Society of Authors
June 14, 2012 , 0
Promotion of my most recent novel goes on. The ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum arranged a session in Waterstones bookshop on Tuesday this week, where I was in conversation with Dr Shawn Harmon, a lawyer and research fellow at Edinburgh University.
The Forum’s Director said: “As life sciences develop, novel medical approaches to treating disease – including the role of so called ‘saviour siblings’ – are becoming increasingly viable. However, these potentially bring with them significant ethical issues, and also raise questions about how we regulate the practitioners applying such technologies.” Indeed. They are keen to facilitate discussion about these issues – just as I am – so they’ve been running a programme of ‘Social Sessions’ allowing the public to debate with writers. My event was the latest in this series.
We used my fictional characters to bring the topic alive, and to my relief, Shawn wasn’t nearly as intimidating as his weighty CV would suggest. Phew! Great venue, lively audience, good wine (strictly for after the event in my case!), and thought-provoking issues. But you’d need to ask the audience for a dispassionate opinion – the person quivering in the author’s chair has a decidedly one-sided perspective. And my reaction is always the same: I can think of a much cleverer and more coherent answer the following day! Somehow in the hot seat the grey cells aren’t quite as lively, nor the tongue as eloquent. Hey ho. There’s a video of the interview posted by the Forum on Youtube if you’re interested.
OK, so Saving Sebastian is safely out there, but whither next? At this precise moment I could do with a fairy godmother to wave a wand and show me the future. Or a clairvoyant to tell me the consequences of decisions at this stage.
Because ‘the world of books is undergoing its most dramatic change since Gutenberg printed his 42-line bible in Mainz in 1455,‘ as Andrew Franklin, founder and managing director of Profile Books, said in his inaugural address as visiting professor at City University. Book prices are falling, physical books sales are diminishing, globalisation and technological change make it increasingly difficult for non-celebrity authors to find a profitable niche. ‘The rich get richer and everyone else suffers.’
Now, money is not my driving force. I want to write; I still have things to say. I’ve now published seven novels with established publishers. So where do I go with novel number 8?
Self-publishing? Franklin’s take on this is: ‘For a tiny number of writers this works, but then for a tiny number of players the lottery works too.‘ Ouch.
Digital books? The Society of Authors has actively encouraged this route. But will it require shameless self-promotion (yuck!) and rock-bottom pricing to become visible in this huge mountain of unregulated publications, where spam, plagiarism and computer-generated books lurk amidst the results of honest toil and careful scholarship? Would my own little offering simply sink without trace?
Open Access? From this safe distance I can sincerely applaud the democratic principle of free-to-the-reader books. But nothing is really free. Who exactly is paying the price for this principle? Would it be me? Or worse, would I be harming other writers struggling to make ends meet whose books are in competition with the free ones? And anyway, is it simply vanity publishing cloaked in a respectable altruistic disguise?
Franklin’s conclusion is double-edged: ‘Sadly, the book world is becoming a free market winner-takes-all world where success is over-rewarded and there is only tough love for the rest. This is a time of change rather than the End of Days. The publishing industry constantly reinvents itself and we are on the cusp of one of those revolutions. On the barricades, some comrades may be lost – authorship as a profitable profession may not be recognisable in its present form of author, computer and desk. After all, the invention of the printing press ended the specialised, highly skilled and utterly beautiful art of manuscript illuminations.’
Question is, would I be one of those conrades lost on the barricades? Which is where my friendly neighbourhood fairy godmother and clairvoyant come in.
altruism, Andrew Franklin, digtal publishing, ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, globalisation, open access publishing, Profile Books, Shawn Harmon, Society of Authors, technological advances, Waterstone’s, Youtube
March 15, 2012 , 0
I’m deep into my next novel at the moment so my mind is rather preoccupied. I’ve been experimenting with several different narrative voices, but the current one seems to hit the spot. The prose is flowing more smoothly; indeed I’m having to get up in the night to commit the torrent of thoughts and words to the computer. It’s a good feeling.
But the better the fictional life goes the harder it is to psyche myself back into the real world. A good time perhaps to share a few more assorted gems gleaned from my catch-up of literary journals during the winter months. Today’s snippets come from Mslexia (‘a journal for women who write’) and The Author (the official publication of The Society of Authors). In no particular order …
On writing and living
Katherine McMahon, novelist: ‘When I was talking to biographer Hilary Spurling about writing, she said unequivocally: “If someone asks me whether they should become a writer, I always say: not if you can do anything else.” After all writers are by their very nature outsiders, watchers, not only of others but of themselves. There’s a touch of dysjuncture between living and writing … To be a writer is to contemplate one’s humanity in all shades from brilliance to murk. Living and writing: a dangerous, exciting, compelling combination.‘
Me: And satisfying and disturbing, and grounding and exhilarating, and zapping and invigorating.
On the definition of a writer?
Robert Hull, children’s poet: ‘The question pops up each time The Author arrives. To be able to say “I published a book last week” or “I’ve a collection/novel coming out next month,” would be a good answer: “Yes, of course you’re an author.” Whereas (to anticipate) to say in 2016 that “I published a book in 2011″ wouldn’t persuade anyone. In that five years my claim to authordom will have faded. …
But perhaps, if I’ve not published anything for a while, and am not likely to, I can still be a ‘writer’. After all many, many people are ‘writers’. They emerge from Creative Writing degree courses in their hundreds …
Evidently the noun is a problem. The verb makes less of a claim. “I’m a writer” says that existentially that’s what I “am”. But “I write” is both more modest and more accurate. Writing is one of the things I do. I also ride a bike, go to Greece when possible, do a bit in the garden, cook occasionally. I’m not thereby a biker or a gardener or a traveller or a cook. The verb fits, but the noun surrounds one with a kind of aura, intimating that the activity is all-consuming; it defines one. Which it can do legitimately only if it is all-consuming.
It is in a sense all-consuming to have to earn one’s living by an activity. “I’m a bus-driver,” sounds right; it can hardly mean that I occasionally drive a bus, when I’m in the mood or can afford it. Nor can I be a nuclear physicist at weekends. Not without making the neighbours nervous.
I do not need to be “a writer”. I can focus on the verb, on writing. I can make a psychological retreat from clinging to authordom to finding satisfaction in writing … ‘
Me: A comforting answer to a perennial question.
On the benefits of writing
Linda Kelsey, confessional writer: ‘Sometimes I feel I don’t know my true feelings about anything until I write it all down. Only in the process of writing, it seems, do I get to the emotional core.‘
Me: That’s been one of the unexpected benefits for me of writing a blog. Helps me analyse issues and marshall my thoughts more carefully and succinctly than I otherwise would.
On the process of writing fiction
Susan Hill, journalist, broadcaster, publisher, author: ‘Fiction is about putting yourself into someone else’s shoes and walking around to see how they feel.’
Me: Indeedy. Reminds me of the Indian proverb: Judge no man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.
On the reason for writing fiction
Gillian Slovo, author, journalist, playwright: ‘… fiction can go places that nonfiction cannot go, because it can inhabit the field in a full-hearted way.’
Me: My sentiments exactly. I’m currently totally inhabiting the world of a family torn in two by a terrible car crash. Steer well clear!
On fictional characters
William Nicholson, screenwriter,playwright, novelist: ‘I want to read about and write about people the author loves. For me, the greatness of the novel form is about going into the hearts and minds of people.‘
Me: Mmhm. Me too. If the author doesn’t engage with them, why should I?
On excellent literary blogs
Amanda Craig, novelist, journalist and broadcaster: ‘I’d recommend … Cornflower for intelligent, non-metropolitan fiction reviews (cornflower.typepad.com) – and best of all, Lynne Hatwell for thoughtful, knowledgeable, kindly reviews and musings on Devon life (dovegreyreader.typepad.com): a model to which I think all blogs should aspire.’
Me: Hear, hear. Two of my favourites, too.
On promoting one’s books
Joan Smith, novelist, essayist, columnist and campaigner for human rights: ‘The entry of showbiz values into the business of authorship means that some publishers are looking for “personalities”, larger-than-life characters they know how to promote, as much as writers with original talent … Increasingly, novelists need to be able to sell themselves as well as their books, a demand that works against anyone who is reticent by nature.’
Me: Tough on those who’ve been breastfed on modesty and humility too.
On connecting with the reader
Andrew Taylor, novelist: ‘… despite all the evidence we provide to the contrary, the myth persists that authors rather than their books are somehow strangely fascinating and even touched with a sort of moral authority … through our books, authors have an indefinable but undeniable connection with the minds of their readers that gives us a curious status in our culture.‘
Me: I once gave a lift to a woman who, in the course of our journey, asked what I did. When I told her, she stared at me in open-mouthed wonder and murmured, ‘I’ve never sat next to someone who wrote books before.’ Nothing I could say would diminish her awe.
On meeting a favourite author
Margaret Atwood, poet, novelist, essayist, literary critic: ‘If you like paté, don’t bother meeting the duck.’
Me: I used that quote at my book launch a couple of weeks ago. And I hope it leaves you smiling today.
Amanda Craig, Andrew Taylor, Cornflower, Dovegreyreader, Gillian Slovo, Hilary Spurling, Joan Smith, Katherine McMahon, Linda Kelsey, Margaret Atwood, Mslexia, Robert Hull, Society of Authors, Susan Hill, The Author, William Nicholson
October 13, 2011 , 2
When I first mooted the idea of writing a regular blog, a couple of my potential readers told me they’d like to hear about the experiences of a writer. How I get out of blocks; why I make the choices I do; how I know when the book is finished. That kind of thing.
So it’s in this spirit that I thought I’d tell you about my main preoccupation this week. Converting my back-list into ebooks.
I’m indebted to the Society of Authors, and to Lin Anderson, for giving me the courage to tackle this task myself. You can pay other people to do it for you, but I’d be back to the old tension of accommodating other people’s timetables and standards then. The very things I’m trying to get away from. OK, so there’s a downside: I’ll only have myself to blame if it goes pear-shaped. But until experience proves me wrong, I think that’s the lesser evil.
First step then: check my contracts. Carefully. Do I have the right to go ahead on my own? I can see no problem with four of the books; a possible question mark over three. And the Society of Authors confirms my assessment. So I start with three that are definitely in my control: the ones published in 2005 by Radcliffe Press.
I have the files for these, so the raw material is in my hands. But, since they were written, I’ve come a long way in learning the art of writing. Thanks to my editor, Jennie Renton, I can see instantly how to tighten up the text, and improve the books. I’m appalled at the number of times I used the words ‘just‘, and ‘well.’ And how did I not notice the litter of ellipses? So my first task is to edit – enough to make them better without changing them out of all recognition. Seven years on it’s much easier to see their faults, and much less painful to chop them.
Next I have to remove all the formatting. Once the text is clean I can then apply instructions to convert them into ebook formatting. I want the books to be compatible with different e-readers so I bear that in mind with the choice of fonts and layouts. But it’s not like using Word; you can’t just click on the toolbars. Things like chapter numbers, special layouts, and first lines all need their own set of instructions. Reminds me of the olden days with mainframe computers. Chug, chug, chug. But I’m soon creating customised styles with gay abandon. And surprise, surprise, really enjoying myself. Much, much less stressful than relying on others to do it instead. When they can find time. If.
So far so good. On to the rather more tedious but necessary end-pages stuff. Because I still want to acknowledge the lovely people who made it all possible in the first place. And I do want folk to use the material on my website to augment the books. And to know what else I’ve written.
Ahhahh! An unexpected bonus. I now have a chance to change those unattractive covers. I decide for the purposes of continuity, though, to stick with the picture part in the first editions, and simply clean up the text. Lots of the titles on my Kindle don’t have covers at all, but they do feel rather like books that’ve been mangled by some literary philistine.
And here I had a special moment because I saw all six books lined up side by side for the very first time. Sad I know, but it gave me quite a thrill.
So, are we ready to roll? With DJ’s help I go to Smashwords and … hmm, much of this next bit of the process remains a mystery to me but thanks to his know-how and patience we have together created my very first ebook! Vacant Possession. The other two should follow in the next couple of days. And all be available to anyone next week.
I’m feeling quite shell shocked. It actually worked. I am a new age author!