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Comment from the book world in January 2013


Post-apocalyptic thrillers

30 December 2013

'Once the world ends, all your worries about your mortgage and your job get shunted off to the sideline. We use genre fiction to tell us what we are; I think with all genre fiction, where it becomes great is when it is saying something about the world we are in.

Paradoxically, as the world's various crises worsen we take more refuge in alternate worlds. I've never seen sci-fi as escapism, but I think horror is. I don't believe there will be an apocalypse that will sweep us off the earth but I think our civilisation has a sell-by date. There are only so many fossil fuels left in the ground, and it's not even energy, it's plastics - what are we going to do when there is nothing left to make plastic out of?'

Mike Carey, author of The Girl with All the Gifts in the Bookseller

In 2013 we had more questions than answers

24 December 2013

'I remember writing at the end of 2012 that whatever else 2013 brings, the only thing we can all rely on is that we'll know a little bit more by the end of the year than we knew heading into it. Digital does not move in a digital way. The year asked more questions that we knew we had to answer.

There are constants. Readers still read, writers still write. Everything in-between these two poles is up for grabs, however. How readers will read, and the types of content they will want to read, are moveable items.

The transfer to e-readers suggested a relatively passive shift of content from one format to another, but with e-books sales growth tapering, what happens on tablets will dictate the types of books we need to produce. Where readers buy their content from seems more secure. Amazon continues to set the pace both in terms of online retail, and e-book sales. In 2013 we also learned what a relentless innovator it can be with multiple beta-launches, from Kindle Worlds to MatchBook. And yet even here, Amazon is not unassailable.

The biggest headache for the sector might not come from tangibles such as book formats, or retailer power, but the continuing struggle for the sector to show its worth, and the value of the structures that underpin these activities. We cannot overstate the importance of copyright in this respect, and the importance of keeping a check on the Open Access debate as it grows.

There is plenty working in the industry's favour. Despite the noise around digital, much hasn't changed, and where they've needed to adapt many of the traditional business we know and love have shown they can. But let's not get lulled into a false sense of privilege. If we spent, as I'd thought, much of 2013 waiting for others to answer the big questions for us, then we were wasting our time. In 2014 we should seek these answers out for ourselves.'

Philip Jones, Editor of the Bookseller, in Futurebook  (Apologies for quoting so fully from this, but it is an excellent summary of where we stand.)


'What I'm after is a gripping read, with stuff going on behind it.'

16 December 2013

'I treat it like a job. I like a nice long day. I can't work in bits and pieces, and I prefer not to work at evenings and weekends... The thing about writing a novel that's so funny is that there are perhaps just two or three moments of three minutes - those moments when you have the key ideas - and that's the whole book. Everything else is just filling the gaps. Of course there are moments of fun, but there's a lot that's just work, sometimes hard, sometimes dull...

I have a quite clear sense of what I want from a book. I have a vision of the impact I want to make, and I suppose the writing process is about trying to achieve that. What I'm after is a gripping read, with stuff going on behind it. That's about as articulate as I get about my method.'

Sarah Waters, author of The Little Stranger in the Observer

'To succeed you need discipline.'

7 December 2013

'Books are my first love. I started reading seriously at seven or eight, books about myths and legends, the Narnia series... By the time I was 11, I had read all the children's books in my local library, so I moved on to Jane Eyre. What I loved about Jane Eyre was that she didn't rely on her looks but her character. She had a spirit nobody could break...

To succeed you need discipline. If, for example, you want to be a writer, you need to apply your bum to the chair, and get on with it. Everyone has ideas, but it's all about perseverance. I wrote about eight or nine books and had 82 rejections before I first got published, but there was no way I was ever going to give up...

I find it's important to revel in the arts. About four years ago, I had a serious case of writer's block. I thought my career was over. So I decided to do other creative things in the hope of getting my own creative juices flowing again. I had piano lessons, I went to art galleries, museums, the theatre. It worked. It got me back writing. I was very relieved.'

Malorie Blackman, author of Noble Conflict and many other books, and the Waterstones Children's Laureate for the UK in the Independent on Sunday



'The difference between a storyteller and a writer'

2 December 2013

'Proud? Frightened about the next book, actually, always frightened about the next book, If you've had 16 number ones in a row, you wonder if the next one will be. We can all think of a lot of authors who have died overnight. You see such big names disappearing and you think, 'That could be me'. There's always pressure. You sit down each day and say, 'this has to be better than anything I've done before', because these are real readers and they are sitting there waiting for it. The day the bookshop opens there will be half a million people round the world in straight away, and if I haven't delivered... well it is a horrific pressure.'

'I don't think a storyteller ever knows where he's going to or where it will end up. I know where Book Four will go, because I have written it, but the one after that I haven't got a blimming clue. Because if I know, then you'll know. If I don't know, how can you know? So I take the risk, and it is one hell of a risk, of never being more than three pages ahead. That's the difference between a storyteller and a writer, a writer probably has it all mapped out all the way through.'

Jeffrey Archer, whose latest bestseller is Best Kept Secret, in the Bookseller

'Every book is a different country.'

24 November 2013

'Work is the only interesting thing for me if I'm working out on the edge of the unknown. The immediacy of discovery, that's what's interesting to me. Every book is a different country. When I start my fourth, it will be as if I've never written a book before. I'll be completely at sea, and nothing I've ever done before in my life will help me at all.'

Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch, in the Sunday Times' Culture

'Nothing stops from this point onwards.'

18 November 2013

'Contrary to what some media outlets reported last week e-books haven't killed off any publishers: in fact in the main they have led to increased profit margins.

E-book growth has largely sustained trade publishers during the latter years of the big recession, and even if they do now, as some say, 'plateau', profit margins may continue to grow as publishers learn to better manage their inventories and working capital across the rest of their business.

Whatever the look of it, digital is more than just a growth curve. It is a complete re-wiring of the system. In this context the word 'plateau' is not inaccurate, but if it is taken to mean everything stops moving or that we are reaching a stable period, it is an unhelpful term. Nothing stops from this point onwards.'

Philip Jones, editor of the Bookseller, in Futurebook

'Don't ever imagine your mother reading your book.'

11 November 2013

Women should write from the heart, and because they can't not write. I don't think that there is a chick-lit formula: you come across some heroines like Bridget Jones, but mine tend to be bitches. Entertain yourself and don't ever imagine your mother reading your book.'

Adele Parks in The Times

'The nice thing about agenting...'

4 November 2013

'The nice thing about agenting is that you can carry on until you annoy everyone. I'm going to do it until I don't enjoy it. And I do enjoy it, not every single minute, but more than 90% of it. Even the negotiating is good fun up to a point. And that moment you get your authors' new manuscripts, and your heart is in your mouth because you want to be able to love it - that's still the most exciting part...

Publishers as people aren't risk averse, as corporations they are. Often editors would like to buy books that they aren't allowed to. . Years ago, if you wanted to move an author you could always find a publisher who would say "We can do better" - now you get that British builder's response: the sucking through the teeth, the shaking of the head. The thought is "If they can't sell him, how can we?" rather than, 'We can reinvent this author". So all the money goes to the big bestsellers, or debuts, because a debut author has never failed.'

Carole Blake agency Blake Friedmann in the Bookseller


Writing four books a year

27 October 2013

'When I'm working at full tilt, I average about 1,000 words an hour. I sit at the keyboard and it all comes out. It's an extraordinary thing, but I think it's because fiction is created by the unconscious mind, which is always exploring situations and possibilities. I suppose that's the thing I love about writing, what got me into it in the first place...

I first began writing in the 1980s, and initially it was children's books. It was only after the success of my first adult novel, The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, in the 1990s, that I quit law and started writing full-time. I've since written several sequels to that book; many others as well. On average I write about four books a year, and I'm told they have sold around 20-25m worldwide - it's hard to believe.'

Alexander McCall Smith, author of The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon in The Times



Look at the work in your hand

21 October 2013

I've met a lot of authors weighing their options, seen a ton of hands shoot up in panels hoping for that one last piece of advice to push them off the fence one way or the other. There's a path on both sides of that fence, and writers can see crowds beating the grass flat. They can see the books that lie along either way. My advice, for what it's worth, is to stop looking at those crowds and those books. Look at the work in your hand.

'I don't have very much sense of myself, I think I've lived other people's lives since I've started writing them. I really have lived those other lives more than my own life. That's been a terrific thing to do, actually.'

Claire Tomalin, author of Charles Dickens: A Life in the Evening Standard

A successful debut

14 October 2013

‘When that happened I thought it was the most natural thing in the world. I had no idea; I'd never written a book before. I wrote this book, someone said they would publish it. I always thought they would, I didn't know books got turned down. The one night they rang up and said, "You've sold it in America for $40,000." They said, "Are you sitting down?" I thought "You're being a bit overwrought, aren't you? What's to sit down about?" Then it was the prizes. It really seemed to be just what happened to you.' (His next book did not sell, or win any prizes.)...

‘I do overdo it, I do, I know. I'm not thinking when I'm writing, how's this going to be read? Or what percentage of the audience is going to stay with me? The thing itself is what gives me pleasure. Sometimes stuff just falls onto the page so beautifully and happily that it's deeply satisfying. It's selfish. I like shaped things. I like shape in things and I do over-shape things, it's true. I've got a big long list of stuff you're entitled to hate about my books.'

Jim Crace, whose Harvest is the favourite for this year's Booker, in the Evening Standard