Quote of the Week

On Misguided Notions

April 28th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Reading too much, my brother explained in his English-teacherly way, is a disaster for a writer. To immerse yourself in literature – particularly those of your contemporaries – makes your work derivative at worst, and unoriginal at best. To keep your voice pure, he suggested, you must retreat, Kasper Hauser-like, only to emerge later with a voice as clear as God intended. It was an argument that almost culminated in our first exchange of blows since 1994.

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On History, Repeating

April 18th, 2008 · 1 Comment

There are many exciting things happening within publishing and I draw parallels with what happened to the music industry in the 1970’s when a small but significant core of people grew tired of the same old record being sung by supergroups, such as the Eagles or Queen. From the streets came what at the time many thought was a revolution called punk rock. History though shows us that there are few, if any, real revolutions in art or entertainments just evolutions. Sometimes the leap is a little large, maybe it misses out a generation and that is what can be frightening to the establishment. Are we in the midst of a revolution…no, but the industry is evolving and the leap ahead of it looks big.

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On The Eve of The London Book Fair

April 2nd, 2008 · 3 Comments

The London Book Fair is one of the most highly anticipated events in the calendar year for publishers, authors and anyone connected with language and the ability to write captivating prose. As the event draws near the industry faces many new challenges, one thing that can be certain is that the Internet and digital technology is going to claim a bigger share of our thoughts and occupation. Sales of cut-price fiction in supermarkets, Amazon’s dominance of the book selling world on the net, digital technology, emerging markets, POD, e-Books, The Kindle and Internet piracy are all going to claim a stake for your attention. How the industry begins to tackle issues such as these often depends on the reaction of the leading players. The publishers, the retailers, the distributors, the movers and shakers – those 5% of authors who earn the lion’s share of the profits and royalties; these are the people who should be addressing the issues first. Why? Because their voices can be heard. The interesting thing when you look closely at this elite band of people is that while they control a large percentage of market they do little to embrace new technology, often choosing to view it as a threat rather than an asset. Many publishers have not even begun to embrace e-Commerce yet or provide websites for their artists. There are one or two that are exemplary but in the main they are positioned somewhere in 1998 rather than 2008.

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On Food Chains

March 26th, 2008 · 2 Comments

We must always remember that there are only two players that count, the author who creates the work and the reader who pays for it. All the rest are intermediaries who should add value and invariably also cost. If value is not seen then just like in other sectors no one’s position is safe, agents, publishers, printers, distributors, retailers etc.

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On Hey, Technology Can Be Our Friend

March 7th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Technology, often feared by the bookish world, is a growing friend. As the mass market has risen so has the reality of a technologically connected society. This doesn’t just mean Facebook. Global communities are gathering around common interests online, just as intellectuals gathered in cafes in 1900s Vienna. They are gloriously beyond corporate control and naturally antipathetic to the reductive mass market. We are only at the beginning of this social revolution. I am not an advocate of the life led online, but as broadband reaches all generations, genders and income brackets, so this will develop usefully. It won’t be all of life but it must be a place where niche interests can develop, robbing the mass market of a portion of its control. Literature can thrive in these places.

So publishers must harness the great power of online networks through enriching reader experience. We must provide content that can be searched and browsed, and create extra materials – interviews, podcasts and the like. We mustn’t be afraid of inviting readers to be involved. Beyond online retailing, publishers can now build powerful online places to showcase their books through their own and others’ websites and build communities around their own areas of particular interest and do so with writers. The key to this is just to make available and to resist too much control. A year ago this felt like a world in its infancy for books; but now it’s here, and it is a mighty relief as it provides a new world of conversation about reading.

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On Lessons Learned (From The Writers’ Strike)

February 28th, 2008 · Comments Off on On Lessons Learned (From The Writers’ Strike)

While I’m entirely in favour of digitising content – the idea that every book ever written in whatever language could be available at the click of a mouse or tap on a button seems like a grand utopian ideal to me, bigger, better, and more democratic and accessible than anything Gutenberg could have envisioned – the problem is that the royalty terms publishers are offering for digitisation are almost exactly the same as terms offered for publishing books. Figures vary from one publishing house to the next, but most seem to be settling on somewhere between 10% and 20% of the retail price of the book.
. . .
At the end of the day, the writer herself is a more valuable brand than the publishing house and it’s time for writers to wake up to this fact: why should we sign contracts giving us a paltry 15% royalty in an industry where actual costs are being massively reduced overnight? Why aren’t writers jumping up and down over this?

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On Life’s Little Ironies

February 20th, 2008 · 1 Comment

If a coffee chain is ready to sponsor a book award, and cash in on the publicity, why don’t they stock the book? It would look good on the shelves next to the French presses and the Fairtrade Colombian. Costa could give a few to its employees as a bonus (though with over 600 outlets, that would be a lot of books).

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On Conclusions Without Proof

January 30th, 2008 · 6 Comments

One thought that should console the upholders of print journalism is that while blogs make a great deal of fuss about being where the action is, they contain little decent criticism. It is rare to encounter good critical writing on the internet that didn’t start life in print form. Lively literary websites—or online magazines with literary sections—do exist, especially in the US: Salon, Slate, the Literary Saloon. But blogging is best suited to instant reaction; it thus has an edge when it comes to disseminating gossip and news. Good criticism requires lengthy reflection and slow maturation. The blogosphere does not provide the optimal conditions for its flourishing.

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On Modern Education

January 21st, 2008 · 4 Comments

We get ourselves all hot and bothered about the teaching of reading, about synthetic phonics and the like, and we forget that none of it is much use unless children want to read in the first place. The motivation must come first, horse before cart. We all know that unless a child is motivated to learn, then there will be apathy or resistance in the learning process. They are much more likely to want to deal with the difficulties of learning to read if they know it is these words that give them access to all these wonderful stories. If we really want our children to become readers for life, we would do well to remember that horses are much more fun than carts anyway.

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On Cliques

December 18th, 2007 · Comments Off on On Cliques

Well, I advise you to hold your horses just a minute. Much as I have enjoyed and learned from the books blog and its comments – in all their glorious technicolour variety – we need cliques in literature. Art would be poorer without them. Sure, cliques have a habit of disappearing up their own derrières. GK Chesterton rightly said that the clique “is wrong because it actually discourages the great man from talking plainly. The priests and priestesses of the temple take a pride in the oracle remaining oracular.” If a group believes that only its initiated are capable of understanding it, it runs the risk of navel-gazing inanity. But a clique worth its salt is not about memoranda of association or secret handshakes. Cliques that matter are about breaking rules in private, about pushing against the boundaries of current thinking. They are about ideas. And they come about through people who have certain ideas in common joining together to explore and expound those ideas.

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