Traditional Publishing

Save the children's – Wednesday January 25, 2023

Children’s publishing is in crisis and we need to take a stand for more thoughtful, challenging books.

I felt a jolt of righteous gratitude for the "Today" programme’s coverage last month of the declining attention paid by the media to children’s books and of the effects of the publishing industry’s focus on celebrity authors. How reassuring to hear the BBC acknowledge what many of my colleagues and I consider to be a genuine cultural crisis.

I represent authors who write for children and teenagers. And I think British children’s literature is under threat.

It’s already hard to make money as a writer (the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society Authors’ Earnings report makes this plain); it’s even harder for children’s writers. The recommended retail price of a children’s novel is rarely higher than £7.99; publishers sell the majority of children’s books to retailers at high retail discounts, earning authors decreased royalties. For most authors, advances have been stagnant for years; very few break the £20,000 ceiling, and most don’t get nearly that much. It is nearly impossible for writing children’s books to be a full-time career, particularly for authors who don’t already have the support of socioeconomic privilege.

[Read the full article]

Jack Kerouac’s Guide To Writing Spontaneous Prose – Sunday January 22, 2023

You too can be a writer. In 1962, Jack Kerouac (March 12, 1922–October 21, 1969) , the Beat Generation writer who tamed his fears by writing, assured subscribers to Writer’s Digest that “Writers are made, for anybody who isn’t illiterate can write”. He continued with a word to the wise that “geniuses of the writing art like Melville, Whitman or Thoreau are born.”

If Walter Pater (The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Literature, 1870) is right and “all art  constantly aspires towards the condition of music”, you might be interested in what composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky thought of it.  In a letter to his benefactress, Nadezhda von Meck on  March 17th, 1878 (from The Life & Letters of Pete Ilich Tchaikovsky), he wrote:

There is no doubt that even the greatest musical geniuses have sometimes worked without inspiration. This guest does not always respond to the first invitation. We must always work…

I have learnt to master myself, and I am glad I have not followed in the steps of some of my Russian colleagues, who have no self-confidence and are so impatient that at the least difficulty they are ready to throw up the sponge. This is why, in spite of great gifts, they accomplish so little, and that in an amateur way.

Discipline matters. You can adhere to Kerouac’s 39 Rules for Writing Prose – and this from the writer with the musical ear whose rhythmic and spontaneous stories and poems had “no form” because everything comes at you “in piecemeal bombardments, continuously, rat tat tatting the pure pictureless liquid of Mind essence.” Putting the fleeting and universal into a book is hard work. So, you can also study Kerouac’s Belief and Technique for Writing Modern Prose In 30 Bullet Points.

[Read the full article]

Diversity ‘box-ticking’ could cost us the next John Grisham, says top publisher – Saturday January 21, 2023

Diversity “box-ticking” could mean the next John Grisham or Dan Brown is lost, a leading publisher has warned.

Stephen Rubin, who has published more than 4,000 books, including 23 of Grisham’s novels and Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, told The Telegraph that  an “almost bizarre reliance on diversity and inclusion” threatens the future of books.

Mr Rubin, a consulting publisher for Simon & Schuster, who has been in the industry for four decades, said that writers are having “potentially wonderful books” rejected because of a preoccupation with being politically correct.

“The almost knee-jerk response to diversity and inclusion has ultimately – and ironically – made publishers less diverse,” he said.

“If you’re publishing mostly books by people of colour and people who are gay, then where’s the diversity?

[Read the full article]

George Saunders on how a slaughterhouse and some obscene poems shaped his writing – Sunday January 15, 2023

George Saunders is one of the most acclaimed fiction writers alive, but he didn't grow up wanting to be a writer. In fact, he didn't start seriously writing short stories until he was almost 30. So kids, if you want to end up winning a MacArthur Genius Grant and the Man Booker Prize, put down the notebooks filled with angsty poems and take off the turtleneck and go work in a slaughterhouse for a while.

[Read the full article]

Writing wrongs: how true crime authors can fall victim to tragedy – Saturday January 14, 2023

“Countdown to DEATH”, “MURDERED by my boyfriend”, “Falling for a KILLER” … the language of true crime lost its potential to shock long ago, yet we continue to be drawn in. High-profile cases, solved or unsolved, seem to provide a bottomless well of fresh evidence and further mystery. What drives so many of us to consume true crime is a need to understand the extremes of humanity from the safe distance of the page or headphone. But for those who write in this genre, a “safe distance” can be hard to find.

Michelle McNamara is the most recent, and most tragic example. In 2013 McNamara, a journalist and writer, took up the case of the Golden State Killer, a term she coined to bring together a series of murders committed over a wide area of California during the 1970s and 80s. She opened up a trail of cold cases, made links police had missed at the time and often felt herself close to uncovering who the prolific serial killer might have been.

[Read the full article]

My five New Year’s writing resolutions – Saturday January 14, 2023

As the word ‘resolution’ is everywhere these weeks, I looked up the meaning to see what all the fuss was about and this is what I found – ‘a firm decision to do or not to do something’. Sounds a bit Shakespearean to me. And also – ‘the act of solving a problem or finding a way to improve a difficult situation’. That sounds a bit more like it.

The difficult situation being the idea of coming up with some writing resolutions for the new year that I will actually stick to and not get bored of within a week.

[Read the full article]

On Writing A Mystery That Defies Rationality – Tuesday January 10, 2023

When I started writing my debut novel, Liar, Dreamer, Thief, I knew two things. First, I wanted a mystery to form the novel’s core. Second, it was important to me that at least some of the main revelations—which, in a mystery, often form touchstones for the character’s internal journey—not be entirely rational.

The urge for this probably came from not being able to relate to the average mystery protagonist: an intellectually brilliant, cool cucumber whose only weakness usually takes one of two forms: a chemical addiction, like House and his pain pills, or a personality too abrasive to form close relationships (save whoever the Watson stand-in is). Either way, a sleuth’s fatal flaws (I mean flaws as written, because both of these issues can actually destroy you as a human being) can’t impair their ability to make rational deductions, because in the mystery novel, reason—of both the deductive and inductive varieties—is king.

And while I’m sure there are real people out there who embody these traits, with my protagonist, I wanted to dig my teeth into someone messy, someone whose logic was flawed and whose emotional world was more important than their intellectual one. I also wanted a plot in which the engine forward sometimes escaped rational explanation—and where the whowhat, and how were only part of the reader’s experience.

[Read the full article]

AI is the end of writing – Tuesday January 10, 2023

The computers will soon be here to do it better

Unless you’ve been living under a snowdrift – with no mobile signal – for the past six months, you’ll have heard of the kerfuffle surrounding the new generations of artificial intelligence. Especially a voluble, dutiful, inexhaustible chatbot called ChatGPT, which has gone from zero users to several million in the two wild weeks since its inception.

Speculation about ChatGPT ranges from the curious, to the gloomy, to the seriously angry. Some have said it is the death of Google, because it is so good at providing answers to queries – from instant recipes comprising all the ingredients you have in your fridge right now (this is brilliant) to the definition of quantum physics in French (or Latin, or Armenian, or Punjabi, or – one memorable day for me – Sumerian).

Others go further and say ChatGPT and its inevitably smarter successors spell the instant death of traditional education. How can you send students home with essay assignments when, between puffs of quasi-legal weed, they can tell their laptop: ‘Hey, ChatGPT, write a good 1,000-word A-level essay comparing the themes of Fleabag and Macbeth’ – and two seconds later, voila? Teachers and lecturers, like a thousand other white-collar professions, are about to be impacted, in bewildering ways, by the thinking machines.

[Read the full article]

That’s Not Typing, It’s Writing: How T. S. Eliot Wrote “The Waste Land” – Monday January 9, 2023

When an interviewer said in 1959 that he’d heard that TS Eliot composed on the typewriter, he received a qualified reply. “Partly on the typewriter,” Eliot responded, and offered an insight into his recent play, The Elder Statesman, saying that it was initially produced in pencil on paper, before he transferred it to the machine. “In typing myself I make alterations,” he said, “very considerable ones.”

The early poems of the Prufrock years were mostly begun in manuscript and occasionally transferred to typescript (Conrad Aiken possessed a sheet produced by Eliot in splendid purple italic on a Blickensderfer). But for the poems of the “French” style—the Hogarth, Ovid and Knopf editions—and for the period of The Waste Land—a run of five years and perhaps sixteen poems—Eliot appears to have altered his approach.

In August 1916, he told Aiken that he was composing on the typewriter and enjoying lucidity and compression as a result. Most likely, he was thinking of his prose when he wrote this, but it may not be a coincidence that from that moment no draft manuscripts at all survive until the pages of The Waste Land in 1921. Some papers may have been written and destroyed in the act of transfer onto the machine, a moment which, to Eliot, marked the end of their practical value; but the condition of some initial typescripts—many in states of reasonably heavy revision—suggests that at this time Eliot was making his first drafts directly onto the typewriter.

[Read the full article]

How to navigate the closed world of publishing – Sunday January 1, 2023

Three hundred million self-published books are sold each year and as with any new booming industry there are people willing to help you navigate the once closed-off world of publishing.

The market is growing, $1.25 billion worth of self-published books are sold each year and the number of self-published books has increased 264% in the last five years.

I began my book writing process 17 months ago. I had no plan or concept of how my memoir would look, let alone the publishing process. I had an inkling that the world of publishing is complex and daunting – only slightly less arduous than the book editing process.

[Read the full article]

Page of 102 1