The SoA's quarterly journal
Not all of us need up sticks and migrate to digital but we should probably explore the space around us in an industriously ant-like way.
James McConnachie, Editor
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Writing for The Author
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Our President, Philip Pullman, recently likened the attitude of large corporate interests to creators’ rights as being ‘roughly that of the steamroller to the ant’. The analogy works from both perspectives. From the ant’s point of view, it’s going to get crushed no matter where it runs. From the steamroller-driver’s, it isn’t that she’s hell-bent on destroying formicidae, it’s more that the machine is so big and unwieldy. Besides, the ant can always go and find another road and another steamroller. It’s a free market.
As our Chief Executive, Nicola Solomon, has emphasised, the underlying point is that the steamroller needs the ant. Unless publishers treat their authors more equitably’, she warns, ‘the decline in the number of full-time writers could have serious implications for the breadth and quality of content that drives the economic success and cultural reputation of our creative industries in the UK.’ As our outgoing Chair, Daniel Hahn, commented, ‘We mustn’t allow ourselves to drift into a situation where only the already-wealthy can afford to be writers’. (Virginia Woolf managed on £400 a year in dividends, but not everyone has family money.) And as our incoming Chair, William Horwood, noted in his recent blog for the Society, ‘the battle is never done. Someone, somewhere, will seek to exploit us or abuse our copyrights or make us forget that without us and our work there are no books, or plays, no poems or histories, no educational texts or obscure creations that give wonder and delight.’
Solomon recently held talks with the Publisher’ Association and Independent Publishers Guild, and the Society is working closely with writers’ groups in the UK and internationally. But what can the poor pismires do? Well apart from size the other thing about ants is that they are busy – and the underlying theme in this spring issue of The Author is about authors taking action. Simon Brett riffs on the theme in his wry meditation on what it is that non-writers think writers actually do. Jill Dawson takes us on writers’ school visits. David Belbin exemplifies the active author, meanwhile: his article describes how he led Nottingham’s recent bid to become an official UNESCO World City of Literature.
Few authors will try to emulate that success but, elsewhere in this issue, we emphasise what authors can do, in the most practical terms. Hachette Brand Development Director Damian Horner advises us on how we can actively manage ourselves as brands. PR expert and author Dan Tyte suggests ways in which we can be our own best publicist. Nicola Solomon offers legal notes on managing rights in characters. And in what I think is a fascinating and salutary article, Alexandra Strick urges all authors to better represent disability in their books.
Part of The Author’s mission must be to shift our ant-like authorial perspective, so two further articles offer views of and from the world of publishing. Christopher Barnatt wonders where print-on-demand might one day take us while Charles Boyle of CB Editions makes the surprising argument that publishing has never been in a better place than it is now.
Another of The Author’s tasks is to offer visions of how writers can flourish in the future. So David Varela outlines the attractions of interactive fiction, and how he has built a new career in what is called the ‘digital space’. Justina Hart describes how she successfully created an online writing course. And Naomi Alderman offers the first in a mini-series in which she selects examples of excellence from new kinds of writing that wouldn’t have existed in the pre-digital world. The series will run over the next few issues. She is calling it ‘My digital crush’; you might also think of it as ‘desert island digital’.
The other thing about ants, of course, is that they have managed to occupy an astounding range of evolutionary niches, from desert islands to southern Alaska. (There are still no ants in the polar regions, apparently, but ‘tramp ants’ have successfully set up homes in even the most remote Pacific archipelagos.) Not all of us need up sticks and migrate to digital but we should probably explore the space around us in an industriously ant-like way.
Never Better Charles Boyle
Where publishing might be headed Christopher Barnatt
The attraction of interaction David Varela
My digital crush Naomi Alderman
At Robert Fergusson’s grave Andrew Greig
Disability in children’s books Alexandra Strick
Nottingham: city of words David Belbin
What do authors actually do? Simon Brett
Writers at Work
Manage your own author brand Damian Horner
Letter from Spain Stephen Burgen
DIY PR Dan Tyte
Rights in characters Nicola Solomon
The angel in the marble David Williams
Running an online writing course Justina Hart
Review of The Prose Factory James McConnachie
Grub Street Andrew Taylor
To the Editor
About The Author
The Author is an invaluable source of information, news and opinion for authors as well as for publishers, literary agents and other professionals working in the book industry. It has a circulation of approximately 9,500. Members receive The Author free of charge.
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