With an important election coming up in the UK in about six weeks, I decided that I ought to volunteer to help the political party which I favour. At the last general election, I distributed leaflets door-to-door, and occasionally I would get a chance to talk to a voter. This time, I responded to a general email soliciting help, and I found myself assigned to a constituency fifteen miles from home. This made no sense to me (perhaps the party desperately needed help in the distant constituency), so I offered my services to the local party operation. “What kind of work you want to do?” I was asked. Did I want to canvas voters, or distribute literature or help out in the office? “Where do you most need the help?” I asked. “In the office.”
Since then, I’ve dedicated one afternoon a week to working in the local party office. (I don’t mention which party, because this is not a political solicitation.) My job is to input data: voting intentions, views on certain important questions, email addresses and phone numbers into a database which included all but the most recently registered voters. This data is then used in advertisements, mail shots, emails, etc. For me, the biggest challenge is reading the email addresses which volunteers scribble down on the doorstep. I can usually get the gist of their other scribbled comments.
The office is quite a busy place. On any given day, there are about four paid staff and another four volunteers beavering away. Frequent visitors are the candidates, themselves, who come in to fill up their voter input memory, to talk strategy with the staff, or to review an outgoing missive. Candidates are always very kindly and polite to the volunteers, but our opinions are not solicited: we are input generators.
One of the candidates, Dan, in particular (the office covers several constituencies), faces a particularly up-hill battle. He faces an incumbent who is a mover and shaker in his party, and he won the last election with a substantial majority. I don’t particularly like the incumbent. I went to see him about an issue on which I felt strongly and on which Parliament would be voting. I was in his presence for ten minutes, nine minutes of which was him talking around the topic. I’m quite sure my one minute made no impression on him, and he voted against my view.
So, I’ve been thinking that new, up-and-coming authors are a lot like Dan: struggling to gain recognition in the face of an incumbent opponent (famous author), whom most of the voters (book buyers), know and recognise. Maybe sometimes the party (publisher) will put enough money behind the candidate (new author) that New Author actually wins. Or maybe Incumbent (Famous Author) makes enough mistakes and Candidate (New Author) has such a compelling pitch (The Book) that New Author wins. Or maybe New Author and Candidate just get lucky and win a Seat in Parliament (Book Prize).
I’ll let you know what happens!