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Thursday, 4 October 2012

The changing state of books - the Author today

The Author, Autumn 2012Here are just a few quotations from the Autumn edition of The Author, the journal of the Society of Authors (UK). All were extracts from stimulating articles about the state of the writing and publishing profession today. I can highly recommend the organisation and its journal. More information and how to join at
"Equally destructive is the trend towards pricing e-books at preposterously low levels, in an effort to increase sales of a given item tenfold. This strategem may work temporarily for a few books, but the long term effect will be to make all but the most sought after e-titles sell for peanuts (99p and less) and to reduce the overall revenues of authors and others in the industry dramatically."
Andrew Rosenheim

"By now there's hardly any point in submitting a novel if all you can say in its favour is that it is extremely well-written and has an utterly enthralling story. If the marketing department agrees it has those virtues but they still can't see it selling many copies, it's dead."
Malcolm Ross-MacDonald

"publishers have at last realised they must up their game in order to compete with the convenience of e-books. Go into any bookshop these days and you will see glittering tables full of sweeties. Books are now being better designed with better covers and paper, with innovative packaging. Books are becoming beautiful objects."
Tracy Chevalier

"The problem with companies such as ASI is the cynical way in which they exploit the naive aspirations of Sunday afternoon writers, encouraging them to believe that a vast readership is eagerly awaiting their book. As Author Solutions, 'now a member of the Penguin Group', helpfully explains on its website: 'Through our unique imprints, you can publish, promote, and sell your book around the globe, plus retain your rights and get in the market much faster than with a traditional publisher.' Easy Peasy!"
Liz Thompson

"There is no silver clock to be handed to you by the managing director, no pats on the back, no speeches. There are not even colleagues around to tell you that your time is up. Thousands of authors, all over the world, are working away right now without having noticed that they retired several years ago."
Terence Blacker

"Letters are often celebrated for their ability to capture an author's tone of voice, but to an even greater degree emails mimic the natural rhythms of speech and can result in a series of pithy exchanges that give a researcher or a biographer a picture of how their subject behaved in informal or unguarded moments."
Sophie Baldock (Archives in the electronic age)

"If you are not where you want to be with your career, think long. With increasing longevity, our productive lifespans now extend from 20 to 80 (at least), which provides six decades to accomplish something in a chosen genre, and plenty of time to make a mark if you've come late to writing.
The passing of time has a way of revealing truth. Writers, consider this radical idea: time is not the enemy, it is our friend."
Tom Butler-Bowdon


  1. Much doom and gloom. Makes me wonder why I do this. Wrote about the problem myself yesterday .

  2. Surprisingly I don't find this gloomy, just interesting as a snapshot of authors concerns right now.I couldn't find your link though Mary, could you post the link to the actual post rather than the abbreviated one - I'd like to read it.

  3. There are clearly many difficult issues to be resolved in modern publishing and it will take time to resolve them. But it's not nearly so gloomy for writers who for years have been completely at the mercy of agents and publishers. At least now there are more avenues to publish your writing, however flawed those avenues might be.

  4. Hi Derek, I've been across to your website and see that you are a Wars of the Roses fan. I like the premise of Feud. I quite agree about there being more avenues for writers to publish their books and that this is a good thing.

    We'll have to see how it pans out. In an ideal world every writer would reach their readers.

    And here is Mary's link - a very interesting article, well worth visiting.

  5. Throughout my life, I've found transitional periods both troubling and loaded with potential for growth. It seems to me this is true for our troubled publishing world. I take heart in the fact that we, the authors, are creating the future we want, whether we self-publish or seek traditional means. Am I an optimist? Absolutely.

  6. Hi Sue, I like the way you are writing to your great grandmother through your blog and linking the past to the present even though it seems it is gone. I like optimists! Yes, it is a fascinating time for book lovers and writers, and possibly one of the greatest changes in the written word since the printing press.

  7. These are interesting quotes that, I think, should be taken positively. As a comment above said, the publishing industry is changing to put power in the hands of the author - it's bad for publishers but good for writers. As long as they themselves are willing to treat their writing like a business. Ten years ago I wouldn't have dreamed of self-publishing because of the stigma that the publishing industry put on it. Not any more.

  8. Hi Phil, I like your writing blog and enjoyed the review of Middlemarch which I read when at school. The book made a deep impression on me then. One of the things I think that is valuable about the publishing industry is that it is more neutral than someone who decides to publish their own book. I have heard of few self-publishers who are willing to risk their own money on someone else's book for instance. This is why authors value publishers - because they are effectively saying "I enjoyed your book so much I am willing to put myself out to make sure it gets read at no cost to you. Not because I know you, not because you are my friend, but because the book itself has something that should be shared."
    I think authors value this validation, although of course eventually this sort of validation may come from readers if you publish it yourself.

    And you are right about treating it as a business.It is a business, but also writing is an art form, and I don't think we should ever lose sight of that. Aggressive marketing might sell lots of books in the short term, but how many of those books will stand the test of time like Middlemarch?

  9. Hi Deborah
    what a great collection of quotes. Like you I think it's a good snapshot of writers' concerns at the moment. For me the pleasure of finishing a well-crafted good story is why I write, but, of course, I also want to share my stories with strangers. When I finished my first novel two years ago I'd have loved a big reputable publisher to have seen the potential of the book and taken me on, but they didn't. So, I did consider self publishing and POD but oh my goodness what a lot of sharks there are out there, ready to take advantage of the fledgling authors' desperation to see their work in print. The more I looked into it, the more horror stories I heard and the more cautious. I am sure there are some good self/indie publishers out there but before I found them, my husband ( who used to be in education publishing) set up a small publishing company of his own and he published my first and now second novel due to be launched next month. The first book has had some considerable success and hopefully the second one will too. I think I am very lucky. And while "going it alone" and "having power in our/my own hands" is great, it comes with such a lot of responsibility - and what a lot of new marketing skills we writers need to quickly acquire if we are to do our own books justice in the cutthroat business of books . A great post and really interesting comments. Thanks again :)

  10. Congratulations Marianne on finding the right way to go for your books. I bet a few other folk wish they had a husband like yours - a publisher they can trust to have their interests at heart! The Blue Suitcase has had excellent reviews and obviously deserved to be more widely read. For the traditional big publishers I expect there is a bigger supply of good books than they can hope to publish and promote, so their reach is quite narrow. It is interesting to see how writers are beginning to find different models that work for them, and enable them to reach their readers.