Saturday, March 26, 2011

York Talk 2011 - post 3

Excuse me - I've got that slightly zappy, sicky, headachey, hyper, caffeinated, jet lag thing going on, so may be a little less coherent than we all would wish.

After lunch (have I said how scrummy the food is here?) it was time for the next key note address: Carole Blake and Patrick Jansen-Smith, both of whom have worked for several decades on both sides of the publishing equation ie as both agents and publishers.  As such, they were able to provide unique insights into the roles of each and the relationships between them.

What is clear is that the level of an author's involvement in promoting their own book is far higher than it has ever been.  There is less paid advertising and a bigger emphasis on what can be done online, using social networking like Twitter, Facebook and ... er ... blogging.   In fact, though this may send a shiver down the spines of the more retiring types, there is a huge requirement for authors to become perfomance artists, even though this demands very different skills from those needed for writing.  Both speakers were clear that it's essential for there to be a collaboration between author, agent and publisher.  After all, they all have the same aim: to sell lots of books.

After all the years of working in the industry, it was heartening to hear Carole say that she has never lost her passion and enthusiasm for good writing.  The session was then thrown open to contributions and questions from the floor.

Foreign Rights

Ideally, there should always be a dialogue between author and translator.  Some books that seem quintessentially English have done surprisingly well in other countries.  It's impossible to second guess the market, however, so people shouldn't write a book with the foreign rights specifically in mind eg by having part of the action take place in another country (unless that's intrinsic to the story, of course).  Good characters = universal emotions, so apply across the globe.

The US is a particularly hard market to break into; it's bigger in every way and also less forgiving ie if you don't take off mega with your first book you are less likely to receive backing for subsequent novels.  (Some *ahem* might say that's also true for the UK.)

E Books and Digital Rights

They're confused.  Everyone's confused.  It's impossible to keep up with new developments and the constantly changing environment.  Publishers are anxious to hang onto digital rights and are looking at old contracts which didn't have the clauses that are now relevant.  The trade dubbed last Xmas as Kindle Xmas as so many people received blank Kindles as presents and there was then a rush immediately after Xmas to download e books.  In the US, 15% of some titles have been sold as e books.  The whole industry will be looking forward to the next 2 batches of royalty statements, which will reflect the impact in the UK. 

Piracy is a major concern and they still don't know how to deal with it.  Publishers are spending a fortune on research and development.  Meanwhile, Carole said that she's notified of a new pirated version of a book every day.  These can be tackled one by one, but it's impossible to keep track.  Pah. 


The problem with large advances (yes, there really is a problem) is that it's very hard for sales to match, and if they don't, the author has the stigma of having failed to sell out their advance by a large margin.  It's very common for subsequent advances to be much lower - or, worst case scenario, for the author to struggle to get a subsequent deal at all.  (*Ahem again* - nasty cough I've got there.)

The final word

After all that, I want to end on an up note, so I'll leave you with Carole's answer to a question re whether authors needing to 'perform' meant they only had a chance if they are young and beautiful.
'No,' said Carole.  'They just have to be interesting.'


Tony (wordCloud) said...

So old and balding's OK, interestingly. Nice one Debi, ta.

I'm loving following your Yorkie blogs - only just caught up with you. Really appreciate it. Don't forget to put you body clock on an hour tonight, will you?

Whisks said...

Interesting insight - particularly the confusion over eBooks - and also the need to be 'interesting' rather than photogenic! Hmm.

Sue Guiney said...

I so appreciate these detailed updates. I love hearing about the event and the talks. this one had lots of interesting stuff in it - all confirming what I already knew, alas. And about the performance thing -- the problem for me is not the performing. as you know, I'm enough of a ham to really enjoy it. but rather,the problem is the amount of time it takes to set the bloody things up, to get people to invite you, to organise them. for me, that's turned into a nearly full-time job!