There’s a new exhibition celebrating the work of Aldus Manutius, at the Grolier Club in Manhattan. It gathers a stack of books from Aldus’ press founded in 1494, in Venice. The NY Times has a fascinating article worth your time (along with a nice gallery of his fine old books).
writing & publishing
A little film about an uncool font – Times New Roman – which was designed for The Times in 1931.
News in the book industry has pretty much been dominated by the latest round of Amazon versus the world. Remember when Amazon took away Macmillan’s books from their website? This time it’s the huge publisher Hachette that they’re fighting.
Amazon has a contract dispute with Hachette; as a result, the retailer has taken away pre-order buttons from Hachette authors’ books, screwing the writers in an effort to drive an ever-harder bargain. (Just to be clear, no one really knows what the trade terms are.) The New York Times takes a look at the man fighting Amazon as if he’s a war hero. James Patterson chimes in with “Amazon also, as you know, wants to control bookselling, book buying, and even book publishing, and that is a national tragedy” – especially so for Patterson, who is a book industry in his own right.
Some good things: Tor.com has announced that it is supporting those authors who are affected by the trade negotiations – a fine gesture of community spirit. Other booksellers have been announcing massive discounts on those affected titles, to tempt people away from Amazon. (From Amazon to Walmart!) But now, after a few weeks of all of this, Amazon is re-stocking certain titles, so maybe it will all end soon until it starts up with another publisher.
One wonders just how much Amazon have to do before people stop buying from them, but I guess it’s difficult when they’ve killed most of the competition. I think that’s what they call the free market, right?
It’s a genre-tastic epsiode of the BBC Radio 4 programme, Open Book, but this one features good friend Anne Perry (editor extraordinaire and joint blogger at Pornokitsch). She’s just won a fancy award. Anne is interviewed at about 18 minutes in, where she talks about publishing and all things SFF – but also how talking about books online has changed in recent years.
Michael Kozlowski at ‘Good E Reader’ says plenty of ridiculous things based around the theme that he thinks female authors depend too much on their husbands, to enable them to have a writing career.
There is no denying that the vast majority of self-published bestsellers on Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Smashwords are by women. Romance and Erotica have been some of the top selling worldwide titles over the last five years. According to Author Earnings 59% of all Romance books are published by women, is there a reason for this? They simply are in better positions to be able to write and not worry about having to work a job. It is no small wonder that Sylvia Day and Stephenie Meyer managed to make a tremendously successful career from writing.
I can’t be sure if he started from a position of meaning well, or was trolling for hits, but it spirals into deep sexism. Forgetting simple gender binary for now, that he’s ignorant of the number of women who propped up their husband’s writing career by working hard as well as keeping the household in order is ridiculous. It’s classic blindness. And quite rightly, a huge number of these husbands, who have been allowed to write because of their wives, jump in on the comments to tell Kozlowski some truths. It’s worth reading some of the replies.
I was rustling around for some old paperwork the other day when I came across a printed email dated from June 2004. It was from my agent, John Jarrold, saying that he’d read and loved my submission, and he’d like to represent me. My first thought was to smile at remembering my excitement at having an agent. I remember reading this on my terrible desktop computer in a rented room that was little short of a garret, and doing a stupid dance.
Then the other thing hit me: June 2004.
Next month, it’ll mark a whole decade of having an agent, though I’d been writing for a little while before that date. That means writing has taken up over a decade of my life – an hour a day, almost every day. I had a couple of failed novels before I finally signed a publication deal sometime in 2007, when I was 26; and that book, Nights of Villjamur, wasn’t published until 2009. I’ve been lucky enough to have a wonderful editor and great publishing team that has allowed me to keep writing ever since then.
Have things changed much in that decade? Well, writing is less special for me than at the start. It doesn’t mean I don’t love or hate it any more or less, but that there’s a certain good feeling about the prize being simply to get published. But then what? What’s the ambition after that? To get good reviews? To win things? To sell lots? To get a movie deal? It doesn’t matter which of those a writer really achieves, they’ll probably always want something else next and be miserable with their lot. Anyway, for the most part, those aims are out of your control. All you can do is roll up to the next book, with the next deadline in sight, and try something else. Improve on your failures. And try again.
Over the ten years, I’ve learned not to compete with other writers, even though it feels that you are at first. Another author’s success does not eat into your own, but rather good books keep people reading, and create a vibrant community and marketplace (the latter is important because it props up the community).
I’ve also learned to ignore any doomsayers. Publishing has been dead or dying since I was sending my first book out on submission, and things seem to be doing just fine. The Internet hasn’t killed books, but supported their sales. Ebooks are just another format, and are helping publishers make money and bringing back out-of-print books. The most sobering point of all, though, is that the thing that probably matters most about an author’s career? Having a good book cover.
I’ve learned that getting a bad review makes no difference to anything – in fact, if there’s a picture of your cover and a bit of a blurb, it’s all to the good. The best thing is to get a mixture of love and hate, because then the book is talked about more. (I get that it’s difficult to cope with this, because writers are, by nature, reflective souls in order to get the best out of their art, which exposes them to the slings and arrows of online reviewing.) I’ve learned I’m of the PD James school of writing, in that I’ll never give up the day job. Writing is more liberating when it is my hobby, without financial stress, as the thing I do to unpack ideas or unwind. Plus, when I’m interacting with other people at work, I’m brushing up against little stories that I can store away. That wouldn’t happen if I sat on my own in a room sighing all day.
What about SFF fandom? I can only really speak of online fandom, which has been very kind to me early on in my career. The digital community is larger by a long way, but it has settled into a wide array niches, meaning it is difficult for any one person, or one author, to make an impact. Generally I’ve noticed that these communities have many recycled debates about good book covers and awards debacles etc, which is to be expected with newer people coming into and poking an established fandom. Also the vitriolic arguments people have online are nothing unique to the genre. By that I mean the genre is not self-imploding under angry froth, it’s just what people do on the Internet. Twitter has only served to speed up each incident. However, I have noticed a wonderfully progressive trend over the past five years especially. I’ve never known any genre to be so utterly aware of race and gender equality in fiction, and of consciously trying to improve things. That’s a pretty good place to be.
So what next? Well, I’m still writing. Maybe for another decade, who knows? At the moment, I’m working on the draft of another Drakenfeld novel, but there are more ideas in my head (in all honestly, I’ll probably keep doing this for as long as someone lets me do it). I’ve the paperback of Drakenfeld out in July, and – I think! – a Drakenfeld short story being published in August. Then Retribution, the second Drakenfeld novel, in October. That’s a healthy place to be.
Am I happy with writing, though? Never ask a writer that.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog series about my road to publication. If you’re interested, here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. A little of the content is cringeworthy, but new writers just love giving advice – as I proved!
Kurt Vonnegut on how to write a good short story. I think a lot of this could apply for longer stories, too. (With some weird older pictures of him, too.)
It’s been a while since I’ve highlighted some literary links that have caught my eye recently. First up, there’s a big decline in male readers:
McNab, who served in the SAS before turning bestselling author with Bravo Two Zero, was responding to a new study for the Reading Agency conducted by by OnePoll, which found that 63% of men admit they don’t read as much as they think they should. Almost 30% of men went so far as to admit to researchers that they hadn’t really picked up a book since they were forced to read at school.
Not to take anything away from the point, but I remember from my time as a bookseller over a decade ago that the lack of male readers was a big concern even then. I’m not sure anything has changed, or that things are even worse. I mean, could consider myself one of the 63% that wished they could read more – my reading pile is getting obscene.
In response to this, the Telegraph publishes 10 books to get men reading. A curious collection, at best. As a former bookseller, I’d shove them into the crime and thriller section as a good place to start – largely because many of those books are designed specifically to engage and keep the pages turning. That’s ideal for people who don’t read much.
Speaking of which, world’s best-selling author James Patterson spills the beans on how to write an unputdownable story.
Finally, Juliet McKenna has some thoughtful things to say over at the Guardian about the literary potential of Science Fiction and Fantasy.