brand’ so they don’t take out the same book twice. Some of these books have twenty or more markings on them. The librarian tells me there is great demand for Westerns but budget constraints limit how many they can buy.
For the last couple of weekends I’ve been visiting our local car-boot sale where, I was glad to see, a pretty professional book seller has set up. The books are good value and generally of a high quality and I was delighted to see a few trays marked ‘Westerns’ but then disappointed to find only a few books in each. “Does nobody read Westerns any more?” I asked the bookseller.
“Quite the opposite,” he told me, “I can’t keep up with them! These trays were full this morning but I just cannot get enough cowboy books – especially those Black Horse Western ones they do in the library!” and to prove his point, I bought ten books from him – Matt Braun’s and Louis L’Amour's among them.
Since I’ve started writing Westerns and joined forums and on-line communities, I find there are literally hundreds of people out there who are real Western enthusiasts who would buy books if they were available and printed in a more competitive paper back and marketed as effectively as say, Mills and Boons.
Now let me get one thing clear! I am NOT criticising Robert Hale Ltd who have done a fantastic job in keeping the Western genre alive and kicking in the UK and without whom there might be no Western books being published at all which would be a calamity! They have also been fantastically supportive of new authors who might not be in print otherwise and for which I will be eternally grateful.
It’s just that, there is always a little niggle in the back of head that says that tastes and fashions in books like every other product come and go. Who would have thought that a book about a magician in a private school would have captured the imagination of children the way it did? Where did that sudden interest in vampires come from? A few years ago there might have been one or two harrowing tales of childhood now the book shelves are heaving with them!
So on the one hand, I’ve got to listen and respect the judgement of the professional publishers and retailers who have been doing this a long time and who say that there is no mainstream demand for Westerns.
But everywhere I come across Western books – libraries, car boots, online enthusiasts, I hear a different story.
What’s going on?