Talking points in Arts Council England’s ‘conversation’ – what we’ve said so far

05 April 2018 Talking

The Society of Authors has responded to Arts Council England’s ‘conversation’ about its plans for the next ten years. This is the first stage of ACE’s consultation on its future strategy, with a more formal call for evidence due later this year.

In our response to the conversation, we have highlighted authors’ falling incomes, funding for libraries, technology and digital disruption, support for freelance workers, literacy, diversity, and Brexit, as some of the main threats and opportunities for the sector.

We also stressed the wider benefits of the arts, bookshops, museums and libraries, not just for the economy but in fostering a more empathetic, imaginative and creative society.

We welcome Canelo’s report for Arts Council England ‘Literature in the 21st Century: Understanding Models of Support for Literary Fiction’, and ACE’s subsequent document ‘Models of Support for Literary Fiction’. Many of its points and proposals for action apply equally to all genres and types of writers, illustrators, translators, poets, scriptwriters and other authors.

We have highlighted the following areas where we believe Arts Council England could offer more support.

Grants for works in progress

Writing requires immense time and energy, often for little financial reward.

We need to encourage diversity in the industry, and there is a danger that authors from less privileged backgrounds will be put off writing. Grants for works in progress, such as our own Authors’ Foundation grants, provide a welcome boost. We welcome Arts Council England’s commitment to providing more ‘time to write’ funds for literature and we urge ACE to support a wide range of projects - from poetry and literature to podcasts, performance and plays.

We welcome Arts Council England’s commitment to examine ‘the possibility of a new funding programme aimed at supporting individuals to develop their creative practice without the requirement to describe the public outcomes of their work’ – an important acknowledgement that much literature is written for reading, not performance.

Digital opportunities

SoA members are working on many new and exciting ventures based around emerging technologies.

Writing for games hardly existed as a profession 10 years ago and it is impossible to predict what form developments will take in the area over the next decade.

Grants for arts and culture programmes must be open to and supportive of applications from writers, publishers and producers focusing on a whole range of new and evolving types of creative media. Strategic funds should be made available to support literature organisations in the development of new methods of delivery and business models that take advantage of digital technologies.

Skills training

Most writers are self-employed freelance workers, so it is vital that skills training and professional development opportunities are available for self-employed and micro businesses, not just employees.

This could include mentoring projects, as well as training in digital skills and industry developments. One way to reach this almost invisible workforce is through professional organisations and trade unions such as the Society of Authors, which offer their members access to training and updates. Emerging authors often have little expertise in business and marketing skills, so it is important that training is provided in these areas as well.

Mentoring schemes

Writing can be lonely and getting started can be difficult. ACE should support mentoring schemes which help emerging writers with both the creative and business aspects of their craft.

By paying both mentors and mentees ACE can assist a wide range of entrants to writing while supporting mid-list or mid-career authors.

Funding for prizes

As Canelo’s report for Arts Council England identified, ‘large prizes have become even more important to literary fiction’.

Determined by expert judges, prizes are an important mark of quality in literature. They boost authors’ earnings through prize money and increased sales, and enhance overall discoverability.  Prizes provide a focus for literary events, for example the readings from shortlisted authors held at the Southbank Centre for various prizes in recent years, and they can be used to celebrate diversity and promote under-represented groups in literature.

The Society of Authors is launching a new prize for debut novelists over the age of 60, in recognition of the fact that many people turn to writing only after having other careers.

Supporting small and innovative publishers and producers

The Canelo report highlights the recent proliferation of bold and innovative small fiction presses, and makes the case for Arts Council England increasing its support for them.

Where corporate publishers are less able to take risks on new authors or support midlist authors over the course of their careers, independents are sometimes more prepared to take on these risks. We welcome ACE’s proposed actions to support independent publishers:

  • to broaden and strengthen the Arts Council’s support for independent publishers over the 2018-22 investment round, especially using the new Arts Council National Lottery Project Grants. 
  • in the wake of the successful extension of creative industry tax reliefs to include theatre, orchestras and exhibitions, Arts Council England should open discussions with Government about the introduction of a tax relief for small publishers.

Supporting authors to make school visits

At a time when the number of public libraries is dwindling, it is more important than ever that children hear from established fiction and non-fiction writers, poets, scriptwriters, illustrators and translators in order to encourage reading and inspire the next generation of creators. We must ensure that writers from a diverse range of backgrounds visit schools so that children can see people like themselves as creators.

Supporting literary festivals and other performance

Writers can struggle to have their work discovered or to find audiences, and festivals are key to engaging and building relationships with new and potential readers and fans.

In some genres, such as spoken word poetry, authors may be dependent on performance for much of their income. It is therefore vital that the Arts Council supports festivals and performance venues, with the key proviso that they are venues where authors and performers are properly paid for their appearance.

Supporting bookshops

As Arts Council England’s document Models of Support for Literary Fiction stresses, ‘bookshops are not simply commercial businesses.

They function as curators, reviewers and event spaces, and play a key role in communities’ cultural lives, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas, developing an appetite for reading. We also know that many are under significant threat.’

We fully support ACE’s goal to undertake further advocacy with local and national government to support independent bookshops and maintain their important development and support role for readers and communities.

Supporting libraries

Libraries play a pivotal role in creating readers and sharing knowledge for people from all backgrounds.

Even in an age when we consume more online, it is vital that these physical spaces are preserved, engendering a sense of shared experience and collective learning. We strongly oppose the closure of public libraries or a reduction in their opening hours, and we believe the Government should increase and ring-fence funding. In its role as the national development agency for libraries, Arts Council England must do more to highlight the importance of libraries and to secure funding for their core activities, as well as performance and other events.

We will be making a much more detailed submission when the formal consultation stage opens later this year, and we are keen to hear members’ views in the meantime. Do get in touch or leave your comments below if you have any ideas which you think should be included in our submission.

The ACE conversation is open until Thursday 12 April, and we would encourage creative practitioners to submit their own responses by signing up here: