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Comment from the book world in January 2006


In praise of crime writing

18 December 2006

'I like reading thrillers and I don't know why the literary world is sometimes snobbish about them. It's a really flexible form because it lets you move across class and across a city. The elegant and ever-repeating form of noir fiction is that you find a dead body in the beginning, it disrupts the ordinariness of the place, the detective starts to investigate and then wants to find all the connections, and it usually ends up in some high-level cover-up. I like that approach a lot, just in the plain terms of constructing narrative. As a reader and writer, there's so much pleasure in being aligned with the detective and given all the clues.'

Vikram Chandra, author of Sacred Games in the Bookseller

Reading what you enjoy

11 December 2006

'I would never attempt to dissuade anyone from reading a book. But please, if you're reading a book that's killing you, put it down and read something else, just as you would reach for the remote if you weren't enjoying a television programme. Your failure to enjoy a highly rated novel doesn't mean you're dim - you may find that Graham Greene is more to your taste, or Stephen Hawking, or Iris Murdoch, or Ian Rankin. Dickens, Stephen King, whoever. It doesn't matter. All I know is that you can get very little from a book that is making you weep with the effort of reading it. You won't remember it, and you'll earn nothing from it, and you'll be less likely to choose a book over Big Brother next time you have a choice.

Nick Hornby in the Sunday Telegraph's Seven

'A wordwide brand'

4 December 2006

Academic publishing is poised awkwardly between the huge costs of the web and its enormous potential, and between the huge opportunities created by global English and the piracy that a single language facilitates. In such an environment a worldwide brand is greater than the sum of its parts, and if Wiley can build that, the deal will have been more than worthwhile. Others are thinking along similar lines: witness Springer's recent approach to Informa.

The world is awash with cheap cash and bullish private equity investors: 2006 is on track to be the biggest year for corporate deals in history, and it would be odd if publishing was to be immune from this frenzy. Academic publishing may not look particularly sexy, but in a richer, better-educated world it is no bad place to be.

'The secret pleasure'

27 November 2006

'Books transported me to a place that was filled with endless possibilities, and it was all so much better than whatever it was I was doing in real life. I loved a good story and still do, but as I got older I realised that reading was far more than that. It was the secret pleasure and intimacy of having a relationship with a writer and his characters long after I'd closed the book. Books taught me about other people, what they were feeling, how they viewed the world and how they changed from ordinary beings to extraordinary ones. Often I preferred spending time with them to doing anything else.'

Jennifer Kaufman, author of Book Lover, in the Sunday Telegraph's Stella

'Literary ambitions constantly thwarted'

20 November 2006

'Ironically though, fiction was always my first love, and I honestly believe that all the other creative things I've done in my life have come as a result of having my true literary ambitions constantly thwarted. As I was carving out a career for myself as a non-fiction writer, I wrote six novels, all of which failed to spark the interest of publishers. Only on my seventh attempt did I strike gold: Equinox is to be published in 26 languages, and I hope it will be the launch pad for my final career change; from non-fiction author to novelist.

If I sound unfair about my own non-fiction writing career, I don't mean to be, because, without a doubt, I could not have written Equinox had it not been for those 25 non-fiction titles that preceded it. Indeed, the USP for Equinox is that it is a blend of fact and fiction in which real-life historical figures share the same stage with completely fictional, modern-day characters.'

Michael White, author of Equinox, in Publishing News

The novel as big business

13 November 2006

'Never mind Hay. From Peebles to Penzance, and from St Magnus to Southwold, by way of Bakewell, Bewdley, Mere and Poole, there's hardly a town in Britain that will not be holding a literary festival this year. Like some medieval peasant migration, the book-buying public will flock this summer into tents, church halls and village halls to experience poets, biographers and above all novelists, reading aloud from their work and signing books...'

In 2006 the novelist has become a cross between a commercial traveller and an itinerant preacher. The cultural historians of the future will surely pick over the larger meaning of this festival fever, but one thing is indisputable: in just over a generation the novel has gone public in the most astounding way. In the process, the genre has sold out and become big business, the preferred medium of self-advancement and self-promotion for Blair's children, and almost unrecognisable to fiction-lovers raised on the literary names of the Forties and Fifties.'

Robert McCrum in the Observer

'The value of books'

6 November 2006

'We don't think that every major title we publish needs to have dramatic price promotion in order to sell in high volume. Of course, we understand the value of price promotion in driving sales, but we have to do it on terms that are economic. We are concerned about the messages that are being sent to consumers about the value of books if we just price promote everything at the expense of other forms of promotional activity....

'We've rarely been through a period where the variants in performance by channel have been so great. Yes, the high street is having a difficult time, but that is not to say the whole book market is having a difficult time because, as we know, Amazon continues to grow and the supermarkets are doing well. The situation is the same in the US, where both Borders and Barnes and Noble have been reporting some prettyweak numbers, and yet if you look at the AAP (Association of American PublishersThe national trade association of the American book publishing industry; AAP has more than 300 members, including most of the major commercial publishers in the United States, as well as smaller and non-profit publishers, university presses and scholarly societies) data the market as a whole doesn't seem to be in bad shape.'

John Makinson, Worldwide Chairman and CEO of Penguin in Publishing News

Grown-up fairy stories

30 October 2006

'The reason romantic fiction should be scrutinised more thoroughly is that it is the code to unlock what women really want.

We go to see movies together, and TV watching is a shared experience, but reading is a private pleasure. I pick up a romantic novel not so I can impress my friends with having read it, but because I know that while I am reading it I can leave the world behind. There will be a heroine that I sympathise with, a hero I want to share a sunset with, and I know that the outcome will be happy...

Women need the grown-up fairy stories of romantic fiction in order to make the random cruelty of everyday life more bearable. And before men sneer at women who read romances, they should ask exactly why they need to read a book about the siege of Stalingrad or the SAS. Do they perhaps find facts less threatening than stories that deal with emotion?'

Daisy Goodwin in the Sunday Times, talking about the research and thinking behind her TV series, Reader, I Married Him.

'Love to hate book fairs'

16 October 2006

'Even though most people in publishing love to hate book fairs, preferring to pretend to be above the hustle and bustle of the marketplace, everyone nevertheless wants to be seen there, and there is no doubt that during three such intense days, where everyone is conscious that they must make it worthwhile, a huge amount of business is done.

Not all of this is good business: books are frequently bought for far more than they are worth. Even experienced publishers sometimes throw caution to the winds after being caught up in the excitement of a bidding war conducted via frenzied conversations in a crowded hall.'

Anne Louise Fisher, London literary scout, in the Observer (Seven)

'A strong editor'

9 October 2006

'Two years to write the first novel. Two years to find a publisher and to get the book on to the shelves. Four years of casual labouring and the dole.

Much has changed in those 50-years-to-now; but one thing has not. The more critically successful a writer becomes, the more need there is for a strong editor. To think otherwise risks artistic suicide. A trusted editor, dedicated to the text and sensitive to its author, is the making of a writer and is the great teacher. On the high trapeze, the Flyer may be the one who draws the applause from the crowd, but it's the editorial Catcher who times the flight.

I have been fortunate in my editors. The readers' reports for the three novels that followed my second all recommended rejection on the same grounds each time: that the new book was different from the previous one. And each time the editor had faith, and published.'

Alan Garner, author of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen in The Times

'Communicating with readers'

2 October 2006

'Publishers need to make their sites more welcoming and rewarding to those tiny percentages of readers who do visit. They need to nurture these audiences and build them up, organically, to become loyal customers. And that means adding value that they're not getting on the high street or from Amazon - in the form of content. Publishers aren't going to get rich from sales made on their sites. But the opportunity is to create a relationship with consumers, and to use that relationship to generate better market information on both sides.

Communicating with readers is how you will sell more books, and for the moment the best channels of communications are not in publishers' control - but they so easily could be. It's time publishers took their relationships with consumers out of the "too hard" box.'

Peter Collingridge, MD of Apt Studio Ltd in the Bookseller

'Writers in front of readers'

25 September 2006

'Whoever originally came up with the idea of putting writers in front of readers must've been taking a real punt. We spend most of our time by ourselves, along in a room with all these characters in our head, talking to them as they talk to us. Not really an ideal training ground for making public appearances.

But more often than not it must work, as it's still happening. We have now, somehow, become a part of the entertainment industry, and I don't just mean the schools, the shops and the library visits, and all the panels and events at the increasing number of literary festivals there are to do...

Is this then the future? Will writers now be judged not only on their literary merit, but also - like politicians - on their looks and performance abilities? And which will be deemed the most important? Will writing courses have to start offering speech and drama modules, stand-up comedy training and hair and beauty advice? You never know.

Graham Marks, Children's editor of Publishing News and author of Zoo