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"As a Christmas special, we are celebrating the work of the book-cover designer." James McConnachie, Editor
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Can't wait for your Winter issue to drop through the letterbox? Here is a taster of what's to come: strong views from Terence Blacker's Endpaper.
(Members only: Judging by the cover - Katie Roden)
From the Editor
This Winter issue of The Author seems to expose a series of splits between authors. And the cracks all lead back to one central fracture: we are divided on how we respond to the threats and opportunities presented by technology. On the one hand, Daniel Blythe urges writers of Young Adult fiction to keep up with technology – not so much ‘don’t let a mobile ruin your novel’ as ‘don’t let the misuse of it spoil your plots’. On the other, Adrian West ponders an apocalyptic future in which the machines take over, and Jim Green writes in praise of the slow, meditative use of old microfilm readers.
Another split derives from a question that troubles every author from time to time, if not constantly: how actively should we promote our own work? Our columnist, Terence Blacker, takes a strong line here. Forget needily cultivating audiences, he growls; writers should ‘keep our heads down’ and concentrate on simply writing ‘our few hundred words a day’. Kristen Harrison, The Author’s own digital agony aunt, advises the opposite course of action. If you want readers to find your work, she says, you need to put yourself about a bit – in articles, blogs, comments and guest posts.
Yet another fracture emerges from the issue of copyright. Authors want to defend our work against piracy, of course. Yet we also value free speech and the right to make creative use of our sources. Monica Horten, a lawyer, anatomises how authors are often divided within ourselves on such issues. Catherine Butler, meanwhile, attempts to knit together what is sometimes – wrongly – seen as separate: ‘serious’ literature, and literature for children.
But the split that dominates debate, these days, concerns Amazon. In one camp, you have what you might call the Amazonians. The narrow gate to the blissful state of being published has been bypassed, they believe, by the online superhighway, leaving an electric, unmediated relationship between writer and reader – and a royalty rate three or five times higher than a publisher might offer. If ‘content is king’, they cry, the content-makers will rule.
Their opponents warn that if you kill off the gatekeepers you invite the flood. Real books by real professionals will drown, they fear, in a torrent of hobbyist publications, hackwork and bottom-drawer stuff, while bookshops are destroyed and books themselves devalued. And they decry Amazon for feeding, leech-like, on the lifeblood of literature, and for demanding an ever bigger cut while giving nothing back. That handsome-looking royalty rate turns shoddy, they say, on closer inspection. Amazon does precious little to earn any royalty share, while publishers have a host of costs, from printing and warehousing to advances and publicity (sometimes), design, editorial and rights management.
Presenting such a polarised version of the debate is artificial, of course, It also masks a hugely positive outcome for authors, which is that, increasingly, we have choices. Those writers from whom publishers have withdrawn their support – whether by dropping them altogether or by offering unsurvivable terms – have found a lifeline in Amazon. So have writers of genre fiction. Others may follow. And publishers will remain our partners. They continue to invest in books, and sometimes authors, rather than merely extracting value from distribution. And they share many of our values. Unlike Amazon, publishers are engaged with the wider book world, whether that means marketing and reviewing, festivals and prizes, or lobbying and campaigning.
Publishers also remain committed to turning our books into physical objects, sometimes of great beauty. As a Christmas special, we are celebrating the work of the book-cover designer. Industry expert, Katie Roden, guides us through the principles and the best practice. And we have handed over our own cover to Jon Gray, who, as gray318, is one of the most admired designers in the business. His design puts a humorous spin on another theme of this Winter issue, one that surely unites us all: the travails of the writer.
The travails of the writer
- If I had £10 million Michael Bhaskar
- What she promises - a poem by Kevin Crossley-Holland
- Taking children's literature seriously Catherine Butler
- Copyright vs free speech Monica Horten
- The machine as translator - and writer Adrian West
- The company of strangers John Harrison
- Science as art Stanley Salmons
- Judging by the cover Katie Roden (login to view)
- Technology and the Young Adult writer Daniel Blythe
- The acknowledgements page Matt Greene
- Puffing poets Peter Mortimer
- Where do you get your ideas? David Williams
- Going slow Jim Read
- How to be a public author - a review by Mark McCrum
- The digital agony aunt Kristen Harrison
- Grub Street Andrew Taylor
- Out and About: the SoA in Manchester Emma Jane Unsworth
- Endpaper Terence Blacker
About The Author
The Author is an invaluable source of information, news and opinion for Members and Associates as well as for publishers, literary agents and other professionals working in the book industry. It has a circulation of approximately 9,200. Members and Associates receive The Author free of charge.
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