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Comment from the book world in January 2008


'This wonderful tool for self-knowledge'

22 December 2008

'This wonderful tool for self-knowledge'

'Culture, as I have said, belongs to us all, to all humankind. But in order for this to be true, everyone must be given equal access to culture. The book, however old-fashioned it may be, is the ideal tool. It is practical, easy to handle, economical. It does not require any particular technological prowess, and keeps well in any climate.

Its only flaw--and this is where I would like to address publishers in particular--is that in a great number of countries it is still very difficult to gain access to books. In Mauritius the price of a novel or a collection of poetry is equivalent to a sizeable portion of the family budget. In Africa, Southeast Asia, Mexico, or the South Sea Islands, books remain an inaccessible luxury. And yet remedies to this situation do exist.

Joint publication with the developing countries, the establishment of funds for lending libraries and bookmobiles, and, overall, greater attention to requests from and works in so-called minority languages--which are often clearly in the majority--would enable literature to continue to be this wonderful tool for self-knowledge, for the discovery of others, and for listening to the concert of humankind, in all the rich variety of its themes and modulations.'

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature, in his Nobel lecture

Full lecture

Fewer books, more money

15 December 2008

'I think every year we sell fewer books, but every time we do sell a book now it's for more money. Publishers are happier to spend more because buying a small book means you have small expectations. It's not necessarily a bad thing. What is more marked this year is that it takes longer for publishers to make decisions than it used to, and there is a little less room for flexibility than there was.'

Simon Trewin of United AgentsClick for United Agents Agents References listing in the Bookseller

Indigenous children's literature

8 December 2008

'Cultural identity, it could be argued, is best developed like a language, at an early age. Children can absorb these ideas before they are corrupted by the prejudices and complications of the adult world... In the face of increasing homogenisation of global culture, it is important that every opportunity is taken to allow publishers to support and sustain indigenous children's literature.'

Maria Dickenson in her Dublin Notes in the late lamented Publishing News

'Too big, too costly'

1 December 2008

'The very cost of some of the superstructures necessary for global giants may be one of the causes of increasingly homogenous publishing. If publishers have to deliver a profit margin sufficient to pay for it all, they may be driven to produce certain types of books that seem to promise large rewards when they succeed, but which also involve huge advances and, usually, huge risk of failure too - for evidence see the current outpouring of celebrity books for Christmas.

When these big international groups were formed, there were obvious synergies to be found. But once you have centralised the accounting function, closed a few warehouses and built a newer, bigger and more modern one and amalgamated sales forces, is there much more cost cutting that can be done?

The mood of the times is changing. There is a return to be made from publishing good books but perhaps not sufficient to pay for atriums and limousines. Could it be that some conglomerates are just too big, too costly and no longer offer value for money?'

Clare Alexander, agent at Aitken Alexander AssociatesAccepts fiction and non-fiction. No plays or scripts., in the Bookseller

'Write about what you know'

24 November 2008

'Write about what you know. And embroider the hard facts a little if absolutely necessary. I don't exaggerate or embellish so much in my stories since I started writing for the New Yorker because their fact checkers are as fearsome as their legend suggests. I wouldn't be able to say that I took my water off the table without them first establishing that I'd put it on the table. I wrote about a child molester in our village in France and their French-speaking fact-checker called the farmer and his wife across the street from us and corroborated everything with them.'

David Sedaris, author of When You Are Engulfed in Flames in the Observer.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning hits 50

17 November 2008

'It's something that comes from within you, the need to write. You're born with it....

I think all those years of writing before being published had taught me to write with precision. I didn't want to indulge in purple passages and overwrite and use too many words. I knew that the voice and tone was just right. I had found my own way, which is just as well.

I'm pragmatic about the first two books.They got me going and have allowed me to write for all these years. As long as I'd had a roof over my head and food on the table, I would have carried on writing whetherI was published or not.'

Alan Sillitoe in The Times

'We are all in the copyright business'

10 November 2008

'Digital activity is critical to the evolution of publishing and in children's we are best placed to break this out because our audience is already there, growing up with it. I produce books and love working with great authors, and whether that's online or in print doesn't matter to me. What matters is that their work reaches as many children as possible. As a children's publisher we have to be aware of, and embrace, as many models as possible. We are all in the copyright business and we have to work out how to make the right connections.'

Ann-Janine Murtagh, Publisher of Children's Fiction and Picture books at HarperCollins UK, in Publishing News

'Just one thing that I wanted to write about'

3 November 2008

'When I began, there was just one thing that I wanted to write about, which was the true devastation of racism on the most vulnerable, the most helpless unit in the society - a black female and a child. (On winning her Nobel) 'I felt representative,I felt American, I felt Ohioan,I felt blacker than ever. I felt more woman than ever.'

Toni Morrison in the Observer

'A paltry 15% royalty'

27 October 2008

'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?'

Kate Pullinger in the Guardian Online

'Inexpensive, enduring and relevant'

20 October 2008

'In such times it is much better to be selling books than higher ticket items. In the frequent periods of recession through until 1992, our industry was relatively immune from the worst effects. Results were disappointing but certainly not disastrous. As domestic budgets are squeezed, books benefit from being an inexpensive form of recreation and indeed a necessity for priorities like education. Above all, families will do all they can to still have a great Christmas. Our opportunity is to reinforce the strengths of the book as a gift: inexpensive, enduring and, if well-chosen, relevant to the needs of the recipient.'

Alan Giles, former CEO of HMV, in the Bookseller

What makes an agent say yes?

13 October 2008

'First, is the writing truly brilliant? Second, will the market be accepting of it? And, finally, am I the right person to make the connections for the book?... There is no school of agenting. All you need is to have an opinion and not be afraid to share it. You have to be tenacious, honest and straight-dealing - although being Machiavellian at times can be useful.

I am driven like everyone else in this industry by the art of possibility. We all hope with our next book that it is going to be our moment. There is nothing more exciting than reading something that really catches fire for you.'

Agent Simon Trewin, interviewed by Hannah Davies in the Bookseller

Children's publishing in the post-Potter era

29 September 2008

'I suppose my trawl through the back pages of children's publishing would be criminally incomplete without a proper mention of the Potter phenomenon.It changed everything. Not a whole lot more needs to be said, except that it wasn't all for the good. The fact that children's books are now very much in the spotlight and up on the same stage as adult books, where they have always belonged, is great.That children's publishers have picked up some of the less welcome adult practices (jostling to become members of the Six-Figure Club by paying way too much for manuscripts, to name but one) is not. But, hey, to paraphrase Joe D Brown in Some Like it Hot, nothing's perfect...

I'm leaving PN during the era of conglomerates, who have absorbed and amalgamated and rationalised until you can count the independents on the fingers of one hand. Publishing has always been accused of being desperately inefficient and often that it's run like a summer fete, but there is something to be said for the entrepreneurial spirit of the likes of Peter Usborne and Brenda Gardner, and Barry Cunningham - without whose eye for a good story, of course, this would be a very different business.'

Graham Marks, chronicler of children's publishing for the now-defunct Publishing News