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Comment from the book world in March 2012

March 2012

'The role of omnipotent creator'

26 March 2012

'One reason why first-time novelists are frequently turned down by agents and publishers is because they tend to regard freedom of expression as a permit to waffle on, page after page, about nothing in particular. Their manuscripts lack rigour and economy, and this reveals a common failing in the creative mind-set of beginners: too much allowance is made for the gratification of every expressive urge that springs to mind. Like a greedy child with a pocket full of coins in a fast food mall, debutant novelists grab hold of all the tasty junk within reach, and guess what? They pile on the flab. Someone needs to cut the pocket money and show them the way to the gym. I found this out when I made the transition from non-fiction to fiction writing. I hadn't anticipated quite how different the two crafts would prove to be. It's not as simple as a chef switching between French and Thai cooking, nor even like taking up abstract art after years of doing pretty watercolours. It's more like having a sex change. When you begin to write fiction, not only does your writing look, sound and feel different, but the ground from which it springs has been overturned. Only yesterday you were a glorified essayist, organizing your sources, synthesizing and filleting them, introducing argument versus counter-argument with lucid insight and sparkling prose. But today, you are nothing less than the creator of your own universe, God Almighty, with the power to reinvent the world, grant life or slay at will.

If your readers buy into your giant leap of faith, put themselves in your hands and remain tight with you to the final page, your assumption of divinity has worked, phew. If they don't, if they feel bored, patronized, irritated... prepare for the onslaught: you have not just written a bad book, you have mocked their trust, and that is a crime worse than anything a non-fiction author can commit. How, then, to assume this role of omnipotent creator without offending your readership?

Roland Vernon, author of The Good Wife's Castle in Bookbrunch

Publishers becoming more creative

19 March 2012

"The bit between the writer and reader is called publishing. We need to think of copyright in an imaginative way. Publishers are very creative about formats for books, through covers and marketing campaigns, but we are not that creative about the product. The creativity there seems to go on before we receive the product. We can think what we might make from the copyright and from the brilliance of working with an author.

Publishers have to form more partnerships with sister creative industries, communicate better with authors and other publishers, re-skill and re-train workforces to know what is coming next in digital but, above all, create value and champion and support copyright.

The baton-passing, linear nature of publishing, marching department to department towards the trade, doesn't lend itself well to the creative process about what we might do and what copyright we might offer. We have to build the structural architecture that allows opportunity for that creativity to happen. We have to be able to interrupt and get the attention of our audience on a very wide scale."

Stephen Page, MD of Faber and FaberClick for Faber and Faber Publishers References listing, at the Bookseller's Futurebook conference.

'Stories belong to everyone'

12 March 2012

'I can't do fantasy.  When I read C S Lewis I just don't get it. I can walk into the cupboard but I can't walk out of it into the snow. I like historical facts, evidence, real stories. There are so many vampires now, there is a lot of dross as well as good stuff. But take J K Rowling or Philip Pullman, it is amazing what these people have done...

A nine-year-old's take on the world is now as sophisticated as mine probably was at 19.  They inhabit the adult world. You can't draw a curtain around childhood. You can't rely on a watershed or children being screened from everything.  Even the six o'clock news has wars, murder.  They may not take it all in but they are thinking about it all the time. You have to write stories for children that reflect their world...

We have a culture in this country where literature is separated from many people. It's seen as snobby and exclusive.We tell great stories in this country. I won't say we invented children's literature, but coming down through Beowulf the telling of tales is deeply part of who we are. Stories belong to everyone... My little book was selling 2,000 copies, now it's going to millions of people. It's a story spreading around that will, I hope, be loved but that's also provocative and will make people think. That's what stories do.'

Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse, in The Times

'Jumping back onto the ship'

5 March 2012

'How could the author who had cut out ALL the middle-men with the invention of Pottermore, jump back onto the ship she appeared to have left aground? The answer is relatively simple, but one often neglected in a world of Kindle-mania. Rowling wants the new book to be a success: and success is not just measured in units sold. She will want the book to be well-edited, beautifully produced, expertly marketed, and distributed fluidly worldwide. She'll want its release orchestrated, reviewers to be primed, retailers to be charmed, and the public to be persuaded to buy it. She'll want pirated versions taken down. And afterwards, she will probably want to lift a glass of champagne with her publisher (and agent), and toast a job well done.

None of this happens by magic.'

Philip Jones, Futurebook, the Bookseller