Skip to Content

Comment from the book world in March 2010

March 2010

Writing fiction

22 March 2010

'It either works on an imaginative level or it doesn't... that's my whole raison d'etre, going into spaces that I don't normally inhabit, exploring them and trying to bring something out which enables people to feel a greater empathy. I think that's one of the justifications for writing fiction - you can make real to somebody something which they feel very difficult to understand...

(Historical novels) are just novels that have a past location and are therefore not swept away by the tide of present day life so fast. This is the great agony of trying to capture the present in a novel - it's a very slow thing to write and present life moves on in a hideously unexpected and overtaking kind of way.'

Rose Tremain, whose new novel is Trespass, in the Bookseller

'This huge, discounting, rights-trading, jargon-babbling profiteering melée...'

15 March 2010

'The old triumvirate of writer-agent-publisher that once shaped the shopfronts of Britishbooksellers has disappeared under remorseless sales pressure. When the recession exposed the faulty logic of the marketplace equation in a creative industry, the collapse of the retail side became the top story in the lives of most writers today. Scarcity of resources in a shrinking market has touched every aspect of the business. But this perfect storm may have a silver lining: the IT revolution. Just as one generation of writers faces the prospect of the garret, another kind of challenge confronts the new kids on the block: how to navigate the myriad, conflicting opportunities and temptations of online publishing. For the garret, read Starbucks.

The prospects for the laptop generation are considerably brighter than for the typewriter veterans, but still opaque. Ask anyone in the business about the future of traditional publishing and you get variations on the theme of "Nobody knows anything"...

Whatever the future, a new generation of agents and publishers sees the old publishing model as broken. There must, they say, be a marriage between virtual and old text worlds. This generation speaks the jargon of "disintermediation" (roughly, commercial streamlining). The boom days are over. Writers will have to adapt.

From copyright down, every aspect of the business is being redefined. In the short term, the quickest route out of the garret will be to find comfort in concepts like "clouds", DRM (digital rights management) and "interoperability", the cutting edge of innovation.'

Robert McCrum in the Guardian

'This huge, discounting, rights-trading, jargon-babbling profiteering melée'

8 March 2010

'To begin to write a book these days seems more than the average folly. Publishing appears to have been hit by a storm similar to the one that tore through the music industry a few years ago and is now causing unprecedented pain in newspapers. We are told that fewer people are reading, that book sales are down, that the supermarkets which sell one in five copies of all books care more about their cucumber sales, that the book is shortly to be replaced by the ebook and electronic readers sold by, among others, Amazon, which seems bent on reducing publishers to an archipelago of editorial sweatshops and the writer to the little guy stitching trainers in an airless room. ...

If you feel sorry for publishers spare a thought - and a dime - for writers, on whose shoulders this huge, discounting, rights-trading, jargon-babbling profiteering melée rests. As things are, the writer's share of a book that sells for £10, after his or her agent's fee, hovers between 35p and 40p: more than 95% is kept by the agent, publisher and retailer. The fierce discounting in supermarkets means that writers are now even less likely to earn out their advances. At the same time advances are being cut and authors' contracts are being summarily cancelled.'

Henry Porter in an article in The Guardian

'Not a threatened species' II

1 March 2010

'Books are not a threatened species. They are ordinary features of the ordinary world. Kids read them, just as many (how many?) adults read them. They aren't "good" for us in the way that medicine is. They don't "help" in any specific way. Feeding books to the bad lads won't immediately civilise them and make them good. But they draw us together. They entertain us. They show us as we are - imperfect, partial, elusive, unfinished, beyond straightforward comprehension. They show us as we could be - more angelic, more satanic. They show us how our world could be - more like Heaven or more like Hell. Paradoxically, it's in fiction's weird mingling of facts and lies that we can approach the deepest and most complex "truths" about ourselves. Should we, who read books and believe that books and the stories within them contain such power, be surprised that kids read, that books survive? Of course not. We should be celebrating these facts.'

David Almond, author of Skellig, in The Times