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Comment from the book world in January 2004


'Shoppers will pile into bookshops'

20 December 2004

'Yet the high streets and shopping centres of Great Britain are filled with bookshops of a quality that would have been unimaginable only twenty years ago. We are spoiled for bookshops, there is no doubt about it. The chains have more branches in more locations. They are open all year round, often seven days a week, sometimes late into the evening. Independents are better than they have ever been. But they are only there to reap the retail whirlwind in the twelve weeks before Christmas, when even people who never buy books buy books, when most of the shopping population make their annual pilgrimage to a bookshop. Hence getting it wrong looms large in the sweat-soaked nightmares of the retail executive. But nobody should worry too much. Shoppers will pile into the bookshops regardless of any qualms some booksellers might have about this year's range of seasonal bestsellers. They will come in droves. They always do. Wait and see.'

David Blow in Publishing News

How Oprah can change your life

13 December 2004

'She chose it because of its cover. It wasn't the current cover. It was a dark-blue background with a plane going into the air... It was very exciting, a little frightening to me...

'To me, writing is a very selfish activity. I write to please myself. I write in a daydream, which I am sure has saved me hundreds of thousands of dollars in therapy. Everything comes from somewhere, but it doesn't always come from my life. And that is one of the hardest things for readers to accept.'

Anita Shreve, author of Light on Snow, in the Times magazine

'Don't get it right, get it written'

6 December 2004

'Take the time, before you start, to decide exactly what you want to write. Remember that your publisher will want more of the same, so you must choose a genre with which you are happy... Don't try to copy other writers. Originality, within your field, is essential. As an agent, the typescript I would take home for the weekend would always be the one with the freshest voice.

Stick with it, don't give up. My mantra has always been: don't get it right, get it written. Most of all, believe in yourself.'

Carol Smith, agent-turned-writer, in Writers' ForumBritish writers' magazine which is highly recommended for all writers. It features wide range of news and articles which help writers to improve their work and get published: magazine

'Children's writing is the Zeitgeist'

29 November 2004

'Eleven is when you need to catch the reading bug. I thought that if I could give my son a 'road to Damascus' experience he might become a reader, so when I sat down and wrote this story that was what was at the back of my mind.... I had a great time writing this, it was like being a child again. I have never read a Harry Potter all the way through, so I don't know what a 'typical' children's books is like today - I grew up on Ransome, Kipling and Buckeridge, as well as comics....

Children's writing is the Zeitgeist. People here can be quite cynical and accuse adult writers of 'jumping on the bandwagon' but so what if they are? When I was a child, the choice of titles was really limited. It's important that children like reading and the more choice there is for them, the better.'

Philip Kerr, author of The Children of the Lamp and several adult novels, in the Bookseller

The supermarkets' effect on books

22 November 2004

'We really must get wise to what the supermarkets are doing. They offer none of the added value that is fundamental to nurturing serious book-buying and through which sales of publishers' profitable backlists are enhanced.

The supermarkets simply take the easily available cream and, in so doing, undermine the strength of the traditional book trade. What is more, because they have no long-term interest in the book industry, they can negotiate with suppliers that much more aggressively. If they can't get the prices they want, they'll simply drop books and sell something else. If, in getting the prices they want, they undermine the established infrastructure of our industry, then so be it. Why should they care?'

Richard Barker in the Bookseller

‘Poetry is a craft’

15 November 2004

'But perfectly sane people seriously expect their doggerel to be published in a national newspaper or by the publishing house that fostered T S Eliot and Philip Larkin. They enter poetry competitions in the hope that maybe, just maybe, this time they will shoot to fame and what passes in the poetry world for fortune. It is indeed like the lottery and the odds are probably about the same.

Perhaps it's because of the mystique surrounding poetry that people think they can knock off a few words and watch them transform, like magic, into something they call a poem. Sadly, it's not like that. Poetry is a craft and it starts with reading. "I think," said the poet Michael Longley, "that technique is important. If most people who called themselves poets," he added, "were tightrope-walkers, they'd be dead."'

Christina Patterson in the Independent

Authors' promotional tours

8 November 2004

'It's a Catch 22 situation. The more successful you are, the less time you have to write. But your publishers and your readers still expect a book a year, particularly if you are a genre fiction writer like I am... If you take a week off, you can completely lose the plot. Alan Sillitoe once said to me, "They put authors on tour to stop them writing too much."'

Ian Rankin in the Bookseller on the requirement for successful authors to tour.

Publishing illustrated books

1 November 2004

'The investment in an illustrated book, the picture acquisition cost, the production, the design, is much, much greater than, let's say, a novel, where if you don't sell a single copy, and it's a first novel, where you might not have paid a huge advance, the actual cost of the paper and production is very slim. Whereas, if you get it wrong with a big art book, you will feel it financially. That's one of the reasons why so few illustrated art books work with just the domestic market in mind. With some few exceptions, it just isn't big enough. So the way that we endeavour to make it work is to have a team of people whose job is to set up international editions, translations, co-editions, which we will then print in French, German, American, Hungarian, Korean - it's about getting up to a large enough print run, defraying some of the risk because of the co-publishers in other countries.'

Jamie Camplin of Thames & Hudson, in Publishing News

Can an advance be too big?

25 October 2004

'Everyone was throwing money at me. It was absurd. I was in a bar when I took the phone call saying it had been sold in America. But instead of doing a extravagant champagne-for-everyone, I thought: God. I'd seen a friend get a large advance. He thought that was it. It was going to be bitches by the pool in LA. But the fact was that his book didn't sell. At that point, nobody wants to touch you. I was going: is there any way we can tone this down? I didn't want them to pay a lot. I wanted them to pay enough. A rather worrying number of people assumed I would go off the rails. There was a period of six months where I'd walk into a room and there'd be this appraising quality. They'd be waiting for me to rip off the mask and reveal that I was Puff Daddy.'

Hari Kunzru on getting a big advance for his first book

'The dark forces of sales and marketing'

18 October 2004

'Editors nowadays move jobs much more frequently than before, and have little experience actually working with text. This leads to authors feeling unloved and badly treated. Young editors are being taught to be risk-averse, and although desperate to buy books, they are finding the barriers for entry get higher. They are going for the obvious choices or, tellingly, the novels which are in need of very little editorial work. Novels that merely show promise do not get sold - novels that are brilliant and in need of almost no attention do. All too often, it isn't the editor who calls the shots, but the dark forces of sales and marketing - the engine room of the business. An editor is going to have much more clout in arguing for marketing spend for a book they have paid £100,000 for than one which has cost a mere £20,000. It is less about the prose and more about the maths at this stage.'

Simon Trewin, literary agent at PFDRepresents authors of fiction and non-fiction, children's writers, screenwriters, playwrights, documentary makers, technicians, presenters and public speakers throughout the world. Has 85 years of international experience in all media. PDF now have a POD section. Some good advice for those seeking a representative., in the Independent on Sunday

'Those messy little notebooks'

11 October 2004

'Learning how to type does not make you a writer. It was one of the biggest disappointments of my life when I found that I couldn't compose at a typewriter. You see so many movies in which pages fly out of a writer's machine and novels pile up next to them. I'm in my late 30s now and I'm still working in those messy little notebooks I had when I was six.'

Donna Tartt in the Observer

Online reviewing - a dialogue amongst readers?

4 October 2004

'There are some who argue that by opening the gates to millions of reviewers, who may be incompetent, unedited and sometimes illiterate, the web has undermined the very idea of cultural authority. But this seems to misunderstand the nature of the new beast. At its best, internet reviewing provides a refreshing directness, a place where people say what they like and dislike without any of the baggage of literary criticism or knowledge of previous form, or grammar... The best online reviewers tell the story that they have read, add their own twist and take, and pass it on, creating a dialogue among readers that directly descends from the oral storytelling tradition.'

Ben Macintyre, The Times