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Comment from the book world in January 2021

2021

‘The impact of Amazon'

12 July 2021

‘The impact of Amazon dwarfs all the other changes, even the rise of digital. Of course, the idea of ordering a book in the morning and having it delivered in the afternoon still thrills and amazes me. But it has led to the erosion of earnings for most authors and smaller publishers, and that should worry all of us who want a diverse and healthy ecosystem for books...

I am encouraged by the way (mostly) independent publishers are beginning to innovate in their direct-to-reader offerings. Subscription services, crowd-funding, exquisitely produced merchandise: the communities that Rough Trade, Galley Beggar, Influx Press and others are building offer a commercially viable alternative to the Amazonian race to the bottom...

I think we'll see even more opportunities for online recommendation that isn't based on algorithms but on the taste of people who read. Podcasts. Substack. BookTok. The word-of-mouth revolution.'

John Mitchinson, publisher and co-founder of Unbound, which celebrates its 10th birthday this year. Despite the challenges of lockdown and high street closures, it has reported trade sales growth of 58% year on year, in Bookbrunch

'Each character is different'

29 June 2021

‘When people come together - let's say they come to a little party or something - you always hear them discuss character. They will say this one has a bad character, this one has a good character, this one is a fool, this one is a miser. Gossip makes the conversation. They all analyze character. It seems that the analysis of character is the highest human entertainment. And literature does it, unlike gossip, without mentioning real names.

The writers who don't discuss character but problems -social problems or any problems - take away from literature its very essence. They stop being entertaining. We, for some reason, always love to discuss and discover character. This is because each character is different, and human character is the greatest of puzzles.'

Isaac Bashevis Singer, distinguished author of The Magician of Lublin, The Slave, The Family Moskat, 16 other novels and many other works

Walter Mosley on rewriting

14 June 2021

'Writing is rewriting. The first draft is the jabber you forced on that blind date. She was hoping for someone to ask her what she was feeling, but all you said was, and then I, and then I, and then I, and then . . . The first draft is meant to be discarded. The first draft is the beginning of the idea, the slender thread of a story. The second draft is little better, as is the third, and the fourth and fifth. Writing is rewriting - a lot of rewriting. You think you know what you should have said on that job interview, but in truth it might have been a mistake even to go after that job. You said the wrong things on the date, but if you had said what you thought of the next day the ensuing relationship would have been a fiasco. You know it. You do. [...]'

Walter Mosley, author of Devil in a Blue Dress, The Long Fall, Blood Grove and dozens of other books, in Lit Hub

'Editors can be stupid at times'

31 May 2021

'Editors can be stupid at times. They just ignore that author's intention. I always try to read unabridged editions, so much is lost with cut versions of classic literature, even movies don't make sense when they are edited too much. I love the longueurs of a book even if they seem pointless because you can get a peek into the author's mind, a glimpse of their creative soul. I mean, how would people like it if editors came along and said to an artist, "Whoops, you left just a tad too much space around that lily pad there, lets crop that a bit, shall we?" Monet would be ripping his hair out.'

E A Bucchianeri, author of Little Month of Saint Joseph, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly, Faust and 5 other books.

'Character is crucial.'

17 May 2021

‘Everything hinges on character. Plot is important, but character is crucial. Character is best revealed through action. Someone pulls a gun on your hero. How do they react? Fight or flight? Their character will determine. Complex characters are gold. A hero whose first reaction is flight but who plausibly stands and fights is way more interesting. People your world with characters who will feed off each other, the dynamics between them generating story. "Interesting" trumps "likeable" every time.

Mike Bullen, British scriptwriter, who has written the successful series Life Begins, Cold Feet and All about George, as well as a novel, Trust.

 

'The Lost Generation'

3 May 2021

‘When I was a child I was given a special book just to write stories because my handwriting and spelling were so bad. Suddenly I realised I wasn't hopeless at English. You forget children are always comparing each other, and if it's always about grammar and spelling , and if they don't get it, their self-esteem plummets. My terrible handwriting and sketches have turned into a billion-and-a-half dollar industry with my books and films. Never underestimate the value of allowing children to mess around.

I refuse to call them the Lost Generation (children who have been affected by the Pandemic). You can't just give up on millions of children. I'm intrinsically extremely hopeful. It's not dumbing down - books about dragons and fairies can teach you about what kind of leaders we deserve, love friendship, death and responsibility to your tribe.'

Cressida Cowell, UK Children's Laureate and author of the How to Train Your Dragon series, whose 23 books have sold 11 million copies, in The Times.

https://www.cressidacowell.co.uk/

 

‘Technology is shifting more power to the hands of authors'

19 April 2021

‘We leverage technology to discover hidden talents based entirely on the merits of their work, and less on other dimensions which might have been blockers with traditional publishing (maybe some authors have amazing manuscripts, but are not good at sales and therefore struggle to get their foot in the door, whereas our approach truly democratises the whole experience for authors). We are also able to move extremely fast, publishing a book within just a couple of weeks of signing the content.

Technology is shifting more power to the hands of authors, who now have more options for what they can do with their manuscripts. Everything from the choice of publishing channels, to content formats, but also increasing the quality of their content using tools which perhaps would have been cost prohibitive to them in the past.

Authors also want to reach as large an audience as possible. This is increasingly possible and becoming easier due to technology and digitisation of content. The easier it gets, the less reliant authors are on traditional publishing houses to reach these large audiences.

Ali Albazaz, founder and CEO of Inkitt in 'The Power of Self-Publishing', Bookbrunch (behind the paywall)

 

'The stuff of great books.’

5 April 2021

‘When an editor works with an author, she cannot help seeing into the medicine cabinet of his soul. All the terrible emotions, the desire for vindications, the paranoia, and the projection are bottled in there, along with all the excesses of envy, desire for revenge, all the hypochondriacal responses, rituals, defenses, and the twin obsessions with sex and money. It other words, the stuff of great books.'

Betsy Lerner, editor, agent, and author, whose best-known book is The Forest for the Trees, ‘about writing, publishing and what makes writers tick' but who has also published The Bridge Ladies, Once Upon A Time and Food Loathing

https://betsylerner.com/

 

'It was hilariously unlikely that a book of punctuation would be the number one bestseller in America'

22 March 2021

‘I feel sorry for people who have massive success when they're young. I was 48 when Eats, Shoots & Leaves became a bestseller and that helped me deal with it. All the time it was happening I was thinking: "In 10 years' time I'll look back on this with fond memories," because at the time I was quite anxious. I was also quite amused by it, because it was hilariously unlikely that a book of punctuation would be the number one bestseller in America...

I grew up in a small council house and still think of myself as working class. I always wanted to write, but thought I hadn't been born with the right certificate. It was in my 30s, once my father died and I was feeling a sense of futility, that I felt a great surge of determination to stop this ridiculous feeling. I did some therapy and it helped me to stop thinking I was unworthy.'

Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves and 30 other books, including four crime novels.
https://www.lynnetruss.com/

 

'Good people can do bad things'

8 March 2021

‘I think these shows have an innate sense of decency and optimism that underpins them all. It's compassion and a belief that people are essentially good. If I had to define the essential DNA of Unforgotten, it's that good people can do bad things...

I'm still trying to understand human nature and its complexity, increasingly so in a binary world. Unforgotten is political with a small ‘p', and I would like to explore that more. As I've got older I've become more politically aware. I'd like to articulate some of the wrong turns I think our country has taken...

There are moments in Unforgotten where two characters have a row about something quite profound, and it's just me rowing with myself. I spend my life arguing with myself, trying to work out how I feel. I think it's Priestley who says you have to put it on paper in order to formulate your views. Nothing comes fully formed. It's only in a detective story that the answers are always clear and unambiguous. Maybe that's why I like writing them so much.'

Chris Lang, writer and creator of over 85 hours of prime time drama, including Unforgotten, Tom, Amnesia and A Mother's Son in the Sunday Times.

https://www.chrislang.co.uk/

Why the bookselling sector is holding strong

1 March 2021

'Booksellers have had many years of making themselves resilient, having had to live through the advent and growth of Amazon - they are entrepreneurial and hard-working, resourceful and creative. Despite having spent years building up USPs which the pandemic stripped away (gathering, meeting, conversation, events, in-person meetings and social spaces) they have managed, by hard work, to keep themselves visible to their customers and to the wider media, public, government and trade audiences.'

Meryl Halls, MD of the UK Booksellers Association, in Bookbrunch, behind the paywall

 

'Poetry is definitely having a renaissance'

22 February 2021

‘Poetry is definitely having a renaissance.There's been a real sea-change in terms of how it's seen, especially in lockdown. Poetry is the perfectly transportable art form. Owning a book is all you need to experience it. Poetry doesn't necessarily give us the answers, but it does give us the tools to think with and helps us process issues.

Writing poetry might be a slow art - but publishing it well is an extremely slow art. The lifespan of a book can be much longer than in other genres and, if it hits the big-time, you can feel the benefits for many years. Even those that don't go stellar can sell gradually, but well, for a long time.

The best publishers work hard at becoming a lifelong home for their writers and at creating evergreen titles. Having a really strong backlist is vital, too, so you're publishing second, third and fourth collections, as well as debuts.'

Jane Commane, publisher of Nine Arches Press https://ninearchespress.com/ in Bookbrunch, behind the paywall