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Comment from the book world in January 2010


'A man sitting at a desk typing'

20 December 2010

'Male writers write books with themselves as characters in them, because we never cease to feel that there's something less than manly about the way that we earn our living. Literary creation is an isolated business involving nothing in the way of physical aptitude, courage, leadership or business acumen. Writers are cut off from all of the male-bonding rituals that gestate in the world of work: we don't commute, punch the clock or binge-drink on Fridays. (Many of us binge-drink all week.) An honest male writer's biography would be histrionically dull, consisting mainly of lengthy descriptions of a man sitting at a desk typing.

While in the 20th century women have made great inroads into the formerly male preserves of work, they still aren't big enough for women writers to feel quite so acutely this sense of disconnected superfluousness. On the contrary I suspect that many women writers face the same dilemma as their non-literary sisters: is it selfish for me to define myself by my work rather than my family role at all, regardless of what that work may be? However, unto the fourth and fifth generation of feminism I confidently predict that opportunities will emerge for female writers who wish to fictionalise themselves - many may regard this as one of the more dubious benefits of sexual equality, but I, for one, am looking forward to it.'

Will Self in The Times

'The onrushing digital revolution'

13 December 2010

'The idea that publishers 'now appear frozen in the headlights of the onrushing digital revolution' is simply untrue. Long before the digital revolution had become a reality for readers, most major publishing houses have been planning and investing in their digital divisions in addition to 'doing the day job', publishing and selling their authors in all formats and in all markets.

Digital publishing programmes are firmly embedded in all publishing businesses: these range from simultaneous e-book editions of new titles, republishing backlists digitally, revitalising old formats with new digital content, and creating title-specific apps on the latest devices. Publishers are absolutely aware that it is in their interests, and the interests of their authors, to embrace change in the industry...

Protecting copyright and ensuring authors are properly paid is a key function of every publisher:
publishers have created and manage anti-piracy schemes and contractual rights for e-books, often taking legal action where an author's copyright is breached... a good publisher knows their market whether they are publishing in print or digitally.

Many readers like knowing the book they are going to be spending their valuable time reading has been filtered through a selection process by people whose job is to guide the reader to what they want and ensure that they spend their time - and money - wisely.'

Ursula Mackenzie, CEO of Little Brown UK, on the Guardian website

Submitting to children's publishers

6 December 2010

'One said: "You can't write a book for children in the first person, they don't understand it." I knew that was rubbish. Another said: "Either have lovely pictures and keep the text minimal, or keep the text and have simple drawings." They all seemed to agree that I shouldn't have the text interrupting the pictures, as I do. But I thought, no: I'd rather it never got published than make radical changes. So I sat on it for a long time. That was very hard: I knew it was the best thing I'd ever done, and I thought: if no-one wants this, I don't know what I can do.'

Lauren Child, on looking for a publisher for her bestseller Clarice Bean, in the Guardian

Handling rejection

29 November 2010

'I always look back to that and tell people if I had given up then, if I had said well I tried it and I'm not good enough, it didn't work out, I would still be practising law right now... I think so much of whatever we do in life is about hard work and it's about luck, but I think hard work creates luck so you have two things that can control right there.It's about having faith in yourself, and keeping that faith, even when you're disappointed.'

Emma Giffin, author of Heart of the Matter in the Bookseller

Creating more value

22 November 2010

'At heart, publishers exist to create more value for writers than writers can (or wish to) create for themselves. It's clear that the specifics of this role are changing. Some writers have decided that they can create as much value as they need alone, and feel freer by doing it themselves. Elsewhere there is a debate about where the line lies in a fair return for licensing copyrights, particularly when it comes to older books. Fundamentally, though, the need for publishers endures, even if not in their current form. Readers will be best served by publishers who can marry the best of what is sometimes labelled "legacy" publishing to the new means of developing and delivering what readers want and writers need. And if that marriage is achieved, then the persistent reporting of the death of old publishing will continue to be mere exaggeration.'

Stephen Page, MD of Faber and FaberClick for Faber and Faber Publishers References listing, in the Guardian blog

Making lesbian writing mainstream

15 November 2010

'Of course, it didn't hurt that we had begun to write fiction that's hugely enjoyable to read. And maybe that's the key part of the answer. Maybe our present success has something to do with escaping from the weight of misery that was at the heart of The Well of Loneliness: the tradition Radclyffe Hall established of writing about crippled and damaged lives. We've left that behindus now. We've walked out into the sun and found a way to communicate our wider experience. We lesbian writers are far less obsessed and defined by our sexuality than the straight world might think. Anyone who's human can enjoy our work. If you're a woman, there are aspects of our novels that may speak more clearly and deeply to you. And it you're a lesbian - well, that's just a bonus. really.'

Val McDermid in the Independent on Sunday

Poet to crime writer

1 November 2010

'Both have a massive preoccupation with structure. In a poem, every word has to be in the right relation to every other word. In a crime novel, if you are going to have a big revelation in chapter 30, you have to plant the information in chapters three and 11. (Her new publishing contract) was the biggest deal I had done in my career. I felt that, instead of being this person writing in a little room, business was being done. Things moved up a gear. That was great, but also a little bit scary. I thought, "Who am I to deserve this?"'

Sophie Hannah in the Independent on Sunday

Is competition ungentlemanly?

25 October 2010

'I can think of no end of talented authors who are today poorly or even negligently represented. Is it fair to deny them the possibility of better representation simply because the more atherosclerotic parts of our industry consider competition to be ungentlemanly?

The lifeblood of business is competition. Other industries thrive on it: we can too. I'm calling for a major rethink of our attitude to this subject - and an appreciation that fair competition can only benefit authors. Until that happens, we're not really in business at all- we're just dilettantes.'

Peter Cox of Redhammer Management

Specialises in works with international potential.

Unpublished authors must be professional in their approach and have major international potential, ideally book, film and/or TV.

Submissions via agents website

Children's clients include Donna Ballman, Peggy Brusseau, Gary Bushell, Brian Clegg, Maria (MG) Harris, Lucy Johnson, Amanda Lees, Michelle Paver, Kellie Santin, David Yelland.

and Litopia, in the Bookseller

Transforming Birdsong into a play

18 October 2010

'I believed right from the start it would work powerfully on stage because it's the story of one man, with a very strong central narrative drive, questioning what it means to be human, I don't know a more dramatic question than that. Also, for me, it says that no matter what happens, there is always the possibility of redemption. I hope the play will make you cry, but make you come out wanting to live...

As long as I'm working on something I believe matters I'm very happy to scrape by. I think that bringing a story like this back to the public consciousness, when there's no one left alive who remembers it, is very important.'

Unknown playwright Rachel Wagstaff on dramatising Sebastian Faulks' First World War novel Birdsong

'I want to do this until I die'

11 October 2010

'If you write truthfully about human life, by which I mean the human heart and how it interacts with the world, you don't have to strive for contemporary relevance. If a book like Wolf Hall meant nothing today, we would not have got past page two.

The essence of 'we' is universal and no different to two hundred years from now, if it's truthful to the human experience. How that 'we' is pummelled and moulded is locally determined. The corruption of the Dutch East India Company is the same as the corruption at Enron.

The ideas I will tend to choose for novels are ones that least resemble books I have already written. My curiosity leads me to choose different types of books to write. I rather encourage this trait because it's the best way I can see of avoiding the condition of writing endless versions of the same novel, which can lead to premature artistic death.'

On the Man Booker nomination, third-time around? 'What? Do I want to win? I felt honoured and pleased (by the nomination), but it's the guy who approached me to tell me his wife reads Cloud Atlas once a year that I think is just so great. If I had to choose one out of the two, I'd choose the man. I want to do this until I die. He enables me to continue to do what I love. Prizes won't do that for you.'

David Mitchell, author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet in the Independent

We all need a publisher

4 October 2010

'Recently, Newsweek ran an article about the brave new world of self-publishing. Its title asked the question "Who Needs a Publisher?" Well, the short answer is, I do. The bigger answer is: we all do.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad that self-publishing has evolved from stigma to respectability. I love that worthy authors who might be overlooked by the major houses can now be read. It's great that writers with a special niche, an established following or an entrepreneurial bent can make more money self-publishing than they would in royalties. But I'm also concerned about the future of books and the larger issue of assuring the flow of reliable information.

Here are just two reasons for that concern, based on my own recent experience:

1. Advances. I just finished a nonfiction book that will be released this fall. It consumed the better part of three years -- far more than I anticipated -- and the research entailed countless hours of reading, about three hundred interviews and some travel. My advance did not come close to covering the cost of all that information-gathering, but it helped. More importantly, the fact that a major publishing house was committed enough to write even a modest check was psychologically essential. Given my personal circumstances, I simply could not have sustained the effort to complete the project without that commitment...

2. Quality control. After authoring and co-authoring more than twenty books, I was just reminded once again of the immense value of working with professionals. At each step of the way, from inception to restructuring to rewrites to finalizing the index, editors, copy editors and proofreaders made my book a better book.

My bottom line is this: when it comes to serious nonfiction especially, readers, libraries, reporters and everyone else concerned about accuracy and readability should rely only on books that have been competently edited. And long live advances: may they grow and may authors and their readers prosper.'

Philip Goldberg in the Huffington Post

'Literacy is essential'

27 September 2010

'When I was a child, we lived in a two-up, two down. We had no bath - it was a tin tub in the back yard. The toilet was at the end of the yard. The first six years of my life, we used to go over the road twice a day and fetch water from the well. We were too poor to own books. However, every night we were read a story, and those stories came from books, and those books came from the library. It was being read to that made the difference to me and I would say that the reason that I eventually became a teacher, a head teacher, an inspector and a writer, I can track back to our weekly visit to the library. Without that library, the world of literacy would not have opened up for me. Literacy is essential for a healthy, thriving society that gives everyone a chance. All children deserve the right to an imaginative and literate childhood.'

Pie Corbett, in an interview on the National Literacy TrustUK-based organisation which has campaigned since 1993 to improve literacy standards across all age groups. Excellent research information and details of the many initiatives the charity is currently involved in. It also has a useful page of news stories on UK literacy, which links to newsletter website