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Comment from the book world in January 2021

2021

'I needed the money'

6 September 2021

‘I have often been asked how I came to write. The best answer is that I needed the money. When I started I was 35 and had failed in every enterprise I had ever attempted. . . I had gone thoroughly through some of the all-fiction magazines and I made up my mind that if people were paid for writing such rot as I read I could write stories just as rotten. Although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines.'

Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of 91 novels, which have sold hundreds of millions of copies, who is best known for Tarzan of the Apes, the first of 26 Tarzan books which were translated into more than 56 languages and were also popular in comic-strip, motion-picture, television, and radio versions. He once said 'I write to escape ... to escape poverty'.

'I always wanted to write books, and always crime'

23 August 2021

‘I always wanted to write books, and always crime. I'd read Agatha Christie as a child and in the late 1980s I discovered the US crime writer Sara Paretsky. I thought: wow, these are the kind of books I want to write - books with strong female protagonists with a brain and sense of humour; women who didn't have to get the guys in for the heavy lifting. I wanted my characters to be three-dimensional, and if some of those characters happened to be gay, they were not defined by it...

I never wrote to be successful, so success was a happy surprise. But I don't particularly live the life of a rich person - no flash cars, no ridiculous jewellery, and I used to buy most of my shirts from Debenhams.'

Val McDermid, whose latest book is 1979, and who is the author of 45 books, nearly all of them crime novels, which have sold over 17 million copies worldwide, in the Sunday Times magazine

 

'The internet has been a lifeline'

9 August 2021

‘The outlook may sound bleak. But the internet has been a lifeline, enabling authors to lean on their peers. With fewer events and chances to meet face-to-face, the virtual author community has never been more important. And boy, have we needed moral support the past year or so!...

More people turned to reading during the pandemic, in particular using their e-readers when they couldn't get to physical stores. A lot of authors I know have seen this reflected in their digital sales, which have positively boomed during this time.'

Tracy Buchanan, creator of Savvy Writers, a blog which offers help and resources for published authors, in Bookbrunch

 

'The relationship between agent and editor cannot be conducted via Zoom'

29 July 2021

‘The pandemic has been a period of caution, safe bets and, understandably due to the restrictions in distribution, a time of low experimentation. I hope this will change over the summer and through the personal connections that will infuse a new energy in the business...

One thing the lockdown has proven without any doubt is that the relationship between agent and editor cannot be conducted via Zoom. We need to know what is going on in editorial commissioning rooms and understand the changing tastes of acquiring editors. They are not merely names on a sheet that you email your submission to. I would encourage every agent and editor to use this 'freedom' to re-connect, put back some energy and dynamism in the submissions process.'

Jonny Geller, CEO at Curtis BrownSee Curtis Brown listing UK, in the Bookseller

 

 

‘The impact of Amazon'

12 July 2021

‘The impact of Amazon dwarfs all the other changes, even the rise of digital. Of course, the idea of ordering a book in the morning and having it delivered in the afternoon still thrills and amazes me. But it has led to the erosion of earnings for most authors and smaller publishers, and that should worry all of us who want a diverse and healthy ecosystem for books...

I am encouraged by the way (mostly) independent publishers are beginning to innovate in their direct-to-reader offerings. Subscription services, crowd-funding, exquisitely produced merchandise: the communities that Rough Trade, Galley Beggar, Influx Press and others are building offer a commercially viable alternative to the Amazonian race to the bottom...

I think we'll see even more opportunities for online recommendation that isn't based on algorithms but on the taste of people who read. Podcasts. Substack. BookTok. The word-of-mouth revolution.'

John Mitchinson, publisher and co-founder of Unbound, which celebrates its 10th birthday this year. Despite the challenges of lockdown and high street closures, it has reported trade sales growth of 58% year on year, in Bookbrunch

'Each character is different'

29 June 2021

‘When people come together - let's say they come to a little party or something - you always hear them discuss character. They will say this one has a bad character, this one has a good character, this one is a fool, this one is a miser. Gossip makes the conversation. They all analyze character. It seems that the analysis of character is the highest human entertainment. And literature does it, unlike gossip, without mentioning real names.

The writers who don't discuss character but problems -social problems or any problems - take away from literature its very essence. They stop being entertaining. We, for some reason, always love to discuss and discover character. This is because each character is different, and human character is the greatest of puzzles.'

Isaac Bashevis Singer, distinguished author of The Magician of Lublin, The Slave, The Family Moskat, 16 other novels and many other works

Walter Mosley on rewriting

14 June 2021

'Writing is rewriting. The first draft is the jabber you forced on that blind date. She was hoping for someone to ask her what she was feeling, but all you said was, and then I, and then I, and then I, and then . . . The first draft is meant to be discarded. The first draft is the beginning of the idea, the slender thread of a story. The second draft is little better, as is the third, and the fourth and fifth. Writing is rewriting - a lot of rewriting. You think you know what you should have said on that job interview, but in truth it might have been a mistake even to go after that job. You said the wrong things on the date, but if you had said what you thought of the next day the ensuing relationship would have been a fiasco. You know it. You do. [...]'

Walter Mosley, author of Devil in a Blue Dress, The Long Fall, Blood Grove and dozens of other books, in Lit Hub

'Editors can be stupid at times'

31 May 2021

'Editors can be stupid at times. They just ignore that author's intention. I always try to read unabridged editions, so much is lost with cut versions of classic literature, even movies don't make sense when they are edited too much. I love the longueurs of a book even if they seem pointless because you can get a peek into the author's mind, a glimpse of their creative soul. I mean, how would people like it if editors came along and said to an artist, "Whoops, you left just a tad too much space around that lily pad there, lets crop that a bit, shall we?" Monet would be ripping his hair out.'

E A Bucchianeri, author of Little Month of Saint Joseph, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly, Faust and 5 other books.

'Character is crucial.'

17 May 2021

‘Everything hinges on character. Plot is important, but character is crucial. Character is best revealed through action. Someone pulls a gun on your hero. How do they react? Fight or flight? Their character will determine. Complex characters are gold. A hero whose first reaction is flight but who plausibly stands and fights is way more interesting. People your world with characters who will feed off each other, the dynamics between them generating story. "Interesting" trumps "likeable" every time.

Mike Bullen, British scriptwriter, who has written the successful series Life Begins, Cold Feet and All about George, as well as a novel, Trust.

 

'The Lost Generation'

3 May 2021

‘When I was a child I was given a special book just to write stories because my handwriting and spelling were so bad. Suddenly I realised I wasn't hopeless at English. You forget children are always comparing each other, and if it's always about grammar and spelling , and if they don't get it, their self-esteem plummets. My terrible handwriting and sketches have turned into a billion-and-a-half dollar industry with my books and films. Never underestimate the value of allowing children to mess around.

I refuse to call them the Lost Generation (children who have been affected by the Pandemic). You can't just give up on millions of children. I'm intrinsically extremely hopeful. It's not dumbing down - books about dragons and fairies can teach you about what kind of leaders we deserve, love friendship, death and responsibility to your tribe.'

Cressida Cowell, UK Children's Laureate and author of the How to Train Your Dragon series, whose 23 books have sold 11 million copies, in The Times.

https://www.cressidacowell.co.uk/

 

‘Technology is shifting more power to the hands of authors'

19 April 2021

‘We leverage technology to discover hidden talents based entirely on the merits of their work, and less on other dimensions which might have been blockers with traditional publishing (maybe some authors have amazing manuscripts, but are not good at sales and therefore struggle to get their foot in the door, whereas our approach truly democratises the whole experience for authors). We are also able to move extremely fast, publishing a book within just a couple of weeks of signing the content.

Technology is shifting more power to the hands of authors, who now have more options for what they can do with their manuscripts. Everything from the choice of publishing channels, to content formats, but also increasing the quality of their content using tools which perhaps would have been cost prohibitive to them in the past.

Authors also want to reach as large an audience as possible. This is increasingly possible and becoming easier due to technology and digitisation of content. The easier it gets, the less reliant authors are on traditional publishing houses to reach these large audiences.

Ali Albazaz, founder and CEO of Inkitt in 'The Power of Self-Publishing', Bookbrunch (behind the paywall)

 

'The stuff of great books.’

5 April 2021

‘When an editor works with an author, she cannot help seeing into the medicine cabinet of his soul. All the terrible emotions, the desire for vindications, the paranoia, and the projection are bottled in there, along with all the excesses of envy, desire for revenge, all the hypochondriacal responses, rituals, defenses, and the twin obsessions with sex and money. It other words, the stuff of great books.'

Betsy Lerner, editor, agent, and author, whose best-known book is The Forest for the Trees, ‘about writing, publishing and what makes writers tick' but who has also published The Bridge Ladies, Once Upon A Time and Food Loathing

https://betsylerner.com/