Comment Archive 2005
Some sharp comment from people in the book world through the years.
'An idea that really excites me'
'I don't begin a book until I have an idea that really excites me. I open my imagination and wait for it to come. Up till now, it always has. But I never get a new idea when I'm writing. During that time, my whole mind is engaged in that particular book. I live with my characters, and as I write they reveal themselves to me. I plot in great detail before I start. It's interesting, though, because however carefully I've planned, I never get exactly the book I thought I was going to write.'
P D James in the Sunday Times magazine
'The money men will demand a better strike rate'
'Publishing is a form of gambling. As in any industry with creativity at it score, - advertising, music, fashion, et al - publishers are guessing how public taste can be evolved.
Huge financial investments are staked on the gut feelings of one or two people who sometimes get it right but more often get it wrong. Within publishing, this situation will not last; sooner or later, the money men will demand a better strike rate, which will trigger a rush to understand what consumers really want from their reading.
Attitudinal research will be the new battlefield. The publishers with greatest understanding of their consumers will be the winners with consumers and retailers.'
Damian Horner, a freelance marketing consultant, in the Bookseller
Henry not allowed to be horrid in the US
'I think they're just considered too subversive. But it's a very conservative climate there now and children's books are invested with great power; there's this idea the child might copy something. I always say to kids: "Henry is horrid, so you don't have to be." It's the same reason adults love murder mysteries, not because they're going to go out and kill someone but because fiction allows you to explore these emotions in a safe way. But maybe they're afraid American kids might discover sibling rivalry.'
Francesca Simon, American author of the Horrid Henry series, on why her books have been published in 20 countries but not in the States, in the Observer.
Writers in schools
‘Supporting young people as they find their creative voice is an inspiring
business. All of us - writers, teachers, and project co-ordinators - are
thrilled by the sheer adventure of it. We listen to the plays, stories and
poems young people write, and we are astonished. We value not only the art
itself, but also the impact creative writing has on learning across the board.
Writing creatively teaches us to think creatively, and the very act of doing,
the act of making, changes us profoundly. Teachers understand this very well,
and over the years have invited thousands of writers into their schools…
Mandy Coe and Jean Sprackland in the foreword to their book Our thoughts are Bees: Writers Working with Schools, which can be purchased at a price of £10 from their website www.wordplaypress.com/bees/index.html
A vocation or a craft?
'I cannot abide those writers who go out of their way to make what we do sound deeply magical; who, in doing so, mystify the craft of writing, going so far as to suggest that it is a vocation rather than a job. Whether it's talk of muses, or of an almost supernatural possession by one's own character, it always strikes me as bogus and smacks of someone who has ideas above their station. It is also insulting to those writers who work hard to craft their stories, doing detailed planning and research when necessary, and whose 1,000 words a day come from nowhere but their own imagination and natural facility with language.'
Mark Billingham in the Bookseller
Bookselling as part of retail
'As a retailer you are not just competing against other bookstores, you are competing against everyone else on the high street. It is about how you can convince someone to buy a book rather than a pair of jeans.
We are a bookshop and whatever the most popular books in the country are, we should be stocking them. Of course, I understand that the publishers, literary press and commentators will make comments on it, but the people we have to listen to are our customers.'
Scott Pack, Waterstone's head buyer, in Publishing News
How editors can help
'Perhaps I've been unusually lucky, but in my experience, editors, far from coercing and squashing writers, do exactly the opposite, elucidating them and drawing them out, or, when they're exhausted and on the point of giving up (like marathon runners hitting the wall), coaxing them to go the extra mile…
When people speak of writer's block, they think of the writer stalled over a blank page, or of throwing scrunched-up bits of paper - false starts - into a waste-bin. But there's another kind of block, which is structural, when you've written tens of thousands of words, but can't figure out which are superfluous and what goes where. Something's wrong, but you don't know what it is, and that can make you desperate…
And that's why editors matter, not as butchers and barbers, but because what's wrong with a book can be something the author has repressed all knowledge of, something glaringly obvious which, the moment an editor or other reader identifies it, you think, yes, of course, Eureka, and then you go back and fix it.'
Blake Morrison in an excellent piece about editors as an endangered species, in the Guardian
'Being a romance writer'
‘It really is just a regular job... It’s about marketing yourself and really selling yourself. It’s a business. You have to be business-savvy.
Being a romance writer is good and bad news. I will often get, "Oh, you write those kind of books." But at the same time, these are the books women are buying. I know I’m not going to change the world but I am going to brighten your weekend.’
Debbie Macomber, bestselling romance writer, at the 25th Romance Writers of America convention, as reported in the Reno Gazette Journal (romance novels are reckoned to comprise 50% of paperback sales in the US)
What makes an agent decide to take on a new client?
'That's an impossible question to answer. You know it when you see it. Something just makes you feel 'must have' - you think 'wow'! You have the little tingle at the back of your neck. All of those things happen, and you just know. You've just got to fall for it in such a big way that you're bowled over, you have to run with it, it thrills you. You've got to feel those emotions, I think, really.'
Sophie Hicks, joint MD of the Ed Victor Agency, in Publishing News
‘I work office 9 to 5 most days, I do a half day on Saturdays and I have Sunday off… Often I’ll write 5,000 or 6,000 words. But then I’ll spend the next morning cutting and reworking it.’
‘Know thyself… If it interests you it’s got a good chance of having some life to it… Most of all I think it’s a question of not being selfish. You’ve got to think of your reader – even if you haven’t got one yet. For so many people, the act of writing seems to be enough and I don’t think it should be.’
Charlotte Bingham, author of many novels, including Coronet and Lucinda, in Writers’ Forum
'An enormous rich and living heritage'
'We need to remind our country that we have an enormous rich and living heritage of writing and illustration for children. It is second to none in the world. In a way we have been careless with this heritage. Readers care about it but I don't think the government does...
There are a number of people who should be recognised as a 'thank you' for a lifetime of very good work, but who are unable to fulfil a role like the children's laureate--I am thinking of such people as Philippa Pearce, Peter Dickinson or John Burningham...
It is comparable to the Jamie Oliver situation in the classroom. The SATs are the equivalent of junk food--devoid of nourishment--while the Schools Library Services that provide living, organic books struggle to survive.'
Philip Pullman in the Bookseller on why the British government should set up an award for children's writers and illustrators.
Why we need an independent Ottakar's
‘What lies at stake in the fate of Ottakar’s is not the publishers’ profit margin but the diversity of buying decisions which determine what is on offer in Britain’s bookshops…
We need to broaden, not narrow, the gates through which new books, new authors and new ideas must pass before readers can find them. We need publishers who will take creative risks in the effort to lead public opinion rather than tailor their aspirations to filling the slots of a monopolist.
Which is why we need an independent Ottaker’s. I’m not optimistic, but I haven’t lost hope.’
Anthony Cheetham in the Bookseller
What's holding women writers back?
'Back in 1999, when Mslexia was launched, we conducted some research into women's willingness, compared with men, to submit their writing for publication. We discovered that, though twice as many women as men are writing, they are 50 per cent less likely to send off their manuscripts to publishers or agents, or to apply for writing grants.
So what's holding us back? Not lack of talent, that's for sure: poetry, fiction and newspaper editors regularly observe that the average standard of manuscripts submitted by women is higher than those submitted by men. I want to suggest that part of the problem can be traced back to the lack of support many women writers receive in their intimate relationships.'
Debbie Taylor, Editor, in Mslexia
'Just don't give up'
'With perseverance, you can do anything you want. Just don't give up - you've got to stick with it. When I started writing I sold my first book very quickly. But after that, no one bought my next five books. For some reason - perseverance, I guess, or just plain stubbornness - I kept on writing, and the 7th book sold and I've been at it ever since… I am just finishing my 60th book - think of the career I would have missed if I had stopped writing when those first five books didn't sell.'
Danielle Steel, mega bestselling author in The Most Important Lessons in Life
Poetry is 'the ultimate miracle of language'
‘We who earn our living by the pen hold the poets in especial awe. We know that in a hundred years’ time, when students of literature are saying "Eh? Martin Who? A N Who? Salman What Did You Say?, they will be reading Geoffrey Hill. Poetry is distillation. Poetry is saying something that no one else could say, and saying it in words that could not be paraphrased, still less translated. It is the ultimate miracle of language.’
A N Wilson in the Daily Telegraph
'Do we need science fiction?'
‘So, in 2004, do we need science fiction? Some features of the world of 2004 resemble science fictional dreams of the past; some science fiction scenarios are obsolete. But history hasn’t ended yet. In the coming few years climate adjustments alone will ensure that whatever we run out of – oil, fresh water, clean air – change itself will not be in short supply. There will be no shortage of raw material for science fiction literature, whatever becomes of genre categories in bookshops.’
Stephen Baxter in The Times
'A fault line in America'
‘In America, there’s a huge schism between literary and commercial, created largely by marketing and by chain bookstores. If you’re commercial, you get a lot of money put into your books, better placement in bookstores, widespread release – but no reviews. If you’re literary, you get reviews and nominations. I very clearly and intentionally chose the commercial route – all I lost was my pride. Because I don’t write in one genre, people have a hard time pinning me down, which is not always a good thing, but it does mean I do get reviews... If you’re a commercial fiction writer and you happen to slip them a good book, then more power to you… There’s a fault line in America, there really is. Anita Shreve’s easier to read than me yet she’s considered literary. That’s totally to do with the format, and yet Anita is marketed commercially, so there’s crossover.’
Jodi Picoult interviewed in Publishing News by Liz Thomson
Writing historical novels
‘Researching any historical novels can be both a pain and a pleasure. One danger is that the author gets so interested in the research that he does not do any writing… I am one of those lucky few authors who was published straightaway, but the publishing business has changed since then, and is much more competitive. I sent my own first novel straight to a publisher, but nowadays it is more common to sell work through an agent.
I feel that anyone who wants to write historical fiction needs to love the genre, rather than be tempted to have a go at historical novels just because they seem to be fashionable right now. Aspiring historical novelists need to have something new to say, and to avoid rehashing old clichés about the repressed Victorians covering up table legs. But most of all, new novelists need to enjoy what they are doing, because this enjoyment will show in their writing.’
Jude Morgan, author of Passion in Writers’ Forum
End of a publishing blog
‘It's hard work, this, even when the feedback has both been so energizing and made it so clear how great a hunger there is for some sort of industry perspective, for some sense that people on the inside aren't wholly disconnected from those on the outside....
If I had a particular goal when I started, it was to better understand how the machinery works, and to learn some new tricks of the trade--and I'm not sure how much we accomplished on that front, to be honest. The business is so f***ing hard now, and there's so much pressure on those working inside it, that either they don't have the time for (shall we say) pro bono discourse about (say) how to do some of the little things better; or they feel that giving away what few secrets they possess will put them at the sort of competitive disadvantage that might, soon, cost them their jobs.’
Mad Max Perkins of BookAngst 101, who is now hanging up his hat
Man Booker International forced to disqualify out-of-print writers
'When we checked through our original list of 120 contestants, we found that we had to disqualify writer after writer, simply because they were not available in English translation. Often they had been translated back in the 80's or 90's, but the publisher had allowed the translations to go out of print. So we were unable to consider, for example, Peter Handke, Michel Tournier, Christoph Ransmayr, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Rachid Boudjedra or Fernando Vallejo.
To an outsider the British publishing industry can seem like a conspiracy intent on depriving English-speaking readers of the majority of the good books written in languages other than their own. The same laxity 50 or 60 years ago would have meant, for English readers, no Kafka, no Camus and no Borges. The judges hope that the advent of the Man Booker International Prize will encourage British publishers to reverse this trend. No other single outcome could matter more.'
John Carey, Chair of the judges of the Man Booker International Prize, at the award ceremony (reprinted in the Bookseller)
'Books reviews should inspire reading'
'Book reviews should inspire reading. They should excite, stimulate, agitate and empower readers to discover new books and avoid bad ones. They should turn you on to undiscovered authors, prompt you into finally reading the writer you have never quite got round to, and make you wonder at the world of delights that remain unread. But let's be honest. They don't, do they?…
Don't get me wrong. Reviews can sell books, and should do. When you get several positive reviews of a book around publication it can help to stimulate interest and hopefully sales. The problem is that this so rarely happens, and it won't happen while authors, agents, publishers and retailers sit back and do nothing. If the music pages can manage to feature a diverse selection of CDs, all released that week, then surely we can encourage one literary editor to do the same?'
Scott Pack of Waterstone’s in the Bookseller
'The life I hadn't led'
'Somebody once said that one's real life is often the life that one does not lead. That's true for me, and I think it's probably the essential ingredient of a "crossover novel" (that is, one which appeals to both adults ad children). The Wind in the Willows, the Discworld novels, Harry Potter. All have that in common: the creation of a world that's deeply felt - and that's inhabited by the author - and therefore completely real...
'...the story of the boy and the wolf sat in my filing cabinet, and came to life only when I realised that this was the world I had lost. This was the life I hadn't led.
I think that's what readers respond to: when a story helps them to live the life they haven't led. You can't engineer that, and you can't fake it. It doesn't work every time and you can't predict when it will. But you know when it does, because of the response from readers.'
Michelle Paver, author of Wolf Brother, in The Times
'The dumbest business on the planet'
‘The Washingtonienne is proof positive that the book industry, when it sniffs the rich aroma of profit, can fling aside its 18th-century ways and boogie with the big boys. Ordinarily it is the dumbest business on the planet, taking nine months to a year - or more - to shepherd a manuscript through editing and production, a process that involves endless expense-account lunches at which absolutely nothing is accomplished, sales conferences (sometimes in exotic locales) at which editors' immense egos are stroked and/or destroyed, and the demolition of whole forests to print news releases that nobody reads.’
Jonathan Yardley on Jessica Cutler’s novel of life on Capitol Hill, in the Washington Post
'Develop your own voice'
‘My advice to budding authors is always the same: go the distance on the story. Work over it again and again. Hone your writing until it flows like running water. Be patient, because it takes time for characters to reveal their true natures, and the story will only have integrity when the people in it are believable. Practise your craft as much as you can. Don’t be like the many people who are more in love with the image of being a writer than the writing itself.
Above all, develop your own voice. Don’t strive to be a second-rate Shakespeare or Dickens. Concentrate on becoming a first-rate version of yourself.’
Tim Bowler, author of Apocalypse, in Writers’ Forum magazine
Publishers' most powerful marketing tool
'There's never been a better time for publishers, authors and the book trade. Optimism is high: sales are rising, books make prime-time television every day, bookshop coffee bars are springing up in every high street and independent bookstores are enjoying a revival. Yet I can't help feeling the industry is still dragging its feet and slow to embrace new ideas.
It's only relatively recently that publishers have recognised their greatest assets - the authors themselves - are on their doorsteps, but it's my belief that many publishers are still under-utilising their most powerful marketing tool.
Not long ago, authors were seen as almost incidental to the marketing process and it took programmes such as "Parkinson" and "Wogan" - hungry for guest celebrities to fill their airtime - to propel authors into the big time and turn them into household names. Publishers - some but not all - began to get wise to the idea of the author as "the brand" and cultivate the fledgling celebrity in his or her own right...
We have the technology and the media. Consumers want to know about the person behind the book. Authors are willing to play their part. So who is holding them back?'
David Freeman, founder of www.Meettheauthor.co.uk, in the Bookseller
'A test of absolute faith'
'Writing a novel, I discovered then, in that initial fumbling stage, is a test of absolute faith and absolute endurance. It puts you in a position of vulnerability at the same time as handing you a wand. For me, it felt like wading out into the sea on a raft in the dark and staying there all night, drifting and surging, worrying a lot, until the morning comes up and you can see where you are. That's when the real work begins - the task of getting all that colour, all those images and meanings succinctly, with the right pitch.'
Diana Evans, on writing her first novel 26a, in the Observer
Books - 'the raison d'etre for libraries'
'Libraries' biggest problem is the neglect of their core area: books. The public library service now holds fewer than two copies for every UK resident, and spends just 9p in the pound on books. These are shameful figures. Tired and poorly selected stock inevitably leads to fewer loans. About 561 million books were borrowed from libraries in 1992-93, but 10 years later the figure was 361 million. Barely one loan is made per visit. On this evidence alone libraries are failing the public...
But reading remains libraries' most important activity, and more needs to be done to put books back at their centre. Providing internet access is useful, but books are the raison d'etre for libraries. In the foreseeable future almost every home will be online, but how many will possess the thousands of books a library holds?'
The Bookseller editorial
'Underestimating the reading public'
‘I would say the biggest problem is underestimating the reading audience. I've always written cross-genre books: a suspense novel with a love story inside and some comedy. But publishers resisted this strenuously. Everything has to be labelled, and sold that way. If you're writing a series, there is pressure to keep things narrow and not break out. Books like Herman Wouk's The Winds of War and James Clavell's Shogun have largely disappeared from the bestseller list. The common wisdom is that readers don't have the patience they once did. But underestimating the reading public is a very big mistake. If there was more trust in the public, it would pay off. An editor once told me that if I didn't keep my vocabulary to 500 words I'd never make the best-seller list.’
Dean Koontz, who sells about 17 million copies of his books and gets over 30,000 fan letters a year, in the Wall Street Journal.
'The power of stories'
I said when I set out on my Laureate's journey two years ago that I wanted to go far and wide, telling stories wherever I could. I wanted to remind people of all ages of the power of stories, the joy of simply listening and reading, to do what I could to bring literature back to the heart of literacy. In that time I've visited 12 countries, talked to tens of thousands of children and parents and teachers and librarians. I've talked in remote island schools in the Hebrides in Scotland to a dozen children at a time, in city concert halls to a couple of thousand at a time...
By the end of May another Children's Laureate will be appointed to pick up the torch of children's literature. I know who it is, but I'm not telling you! I wish him or her the same joy I've had, more wouldn't be possible. It's been the most intense and productive time of my life.
Michael Morpurgo on his Children's Laureate website: www.childrenslaureate.org
'A medium of limitless potential and surprise'
'Too many books? It's true that Britain alone publishes about 120,000 new titles a year, a ten-fold increase on 1905. So what? Most of these new books have the shelf life of yoghurt and get recycled into lavatory rolls quicker than you can say The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
In an age of rampant capitalism, in the middle of a colossal information-technology revolution unparalleled since Gutenberg, it would be surprising if there was not a colossal overproduction...
No, the barbarians are not at the gate. It's an age of awesome variety we are living in. English in all its thrilling, international forms, from romance to rap, is finding more colour and expression than at any time since Spenser, Marlowe and Jonson.
Indeed the kaleidoscope of English and American publications today is probably closer in spirit and self-expression to the Shakespearean extravaganza, offering a medium of limitless potential and surprise, in a language that media corporations such as the BBC should be grateful for.'
Robert McCrum in his excellent column in the Observer
'Books that have literally changed my life'
'When you write a book it's not a real thing, but the ripples are real. I've read books that have literally changed my life - my moral sense is different, my sense of humour is different. These things have very real implications for the rest of the world. I treat people differently. I spend my money differently. All because of these non-existent rocks that were thrown into a lake.'
Jonathan Safran Foer in the Bookseller
'Dear Oprah Winfrey'We writers want to say thank you.
When you established The Oprah Winfrey Book Club in 1996, you did something very bold, something that no one else has done. You declared that every person -- anyone who could turn on a TV set -- could be part of the literary world and enjoy it. You declared that anyone could like good books…
Your Book Club brought contemporary novels to eager readers, and your show gave the audience a way to look at the issues that literature addresses. You led many people to read fiction who might not have done so otherwise. You expanded people's sense of what they dared to read, and you added depth and diversity to America's reading list. You encouraged people to tackle difficult contemporary novels, like The Reader, and Song of Solomon and Breath, Eyes, Memory. Throughout the country, people from all walks of life came together to talk about books, thus finding their way into the long and distinguished tradition of literary discussion.
Sales figures, in the context of the literary market, do not merely reflect profits; they are an indicator of literacy as well. A country in which ordinary people flock to bookstores to buy the latest talked-about work of fiction is a vibrantly literate country. Every month your show sent hundreds of thousands of people (mostly women, who are the largest group of literary fiction readers) into bookstores. The contemporary books you chose sold between 650,000 and 1,200,000 copies apiece. Each Oprah selection gave readers a title to investigate and a subject to explore. Importantly, your Book Club also gave readers a chance to see these authors on the air and to hear their words. Not only books but the writers themselves became accessible to everyone, inviting all readers into the community of literature.
Few people have taken advantage of the extravagant scope and power of television to do good. But you have. From the start, you used your role in the media to encourage literacy, thought and intellectual curiosity. You made yourself a champion of contemporary fiction. You tempted publishers to take chances on new writers, for whom you became a beacon of hope. First novelists and literary authors felt emboldened to write because of the outside chance that an editor would see their work as potential Book Club material. You dared to take contemporary literary fiction seriously, and your daring enabled a new generation of writers to appear…
We'd also like to make a request: We'd like to ask that you consider focusing, once again, on contemporary writers in your Book Club.
The American literary landscape is in distress. Sales of contemporary fiction are still falling, and so are the numbers of people who are reading. Readers complain that, although daunting numbers of new books are published, too few of them are brought to the public's attention in a meaningful way. Readers have trouble finding contemporary books they'll like. They, the readers, need you. And we, the writers, need you. America needs a strong voice that addresses everyone who can read, a voice that will say, "Let's explore the books that are coming out today. Let's see what moves us, what delights us, what speaks to us in a way that only fiction does."
Oprah Winfrey, we wish you'd come back.'
'An aura of publishedness'
'Being an unpublished author is a bit like being an asylum seeker. You know this is where you belong - your Promised Land - but the gate is guarded. You're desperate to get in, but you don't know the rules. You try everything - different fonts, different noms de plume. You take out all the adverbs, then put them all back in again. You spend ours refining your synopsis. You know it must be possible, because you see the Published Ones walking around on the other side of the frontier, bathed in an aura of publishedness...’
Marina Lewycka, whose first novel is A Short History of Tractors, in the Observer
Children who hate reading
‘I am concerned that in a constant search for things to test, we're forgetting the true purpose, the true nature, of reading and writing; and in forcing these things to happen in a way that divorces them from pleasure, we are creating a generation of children who might be able to make the right noises when they see print, but who hate reading and feel nothing but hostility for literature.’
Philip Pullman, writing in the Guardian
Agents as editors and marketers
‘Literary agents once functioned primarily as salespeople. Today, they're taking on the additional roles of editor and marketer. The shift reflects the consolidation of the once-clubby publishing world into an industry dominated by global media companies. With fewer editors forced to handle more books, agents must do more to promote aspiring authors.’
Wall Street Journal
"Load your cart"
‘It used to be that patrons (never "customers") went into a bookshop, browsed for hours on end and bought one book or perhaps no book at all. Now booksellers want you to "load your cart" with three for two, or an armful of "50% off" items. It's the Tescoisation of the British book business. Nowadays you would no more think of going into a bookstore and old-fashionedly browsing than taking a tin-opener into the local supermarket and sampling the baked beans.
John Sutherland in the Guardian
'Barriers to publication'
'Assessing a book's financial potential is crucial. Yet, if we are not careful, publishing will become completely over-run by sales and marketing departments, and we may as well start sending our projects direct to them...
Our job as agent is to safeguard the author's interests in the middle of these clashing Titans and ensure that talented writers are not crushed by internal power plays.
The barriers to publication for an author have never been higher. The complexities which are supposed to ensure that acquisitions are driven by enthusiasm are now conspiring to stop projects getting out there at all. The overheads at most conglomerates are so crippling that sales projections have to be extremely high for a book to be deemed worthy of an offer. Eats, Shoots and Leaves would not, I imagine, have had a particularly healthy costing at a conglomerate, but the same figures at Profile made it happen.
As the publishing world continues to eat itself, the crucial diversity of publishers' lists will suffer, and the next generation of editors will lose interest and wander off to better paid jobs elsewhere.'
Simon Trewin of the London literary agency PFD, in the Bookseller
Becoming a writer
'It was making me laugh and cry and stay up all night. I was writing for no other reason but for the fact I was enjoying it so much. It was such an intense experience I knew I had to take it somewhere. My motivation was my mother who was reading the book chapter by chapter and laughing and crying in all the right places. I realised there was a possibility that people other than me, my mother and sister could enjoy my work.'
'It's coming up from inside me not class notes. Writing is such a natural thing for me that I find it hard to associate it with something that can be taught but in saying that, it's obviously been a help to others so I would never discourage anyone from classes.'
Cecelia Ahern, author of PS I Love You and Where Rainbows End in Writers’ Forum magazine
'Do-it-yourself publishing has become the new route to success for struggling authors. Several have recently won lucrative contracts from the biggest publishers after proving the worth of their books by first printing them themselves and selling them in local bookshops.
The falling cost of self-publishing means that authors whose work has been turned down by literary agents or publishers are now able to prove that their books will sell.'
Danuta Kean in the Sunday Telegraph
'Entertaining for an audience'
'Someone once said to me: "Don't you think it unfair writing about your mother when she couldn't answer?" The answer is: absolutely not. I couldn't have written about her when she was alive as it would have hurt her terribly. I think one should respect someone like mad while they're alive and write what you like once they're dead. I don't mind what my son writes about me once I'm dead. Books should not be written to be cathartic for the author but to ring bells with and be entertaining for an audience.'
Virginia Ironside, author of Janey and Me, quoted in the Observer
'Some giant beast'
'I'll probably be completely forgotten. Most of the work in the world is forgotten. There have been so many writers who dominated a period and then slipped off. History is like some giant beast - it simply wriggles its back and throws off whatever is on it.'
Arthur Miller, quoted in the Independent.
'Not enough time to write a good book'
'So many thrillers today are formulaic and one-dimensional. I feel like there used to be a higher standard. I know I'll get in trouble for saying this, but the problem is that the whole industry is built around writing one book a year, so the next hardcover comes out with the mass market paperback of your previous one. That's great from a marketing perspective, but from a writing perspective it's terrible, because people have to write their novel in six or seven months. It's not enough time to write a good book.
I've done it for the past five years, but if I'm completely honest, three of my first four books are the best I ever wrote because I spent two years apiece on them. Some of the stories I've come up with since then are just as good, but have I been able to do those stories justice? No, not completely.'
Greg Iles in the Bookseller
'The achievers and the strivers'
'There is something about the contemporary scene that has made competitiveness, doing the next person down, a central part of the writing business rather than just a sideshow. Dominated by the marketing imperative, the publishing and bookselling process no longer has room for the semi-success, the slow burn, the author who was once successful or may possibly be successful in the future. Almost from the moment the first book contract is signed, a brutal bifurcation takes place between the achievers and the strivers...
It is a shock to many people to discover that writers can be as vain, competitive and boastful as those in any other profession, but add a snobbery all of their own.
It occurs to me that in writing, and maybe in most other walks of life, talent and generosity tend as a general rule to go together. It is the most successful who are least likely to bother with the trivial idiocies of gamesmanship... the most effective way of succeeding and staying sane is to concentrate on one's own project and let others get on with their own. Working well is the best revenge.'
Terence Blacker, author, journalist and former publisher, in the Independent
A defining activity
'One of the great cliches of novel writing is that pleasure and happiness don't make good subjects. We are enormous compartmentalisers; we may have huge anxieties about Africa or Iraq, but at the same time be having a marvellous time, be very interested and content in our work or our private life. Some of the pleasures I wanted to get into the book were preparing a meal, hanging out with your teenage children, listening to music, having sex and playing squash. I wanted to investigate the notion of whether these thing were impossible to write about.
Another ambition of mine was to write a novel that was work-based, because too may novels seem to ignore the fact that people work: that it's a defining activity, a source of pleasure and obsession and self-esteem.'
Ian McEwan on his new novel Saturday in the Bookseller
History is hot
‘History is hot. And not just because of Brad Pitt's flying thighs. There's such an outpouring of books from historians at the moment, you can't throw a canape in Manhattan after 6 p.m. without hitting a tweedy scholar wearing the dazed expression that comes with a sudden release from the past.’
Tina Brown in the Washington Post
Making a profit in publishing
'The fact is, we are in a competitive marketplace - and the market determines the price of the author. In some ways, it's a mistake to think of the advance as something that's got to be earned by royalties. The advance to the author is the cost of having that author's book. What matters in the end is whether it yields sufficient profit.
It's not widely understood that titles that fail to earn their advances can be very profitable. Sales in the past few years have been incredibly buoyant. They generate a lot of revenue, which can more than compensate for an unearned.'
Malcolm Edwards, group publisher the Orion Group in the Bookseller
'Being an agent is a wonderful job'
‘Being an agent is a wonderful job and I really believe in it. I’ve found my metier. The mentality of agenting per se is very macho and the women who are successful agents have very strong personalities. It’s a selling job, let’s not be grand about it, but you have to have a firm belief in what you’re doing and it’s much more difficult than you think. You have to bring in an awful lot just to wash your face, notwithstanding the vagaries of the industry. Still, in spite of what some might say, I do think we agents are generally in agreement with publishers, and I’d hope and ensure that they would cherish my clients just as much as I do.’
Ali Gunn, literary agent at Curtis Brown, London, in Publishing News
'Dead letters on the dead page'
‘I feel there is an opportunity for this really magical, symbolic contact between people separated by time and space, that you can get with the written word, that you can't get any other way.
There is no way, really, for someone to make a movie all by himself or herself, that will then be distributed and enjoyed by completely solitary individuals. I think the magic of these dead letters on the dead page is that once you surmount the difficulty of deciphering those characters, there is no boundary.
I feel closer to Kafka and Tolstoy than I do to Steven Spielberg, and I think there's nothing Spielberg could do to make me feel otherwise.’
Jonathan Franzen, author of the The Corrections, on the BBC