Standing up for authors, with David Donachie

29 March 2019 Standing

The Editor of The Author interviews David Donachie, Chair of the SoA’s Management Committee.

Why should members stand for election to the Management Committee?

DD: Because it’s our trade union! I’m not saying it’s their responsibility to stand, but the way to ensure that the things you want to happen have any chance of seeing daylight – to be part of the solution – is to sit on the Committee and help to direct the policy of the SoA. 

What sort of people do you need on the Committee?

What’s really important is to have as broad a church as possible. The more diverse the voices, the more likely we are to arrive at decisions that are meaningful for the whole membership. We now have a very diverse group of people – and you need diversity to provoke the kinds of real, lively, imaginative discussions we now have. Publishing has changed so much in the last 20 years; we need people on the Committee who are committed to altering for the better the conditions under which we work.

What about people who feel ‘I’m not important enough’?

There’s a perception that the Committee is a place for well-known writers. It’s not. Take my own example: I always introduce myself as the first Chair of the SoA no one has heard of. I am and always have been midlist, so I’m representative of much of our membership. At my first meeting I was slightly cautious about saying too much but that caution soon evaporates; you become part of the discussion, then a driver of the outcomes, which is the really satisfying part. 

So much for what they can give. But what do members get from serving on the Committee?

When I joined I thought I knew all about publishing – boy was I wrong! There’s a lot going on about which I knew nothing. To be at the centre of things is a great learning experience. 

It’s also a great pleasure: you meet other committed authors, you become friends with them, colleagues with them; you discover that the SoA really is collegiate. 

What for you has been the biggest achievement of the SoA in the time you’ve served on the Committee?

For me there are two major pluses. Number one is that, after three years of searching we finally found our new building, a superb set of offices and meeting spaces in Bedford Row. After that it’s the Awards ceremony. This is a personal opinion – I always thought it was too insular in the past. We have opened it out, turning it into something much more publicly visible. It’s going to become a serious annual event which will attract increasing amounts of publicity. It is also the best recruiting tool we possess.

We also now talk regularly to Amazon; prior to last year we had little or no meaningful communication. Will we change their ways? Questionable. But if we’re not talking we have no chance of influencing them at all. 

What challenges lie ahead for your successors?

The list is endless! But the main issue is the increasing encroachment of publishers on authors’ rights and incomes. This has to be fought. If legislation is the only way to do it then the SoA and sister organisations will try to get that through. We need to ensure that the contract terms under which writers suffer become fair and equitable. At present, the advantages to publishers are huge. 

If we have moved matters on as a committee, and we have, then thanks must go to the staff. It’s our task to come up with a policy, but it has to be implemented. The staff, from top to bottom, have leapt aboard every initiative in my tenure as Chair. We and they know there is still more to do, and it will happen. Membership is growing and the SoA is undertaking more outreach work. The move to a new building is going to be a catalyst for a real uplift. So if you want to be part of it, stand for election – because it makes no sense to leave your professional well-being and that of your fellow creatives to someone else. 

This article appears in the spring 2019 issue of The Author. Find out how to submit a nomination for Management Committee and meet our current Committee.

Photo: © Adrian Pope

David Donachie has been SoA Chair since 2016. He is the Scots-born author of over 50 novels. Website: